Montessori Learning Activity

  1. First Hand Experience With Materials
  2. Spontaneous Activity
  3. Active Learning Methods
  4. Self-Directed Activity (Auto Education)
  5. Liberty Within Limits
  6. Intrinsic Motivation



“The intellect builds up its store of practical ideas though contact with, and exploration of, its environment.”

Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, p. 99.

“Children learn by acting on their environments; they need materials with which to interact.”

The Authentic American Montessori School, p. 36.

The philosophy and pedagogy of CMA requires not only the presence of attractive materials with which to interact, but also the time, space, and encouragement of adults to interact with them.  To this end, CMA provides each classroom with a full compliment of Montessori and other philosophically-related materials which the child can and does utilize to facilitate his/her own growth and development and caring Montessori Directors/esses to direct that process… Each material must meet the criteria of "cosmic view" both intrinsically and within the extrinsic totality of all of the classroom materials.  In accord with The Authentic American Montessori School characterization of "materialized abstractions” CMA also broadly interprets “materials” to include Curriculum Cosmic View, interdisciplinary programming, and the Community Education Program, to name but a few.


“To think and to wish is not enough.  It is action which counts."

Maria Montessori, Spontaneous Activity in Education, p. 170.

“Children spontaneously seek growth and development because it is in their nature to do so.  The Montessori environment seeks to provide a setting in which children can ‘epiphanize’ their true emergent selves.”

The Authentic American Montessori School, p. 36.

The opportunities for the spontaneous activity and subsequent "epiphanizing" by the child within the environments of CMA…are abundant, not only demonstrated in policies, procedures, and activities such as the outdoor guidelines and cultural and community education experiences, but also by observation of the children themselves. Adults provide a setting for this type of learning in part by having a spirit of discovery themselves, allowing, nay encouraging, answers to come from other than themselves, and by providing a wealth of experiences for the child to draw generalizations, knowledge, and ultimately wisdom themselves.  The reserve of the Directors/esses in the classrooms, self-controlled freedom observed in the classes, the sharing of the wonder of “epiphanizing” experiences with colleagues and Parents as part of the arrival and dismissal procedures, all attest to the prevalence of and significance attached to spontaneous activity within these environments.



“The role of education is to interest the child profoundly in an external activity to which he will give all his potential.”  

Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence, p. 24.

“The Montessori environment is one in which children pursue their learning intentions themselves.  They initiate their work and persist in it…”

The Authentic American Montessori School, p. 36.

Active learning methods are identical in the very young child, the developing mid-child, and the adolescent; paradoxically, they are also antithetical.  The Successive Levels of Development as described by Maria Montessori endear that paradox to her Directors/esses... At CMA the child is free to choose his/her work; that freedom principle is tempered by the structure of the choices the adult determines through observation to be personally, naturally, and culturally appropriate.  At CMA the child can work independently or in small groups at all levels of the School.  The child has the opportunity to interact with people, animals, his/her environment, and even the community at large.  The focus of the education offered at CMA is action, from the Practical Life Program throughout the School to the use of Montessori didactic materials to Age-Group Discussions to the creation of time lines and albums.  And that action, that journey, which the child embarks upon with such great joy through the natural-, cultural-, and finally human-based principles of growth, is facilitated at the School by knowledgeable, caring Directors/esses who understand and can and do apply the developmental principles to the individual child , the daily activity of the child , and the group of which s/he is part.



“We then found that individual activity is the one factor that stimulates and produces development, and that this is not more true for the little ones of preschool age than it is for the junior, middle, and upper school children.”

Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 8.

“It is necessary that the pupil perfect himself through his own efforts…”

Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method, p. 172.

“The child constructs his or her own intelligence, choosing his or her activity, fueled by the need to be competent.  The child constructs his or her own morality, through social interaction with others.”

The Authentic American Montessori School, p. 3.

