Montessori Education

What is Montessori Education?

Dr. Maria Montessori created a scientific method of education based on her observations of children. She was the first female doctor in Italy, but left medicine to study how children learn. She made incredible discoveries about children’s mental, emotional, physical and spiritual development, as well as their natural tendencies, needs and characteristics.

The foundation of Montessori’s philosophy and methodology includes these key points:

  • Students are independent and free to explore an environment where wonder, interest, and curiosity lead to learning
  • A three year age range in the classroom creates opportunities for peer teaching
  • Trained adults guide children through each developmental period
  • The role of the adult is to help children help themselves

People go through four planes of development, each six years long (0-6, 6-12, 12-18, and 18-24) At each plane, students exhibit specific needs and characteristics. The prepared environment and activities available are designed to meet these needs and nourish these characteristics.

Montessori for the Adolescent

Following the Montessori tradition, Great River will focus on supporting the internal development of the personality of young adults. Adolescents have an intense need to feel valuable, useful and capable of being a productive member of society. It is important that the work in which they are involved is relevant, meaningful, and appreciated by others. These needs of the emerging adult and of the human spirit are critical to the culture of the learning environment.

Adolescent’s Needs Adolescent’s Characteristics
Purposeful and challenging work
An intimate connection with the land
Opportunities for self-expression
A connection to the community
Practice in economic independence
Experience with leadership, service, and peace
Empowerment to make a difference
Practice finding and creating a meaningful place in the larger society
Boundless energy
Thoughtful and critical
Interested in justice and morality
Creative, emotional, and expressive
Socially conscious
Powerfully humanistic
Intense and rapid growth and development

Informed discussions, reflections, service work, and rotating internships provide a stimulating, academically challenging, and developmentally appropriate learning environment. This atmosphere allows young adults to explore their passions, and serve the community, students are able to explore their potential vocation by assuming meaningful and practical roles in society. Experience in the community is the key to forming the character and conscience of the young adult.

Montessori for the Older Adolescent

When young people reach high school, they are increasingly ready to be more self-directed in their education and take on certain adult roles in society. For the young adult, Montessori has identified the following developmental needs:

  • To find the innermost “vocation” or deep calling of the soul;
  • To have a sense of mission or commitment to one’s work and life;
  • To experience deep, personal growth with peers and positive adult models;
  • To expand personal horizons;
  • To form partnerships and close collaborations;
  • To be out in the world;
  • To be involved in real, adult projects that are important and relevant;
  • To be empowered to change the world.

Prepared Environment

Great River School’s learning environment consists of two learning spaces – the inner and the outer.

The inner space consists of the school building itself, adapted into a dynamic Montessori learning environment. The social and academic life of Great River School revolves around the Junior High and Senior High wings of the school.  Classrooms, dining hall and gathering spaces provide opportunities for discussion, learning and community building. The inner environment also includes a garage space for experimenting, designing, constructing, and general tinkering with a variety of media.

The outer space consists of ever wider and broader spaces – an urban garden, the Land School (160 acre farm and nature center in western Wisconsin), downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis, our state, regional and national communities. These outer environments provide opportunities for extended field studies, as well as international community exchanges. Great River students will connect deeply with their state and nation, but they will also be internationally aware – citizens of the world. The metaphor for adolescent learning is an odyssey adventure – both the odyssey to distant places and the odyssey of the mind.

Independence, Freedom, and Choice Balanced with Responsibility and Collaboration

As a Montessori school, Great River has open spaces for students to work and open times during which students construct their own schedule. Within a structure of a core curriculum, students have choices with regard to their classes. They work with teachers and mentors to design some of their assignments and projects. For the Great River community to function well, students should be motivated, responsible young adults with the ability to collaborate.

Self Expression

Great River recognizes the intense need adolescents have for self expression. Students have formal classes in music, studio arts, creative writing, and physical education. They are encouraged and expected to integrate self expression into other classes.


Each student meets with a mentor throughout the year to plan a course of study, get help with assignments, and keep track of credits. Students work with an advisor of their choice throughout their career in the junior high or high school.

For more Information

Many articles can provide you with more information about Montessori education and pedagogy.  Here are a few suggestions:

Superwoman was Here – a discussion about how learning takes places in Montessori classrooms
How do Innovators Think? – discussion about “discovery skills” that many creative leaders possess…and are key for a Montessori student.