Glossary of Montessori Terms

Glossary of Montessori Terms

The Montessori approach has its unique vocabulary and terminology. Various practitioners of Montessori education uses a distinct set of concise terms that capture the world of the child as envisioned by Maria Montessori. This glossary of Montessori terms page helps parents, educators, and anyone interested in Montessori education to understand its common terms.

Absorbent mind

The Absorbent Mind, a concept coined by Dr. Maria Montessori, explains how young children naturally learn from their environment. Dr. Maria Montessori believed that children are highly sensitive to their surroundings in the first six years of life, absorbing information and experiences that shape their development with ease. This ability is split into two phases: the Unconscious Absorbent Mind (birth to age three) and the Conscious Absorbent Mind (age three to six). In the Unconscious phase, the child absorbs experiences and knowledge subconsciously, while in the Conscious phase, the child can start directing their learning consciously. By creating an environment that supports exploration and discovery, caregivers can help nurture a child’s innate potential.


Every Young Child has a special power of adaptation. This power is a process where they learn by their environment they live in by absorbing culture, customs, habits, ambitions, attitude by simply living in that society.


In Maria Montessori’s developmental theory, the third plane refers to the phase of growth that occurs between the ages of 12 and 18 years old. During this period, children experience significant changes and development. They become more aware of the wider social world and feel a strong desire to engage in activities and work that align with adult thinking and responsibilities. This phase is often associated with middle school, where adolescents seek opportunities to apply their expanding knowledge and skills in real-life situations. It is a crucial time for fostering independence and preparing for adulthood.

Casa dei Bambini

The Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, is the first Montessori school in San Lorenzo, Rome, founded in 1907 by Dr. Maria Montessori. The school‘s mission is to provide a stimulating environment where children could learn and grow at their own pace, focused on respect for each child, as well as hands-on learning experiences.

Circle Time

Montessori circle time is the time when children come together as a group for different activities and lessons that help them with language and social skills. They sit in a circle and do things like sing songs, recite poems, and play games. The teacher starts with a topic or theme and encourages children to ask questions and share their ideas.

Concrete to Abstract

In Montessori education, the concept of “concrete to abstract” refers to the progression of learning experiences that guide children from hands-on, tangible activities to more abstract and conceptual understanding. This approach recognizes that children often grasp complex ideas better when they can first interact with and manipulate concrete objects.

Control of Error

Montessori materials are designed to be self-correcting, so children can learn from their mistakes without needing adult intervention. This is achieved through the use of carefully designed learning materials that allow children to see their own errors and make corrections.

Cosmic Education

Maria Montessori believed that giving children a “vision of the universe” would help them understand how everything in the universe is interconnected and their place within it. In Montessori schools‘ Elementary programs (ages 6-12), children learn about the creation of the universe through storytelling that combines astronomy, chemistry, biology, geography, and history. These lessons help children recognize their roles and responsibilities as humans and members of society, as well as explore their unique, meaningful purpose in the world – their “cosmic task.” This approach emphasizes the development of empathy, environmental responsibility, and a sense of purpose in life.


Classification or sorting involves the allocation or distribution of items based on shared characteristics. It is important to introduce young children participate with different classification activities because this process is vital for intellectual development. The Montessori classroom provides numerous chances for engaging in classification tasks.

Cycle of Activity

When kids really like doing something, they might keep doing it over and over until they feel satisfied inside. Montessori suggests having a three-hour stretch of uninterrupted time for activities. This helps kids focus for a longer time, letting them enjoy and learn deeply from what they’re doing.

Development of the Will

Development of the will refers to a child’s growing ability to control their own actions and make choices. Through engaging activities and independent tasks, children learn to focus, persevere, and complete tasks. This process builds their self-discipline and inner motivation, fostering a sense of responsibility and confidence in decision-making.