The childREN of CMA are encouraged to engage in self-directed activity.  The child in the Toddler and Preprimary Classes (two through six years of age) is given precise presentations of materials and then invited to make the material his/her own through respectful use of the material based upon the model of the Directress and repeated use of the material based upon an inner call to knowledge through the senses.  The Directoress does not “teach;” s/he cannot and does not mar the soul of the child with irrelevant importances; the Directoress presents using the three-period lesson (intellectual short stepping) and then quietly observes the child, constantly monitoring the environment to ensure that an atmosphere conducive to self-instruction is maintained.  Directors/esses at the School are encouraged to observe the greater part of each hour, taking notes and fostering by example and action the spirit of peace and purpose in the prepared environment.  The child is able to work toward intellectual goals within the social environment of the classroom, yet determine him/herself the extent to which participation with others will facilitate those goals.  The child in the Toddler and Preprimary Classes absorbs from his/her environment the moral principles by which s/he shall live just as s/he absorbs the principles innate in Practical Life materials or Mathematics materials.  However, as research indicates, the “social” component in the moral development process is essential.  Only “modeling” is more basic to the process of moral development than the use of Socratic methods, and even then, without the latter intellectual process, modeling becomes ritualistic and eventually ineffectual for the very reason that the child must build his/her own moral character, through observation, discussion, consideration of many options both positive and negative, and the continual refining of perspective as new information is presented.  Directors/esses use many tools in these lower school environments to foster a developing moral atmosphere:  step-reasoning (Kohlberg), role playing, redirection at frustration, choice offerings, and reverse level activity to name but a few.

The Primary and Elementary child (six through twelve years of age)  has a vast repertoire of intellectual possibilities when s/he enters this level of development.  The natural acculturation process is at once a broadening and a limiting process.  Taking on the culture of a specific people, the child'S own people whether by nature or nurture, concretizes and brings deep meaning to the work the child will do in these six years.  By its very nature, too, culture limits the child'S scope to strengthen the foundation so the structure that will be him/herself will be able to reach the highest pinnacle possible.  However, true to Montessori philosophy and pedagogy, the “extentive” characteristic of Montessori environments and materials allows the child to move at his/her own rate through skill areas and select the most personally relevant aspects of content areas to incorporate into his/herself.  To these ends the child in the Primary and Elementary Class is always presented with the "cosmic view” of his/he studies and express his/her knowledge in individual ways.  Not only do tables and charts allow the child to locate his/her piece of knowledge in the “cosmic view” and see the relations of all other knowledge to that selection, but also the environment itself, the arrangement of materials and shelves, the amount of actual time devoted to concept, the emotional emphasis of classmates and adults, speaks loudly to the child , assisting him/her in prioritizing, self-selection, and evaluation of materials, ideas, and expression.  More specifically, the three-period lesson so common verbally in the lower school is not abandoned, but augmented and evolutionized into the three-period material in the middle school.  The child is encouraged to share his/her expertise with other children in a child -teacher format, to express his/her knowledge in creative ways using a wide variety of disciplines (e.g. art, music, creative writing), and build upon his/her own expertise.  The ability of the child in Piagetan Concrete Operational Thought has moved to the intellectual-sensorial level.  Through use of materials and participation in activities carefully selected as essential parts of the “cosmic view” of the child 's culture, the child is able to construct his/her own intelligence.  The moral development of the 6 – 12 year old is accomplished by the child in several ways beyond the modeling appropriate to both the Preprimary and Primary/Elementary child and the wide use of the Socratic method.  The Primary/Elementary child has the intellectual ability to consider his own moral stage and the state of his own culture’s moral stage beyond the immediate.  Not yet ready to intellectualize in the manner of the adolescent, the Primary/Elementary child seeks a wider realm of responsibility than self.  S/he is most interested in the essence of morally – the why.  The child is ready to use the intellectual vocabulary that will allow him/her to manipulate moral concepts and his/her own intellectual ability to classify, categorize, define, interpret, and evaluate moral concepts.  Discussion groups in Scripture Classes, Moral Development Classes, Ecumenical Classes, and Age Group Discussions provide a forum for each child to enter and retreat as his/her interests and security indicates.  Too, the larger group of Community Line provides not only a wider arena, but also the semi-social time at tables for discussions to be natural, gently directed by an adult, and at times, strenuous in character.

