Montessori Terminology

Children’s House – This is the classroom for children ages 3 to 6 years; other schools call the classroom for this age group  preschool, or primary school.

Work –  Purposeful activity. Maria Montessori observed that children learn through purposeful activities of their own choosing; Montessori schools call all of the children’s activities “work.”

Casa dei Bambini – In Italian, “Children’s House,” and the name of Dr. Montessori’s first school.

Sensitive period – A critical time during human development when the child is biologically ready and receptive to acquiring a specific skill or ability—such as the use of language or a sense of order — and is therefore particularly sensitive to stimuli that promote the development of that skill. A Montessori teacher prepares the environment to meet the developmental needs of each sensitive period.

Practical life – The Montessori term that encompasses domestic work to maintain the home and classroom environment. It focuses on self-care and personal hygiene as well as courtesy. Practical life skills are of great interest to young children and form the basis of later abstract learning.

Practical life activities – Young children in Montessori classrooms learn to take care of themselves and their environment through activities such as hand washing, dusting, and mopping. These activities help toddlers and preschool-age children learn to work independently, develop concentration, and prepare for later work with reading and math; older children participate in more advanced activities.

Grace and courtesy – Children are formally instructed in social skills they will use throughout their lives, for example, saying “please” and “thank you,” interrupting conversations politely, requesting rather than demanding assistance, and greeting guests warmly.

The 3-period lesson – Through years of observation around the world, Montessori understood that children displayed a distinct work cycle that was so predictable it could be graphed. The lesson takes place over three hours and features to peaks and a valley. It focuses on introduction of a subject, reassurance, and then a recall period.

Normalization – A natural developmental process marked by a love of work or activity, concentration, self-discipline, and joy in accomplishment. Dr. Montessori observed that the normalization process is characteristic of human beings at any age.

Indirect preparation – The way nature has of preparing the intelligence. In every action, there is a conscious interest. Through this interest, the mind is being prepared for something in the future. For example, a child will enjoy the putting together of various triangular shapes, totally unaware that because of this work his mind will later be more accepting of geometry. Also called “remote preparation,” the deeper educational purpose of many of the Montessori activities is remote in time.

Isolation of difficulty – Before giving a presentation, the Montessori teacher analyzes the activity she wants to show the child. Procedures or movements that might prove troublesome are isolated and taught to the child separately. A task should neither be so hard that it is overwhelming, nor so easy that it is boring.

Analysis of movement – A technique used by Montessori teachers to break down a complex subject into steps. The director demonstrates one step at a time, executing each movement slowly and exactly. The action thus becomes a sequence of simple movements and the child has a greater chance of retaining that knowledge and applying it to other subjects.

Control of error – Montessori materials are designed so that the child receives instant feedback as he works, allowing him to recognize, correct, and learn from his mistakes without adult assistance. Putting control of the activity in the child’s hands strengthens his self-esteem and self-motivation as well as his learning.

Absorbent mind – Maria Montessori believed that from birth to age 6, a child is best able to “absorb” knowledge through all experiences in her environment. This is done spontaneously without conscious effort.