Didactic Materials

Didactic materials are carefully designed to promote hands-on learning and exploration while allowing children to learn from their mistakes and develop independence. These materials cover a range of subjects, including mathematics, language, science, and cultural studies, and are designed to be fun, engaging, and open-ended, providing children with many opportunities to learn.

Dr. Maria Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori was an Italian physician, educator, and innovator, acclaimed for her educational method that builds on the way children naturally learn. She was born in Chiaravalle, Italy in 1870 and was the first woman in Italy to earn a medical degree. After completing her medical training, she began to specialize in the study of mental development in children, which she believed to be a neglected field of research. In 1907, Montessori opened the Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) in Rome, where she developed and tested her theories on the process of learning in childhood. Her approach has influenced educational reform and the discipline of child development.

Educating the Whole Child

Educating the whole child is an educational approach that focuses on the development of a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive skills. This approach recognizes that all aspects of a child’s development are interrelated and aims to provide comprehensive learning experiences that meet all of a child’s needs. Educating the whole child involves activities such as classroom discussions, hands-on learning experiences, and problem-solving activities. It also encourages teachers to be mindful of each student’s individual needs, interests, and learning styles. By taking an educational approach that considers the whole child, educators can better prepare students for overall success in life.

Freedom Within Limits

Freedom within limits refers to the idea that children should be given the freedom to explore and learn in their own way, while also being provided with clear boundaries and guidelines to ensure their safety and well-being. The Montessori approach emphasizes the importance of allowing children to follow their own interests and curiosity, rather than imposing adult-directed activities or lessons.

Grace and Courtesy

Grace and courtesy lessons in Montessori education encompass teaching children essential social skills and manners, fostering respect for themselves and others. These lessons helps the child to instill polite behavior, empathy, and consideration for the well-being of others. Students are guided in learning how to greet, converse, share, and resolve conflicts gracefully. These lessons go beyond mere etiquette, emphasizing the development of character and emotional intelligence. Through practical, hands-on activities, Montessori educators help children acquire the tools to navigate social interactions with poise, kindness, and respect, promoting a harmonious and inclusive learning environment.

Intrinsic Education

Intrinsic education emphasizes self-motivation and self-direction in learning, supporting the idea that people have a natural desire to learn. This philosophy contrasts with extrinsic education, which uses rewards and punishments to motivate students. Intrinsic education aligns with Montessori’s philosophy, empowering students to pursue their interests and fostering a love of learning. Intrinsic education emphasizes creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving, as well as self-esteem and autonomy.

Mandarin Immersion

Children below the age of six effortlessly acquire language skills, making bilingual settings a common feature in many of our schools. Our Mandarin Immersion program exposes children to both Mandarin and English literacy, with an emphasis on Mandarin as the primary language of communication throughout the day. This approach fosters rapid fluency development as children naturally engage in conversations with their Mandarin-speaking guides.

Mathematical Mind

The mathematical mind refers to the ability of young children to develop a deep understanding of mathematical concepts through hands-on experiences and exploration. Montessori materials, such as the golden beads and the binomial and trinomial cubes, provide children with a concrete and tangible way to explore mathematical concepts. Montessori education helps children develop not only math skills, but also mathematical reasoning and problem-solving skills, and teachers provide individualized instruction and support to help children build a strong foundation of understanding.


Normalization refers to the process through which a child develops self-discipline, concentration, and a love for learning. When a child becomes normalized, they exhibit a sense of inner peace and joy in their work, showing a deep focus on purposeful activities. This state is achieved when a child’s physical, emotional, and intellectual needs are met in a prepared environment. Dr. Maria Montessori observed that normalized children display independence, respect for others, and a genuine desire to explore and discover, laying a strong foundation for their overall development and lifelong learning journey.

Practical Life Activities

Practical life activities in Montessori education are activities that promote life skills, independence, and self-confidence in their daily lives. These activities include pouring, spooning, sweeping, polishing, and washing, and more complex tasks such as food preparation and environmental care. These activities also help children develop their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, concentration, and social skills, such as cooperation, respect, and responsibility.

