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Montessori overview: Creativity and exploration – this ethos puts children firmly at the centre of society. Philosophy:  Based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. 

Montessori

What are they? Pioneered in 1907 by Maria Montessori, Italy’s first female doctor, to educate poor Italian children. Her philosophy was that ‘The essence of independence is to be able to do something for one’s self. A child works in order to grow, and is working to create the adult, the person that is to be.’ Children in mixed age classrooms are free to choose between a proscribed range of activities. Mostly confined to pre-school and early years education in the UK, but there are some Montessori junior schools and a few senior schools too.

What to expect: Creativity, exploration and problem-solving are encouraged; children move freely around the classroom and should be wholly involved with and absorbed in their learning. They work at their own pace and are helped to solutions by staff only as necessary. Older children join forces with younger.

Early years classroom materials include those that sink or float, link or fit together. Children learn letters by cutting them out of sandpaper and and tracing them with their fingers, numbers by forming bead chains. Materials are mostly natural – wood, glass or china – rather than plastic.

At primary and secondary level, learning is more curriculum based: there are likely to be a range of tasks for a child to complete over a week, but in their own order. Children take responsibility for completing the tasks and discussing them with the teacher. No fixed lesson times, no set assignments and no formal testing.

Drama and sport tend to be the only whole group activities, with presentations involving only a few pupils at a time. Others may be working out how to square a sum, comparing prehistoric cultures or researching river systems.

Secondary school pupils tend to work towards a limited range of GCSEs of their choice.

Staffing: The Maria Montessori Institute in London is the only UK organisation offering Montessori teaching qualifications. Teachers call themselves Guides, as their job is to observe and enable rather than teach.  

Further reading:

Home education

Steiner-Waldorf schools

Forest schools

The 'alternative' alternatives

Most popular Good Schools Guide articles


  • Steiner-Waldorf schools

    Overview:  Steiner Waldorf aims to provide an unhurried and creative learning environment in harmony with different phases of a child’s development. Background: In 1919, Austrian philosopher and scientist, Rudolf Steiner, whose ideas founded the basis of Anthroposophy, began a school in Stuttgart for children of the workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory. This inspired a worldwide movement of schools.

  • Forest schools

    Forest schools aren’t actual physical schools. Instead, they refer to regular outdoor sessions, mostly at nursery or primary school level, in natural environments to enable children to develop confidence through hands-on learning.


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