One of the defining characteristics of a Montessori pre-school or elementary school classroom is the everyday presence of hands-on, student-driven learning. This approach to education is called the Montessori method and is guided by the principles of child education developed by Dr. Maria Montessori. Dr. Montessori was a researcher and educator who pioneered this method in the early 1900s and trained a generation of educators across the world in the practice. Today, there are thousands of Montessori schools in dozens of countries with millions of students and passionate adherents to the concept of learning by doing.
Experiential learning and the prepared environment
The concept of experiential learning, or learning by doing, in itself is not unique to the Montessori method. Many educators understand the value of a learning process that starts with a tangible experience, provides space for reflection on that experience, encourages the conceptualization of those reflections into an individual’s knowledge framework, and then allows for testing of those concepts in further concrete experiences. This cyclical learning process, however, finds a uniquely nurturing medium in the prepared environment of the Montessori classroom. The foundation of the Montessori method is the prepared environment, which is the physical space of the classroom that is designed with student-driven experiential learning at its core: learning tools are available and accessible to motivate students' engagement, furniture and items needed to manipulate the environment are engineered for students’ cognitive and physical developmental stage, and teachers are observers who offer guidance in learning with minimal disruption to a student’s experimentation.
Self-teaching and love of learning
Learning by doing in a Montessori elementary school classroom has two valuable outcomes: skills in self-teaching and a love of learning. These outcomes are part of the larger goal of Montessori education to teach the whole child with the aim of growing into a self-aware, capable adult. The independence and agency students gain in their learning process comes from the confidence and efficacy they develop in an unfettered experiential learning program. Unlike in traditional classrooms where external factors direct the content of learning, the pace and ways of engaging that content, and the measurement of mastery of that content, Montessori classrooms recognize that a student’s innate curiosity and drive to understand and contribute to the world around them is the most authentic, enduring, and ultimately empowering, way to learn.