The adolescent child (twelve through eighteen years of age) has both the responsibility and the privilege of a greater personal investment in auto-education than any previous developmental level, both intellectually and morally, both because s/he has the capability of greater self-control, independent thought, group responsibility, etc., but also because s/he wants to exert this control over the academic and moral aspects of his/her own life.  Not losing sight of the adolescent as a developing child, the adults, Directors/esses, Community Teachers, Parents, and other Community Leaders offer the adolescent more numerical options and more complex and refined options.  In both the Lower and Upper Erdkinder Classes, students have many choices within the defined limits of world culture for not only reception of information (e.g. taking a community class, parental participation in class work) but also in the expression of knowledge (e.g. oral testing, extensive album work, collections, artistic expression).  The Erdkinder child has become quite sophisticated in his/her knowledge and manipulation of moral development models and through the EME (Erdkinder Morals and Ethics) classes discusses a wide variety of moral issues with his/her own Parents, other family members, other Parents, visiting adults, and Faculty members.  The ecumenical aspects of the program offer the child strength in his/her own beliefs and appreciation of the beliefs of others.



“The liberty of the CHILD should have as its limit the collective interest, as its form, what we universally consider good breeding [manners]…"

Maria Montessori

“…an environment characterized by ‘liberty within limits’…”

The Authentic American Montessori School, p. 36.

The three guiding principles of Montessori environments are

Respect for Oneself

Respect for Others

Respect for the Environment

At all levels of the School a concentrated effort is made to connect every specific guideline or rule to one of these three principles, which concretize liberty within limits, in an overt manner for the child.  Thus, when discussion centers around carrying sticks on campus, “Respect for Oneself” as a responsible person and “Respect for Others” to shield them from danger are verbally noted.  When shoplifting as a moral issue is considered in the middle or upper school, “Respect for Self” as trustworthy and honest and “Respect for Others” as individual with rights are noted.

In matters of “right” and “wrong” these distinctions are relatively easily made.  But there are also cultural impingements, many of which can have somewhat covert, yet personally devastating, consequences that must be considered.  “Collective interest” and “good breeding” have been addressed above.  The Home Economics Program has been a most helpful avenue for explanation and appreciation of the child's own as well as other cultures...  The delicate balance which exists in the gray area of right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, acceptable and unacceptable and, most importantly perhaps, the personal background and customs of individual Faculty members and other adults who interact with the children are an integral part of “Liberty within Limits” and are addressed frequently across age groups.



“The child is a discoverer.  He is an amorphous, splendid being in search of his own proper form.”

Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, p. 99.

“This drive toward competence is fueled by the child’s curiosity and interest.”

The Authentic American Montessori School, p. 37.

An attractive, alluring prepared environment is the basis of awakening the child's curiosity and interest which fuels intrinsic motivation.  The prepared environment has been addressed above.  For purposes of this section it may be well to note the interrelatedness of the characteristics above (e.g. auto education, spontaneous activity) lead directly to intrinsic motivation.  In addition to the traditionally prepared environment the School extends the activity of the child in several ways:  the outdoor environment which is a “natural” area of campus with building logs, sand areas, vita track, barn area, apple trees, etc.;  the Home Economics Program in which children plan and prepare foods from the countries they are studying; the Community Education Program in which the environments and teachers for the children are extended into the wider community; the Service Program, in which the children return service to their communities for the “gifts” they have received from them in the Community Education Program.  Although these notations reveal strong parts of the whole, the importance of the synergy that exists among them, “cosmic view” of the Montessori community which is Carmel Montessori Academy cannot not be overstated.  The heterogeneous and integrative nature of that community is more than the sum of the children who thrive therein, the Faculty who serve those children , the Parents who support their children and the Montessori community to which the Family belongs, and the environments which draw these people together as a community.  The Montessori Community which is Carmel Montessori Academy is a community because children, Parents, and Faculty value that “golden cosmic thread” which embroiders the fabric of philosophy, curriculum, pedagogy, program, material, activity, even unto the furniture, the walls, the stones.  That “golden cosmic thread” is the intangible yet mighty belief in the developing child, which rests upon the twin curricular pillars of Practical Life and Sensorial Experiences, which find their foundations in the physical, personal, social, and academic development of the child.