A Montessori Mini-Dictionary



Dr. Maria Montessori created her methodology over a century ago, and those of us who study her work and practice her ideas know it really works for children, even all these years later.  Like any specialized approach or body of work, Montessori education incorporates unique terminology. Curious to learn more about what we mean when we say absorbent mind, control of error, or sensorial?  Read on to learn more (and bookmark this post for future reference)!


absorbent mind – A mind able to absorb knowledge quickly and effortlessly. Dr. Maria Montessori said the child from birth to six years has an absorbent mind.


Casa dei Bambini - This was the name of the first school Dr. Montessori opened in Rome, Italy.  It translates to children’s house, and references a Montessori class for 3-6 year olds.  Other names for classes for this age group include casa, primary, children’s house, or early childhood.  Casa classes are a combination of preschool and kindergarten.


concrete & abstract – Dr. Montessori believed that “the hand is the instrument of the mind.”  She understood that children learn best by doing first and internalizing later.  In Montessori classrooms, we give children specialized learning materials that they manipulate with their hands to begin grasping various concepts.  Over time, they use materials that are less concrete, and require more abstract thinking, until they are eventually able to master a skill without the use of any material at all.  


control of error – One hallmark of a Montessori education is supporting children to become independent learners.  Most of the materials children use in our classrooms incorporate a control of error; that is there is only one way to correctly use the material.  If a child uses a material incorrectly, they will not be able to complete the activity, and will understand they have made a mistake somewhere along the way.  An opportunity is provided naturally: instead of a teacher correcting a child and telling them what to do differently, the child is able to self-assess and determine what changes they need to make on their own.


cosmic education - During the elementary years, children begin seeking out answers about the universe and their place in it.  It is our job to provide children with lessons and experiences at this age that aim to satisfy their curiosity, and to give them a deeper understand of the interconnectedness of all things.  We call this broad study cosmic education.  Elementary classrooms use special impressionistic lessons to inspire children as they explore concepts such as the creation of our universe, the evolution of life on earth, the evolution of humans, and the origins of math and language.


discipline from within – Self-discipline. The discipline in a well-run Montessori classroom is not a result of the teacher’s control or of rewards or punishments. Its source comes from within each individual child, who can control his or her own actions and make positive choices regarding personal behavior. Self-discipline is directly related to development of the will.


false fatigue - In Montessori classrooms we set aside a large chunk of time (3 hours for children 3 years of age and older) each day in which they receive lessons and work independently.  (Learn more about this in the definition of work period below.)  At a certain point during the course of this time, an adult observing will begin to notice the volume in the classroom beginning to rise, social activity beginning to increase, and an apparent decrease in productivity.  Our task is to pause, wait, and watch for the flow of the room to return naturally to its previous state.  We all need a break once in a while, and it is normal to expect that children will, at some point, need to step away from the work they have been deeply engrossed in.  In the long run, this false fatigue break actually allows them to be more productive and focus better once they return to their work.