Planes of Development

Maria Montessori, drawing from her scientific background and experience, observed a constructive rhythm of life and identified four distinct planes of human development: infancy (0 to 6 years old), childhood (6 to 12 years old), adolescence (12 to 18 years old), and maturity (18 to 24+ years old). She emphasized that each plane represents a unique stage in a person’s life, necessitating a tailored approach from parents, caregivers, and educators. Montessori educators adapt the learning environment to meet the specific developmental needs of each plane, fostering a child-centered approach to education, acknowledging that the support required during infancy differs from that in childhood.

Prepared Environment

The prepared environment refers to a carefully designed physical space and materials that are tailored to the needs and interests of the children in the classroom. It helps to promote independence, exploration, and learning. It includes a learning environment, child-sized furniture, materials, and equipment that are easily accessible to the children.

Silence Game

The silence game is a classic activity that helps develop children’s ability to focus and concentrate. It involves creating a quiet and peaceful environment where children can practice being still and listening carefully. The goal of the game is for children to learn how to focus their attention and tune out distractions, allowing them to better identify sounds in their environment. It is a valuable tool for teaching children how to be mindful and present in their environment.


In a Montessori classroom, self-discipline means children learning to manage their actions and choices independently. Kids develop a sense of responsibility, knowing how to use materials properly and respect the environment. Teachers guide, but the emphasis is on each child making good decisions, fostering a positive and organized learning atmosphere.

Sensitive Periods

Sensitive Periods refer to specific time periods during a child’s early years when they are particularly receptive to acquiring certain skills and abilities. These periods are characterized by a heightened sensitivity and readiness to learn specific aspects of their environment. Each sensitive period focuses on a particular area of development, such as language, movement, social interactions, or cognitive skills. During these critical periods, children are more motivated and capable of absorbing information and experiences, making it an optimal time for parents and educators to provide appropriate stimuli and support to nurture their development.

Sensorial Activities

Montessori sensorial activities help children develop and refine their senses by exploring different textures, sizes, shapes, colors, and sorting attributes. These activities promote cognitive, emotional, and social development by providing opportunities for children to develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, concentration, and observation skills. Through these activities, children learn to distinguish between different objects and their attributes.

Three Period Lessons

The three-period lesson in Montessori education introduces new vocabulary and concepts to young children through three steps: introducing the word or object, asking the child to point to or identify it and describe it, and recalling the word or concept from memory. This method helps children develop language skills, memory, and concentration, all while making learning fun and engaging.

Uninterrupted Work Periods

Uninterrupted work periods in Montessori education refer to certain periods when children are given the freedom to choose their own activities and work on them without interruption, allowing them to fully engage in their work and develop concentration and focus. Montessori teachers observe each child and provide guidance and support as needed, but do not interrupt the child’s concentration or dictate the direction of their work. It also helps children develop important life skills, such as self-discipline, concentration, and independence.

Vocabulary Enrichment

In Montessori education, vocabulary enrichment is tied to sensory experiences and practical activities. Instead of rote learning, this approach connects language with direct interaction with objects and activities, such as using Practical Life materials. Children learn vocabulary related to their tasks, embedding new words in meaningful contexts through multisensory engagement. This holistic method makes language learning a natural, enjoyable part of their daily exploration and discovery, fostering deeper understanding and cognitive development.

Work Cycle

The work cycle in Montessori refers to the uninterrupted period during which children engage in purposeful activity and exploration within the prepared environment. This cycle typically lasts for around three hours, and it allows children to fully immerse themselves in their work and focus on their learning without interruption. During the work cycle, children are free to choose their own activities and work at their own pace, with guidance and support from their teachers. The Montessori approach emphasizes the importance of allowing children to follow their own interests and curiosity, and the work cycle provides the time and space for them to do so. By engaging in self-directed learning, children develop a sense of independence, self-discipline, and a love of learning that will serve them well throughout their lives