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What is Montessori? | Montessori vs. Conventional | Learn More About Montessori


Montessori Philosophy

Our Philosophy

At Cedar Valley Montessori School (CVMS) our early childhood education program is designed to fit each child, rather than expecting the child to fit the program. The proven Montessori approach works with your child to instill a natural love of learning that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Our goal is to help each child grow socially, intellectually, and ethically in an environment which emphasizes individualized learning and respect. Our programs are structured to create thoughtful, independent and confident learners who have respect for themselves and the world around them.


Montessori math work

What is Montessori?

The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six. For that is when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed.”
~ Maria Montessori

The Montessori Method of education was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori in Italy at the turn of the last century. The Montessori Method is structured to work with the developmental instincts of each child. It encourages that child’s growth as a whole individual – intellectually, socially, spiritually, and physically.

Maria Montessori became Italy’s first licensed female physician in 1896. She went on to obtain degrees in psychology and philosophy, and founded a school where she closely observed children’s learning at different ages.

Based on her findings, Montessori created a distinct system of learning unique to each stage of a child’s development characterized by:

  • a home-like environment geared to the child’s perspective
  • respect for each child as a unique learner
  • a structured prepared classroom where children have freedom of choice within limits
  • carefully crafted Montessori learning materials (sometimes called “apparatus”) that promote conceptual learning
  • specially trained teachers
  • a carefully integrated interdisciplinary curriculum
  • multi-age classrooms
  • ample work periods
  • mutual respect with students, teachers and the community

At CVMS, we follow the best practices of Maria Montessori which prepare our children to be:

  • academically prepared for higher education and lifelong learning,
  • intrinsically motivated to learn and engage in new activities,
  • guided by internalized ground rules – to behave appropriately in the absence of an authority figure,
  • socially responsible – sensitive to the needs of others,
  • autonomous – self-directed and comfortable with their growing independence,
  • confident and competent – not afraid of failure and willing to learn from mistakes,
  • creative and original in thought – often taking great satisfaction in self-expression,
  • spiritually aware of the natural world and the human condition.

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Students mixing colors

Montessori vs. Conventional education

Research has shown that the best predictor of future success is a positive sense of self-esteem. Montessori programs, based on self-directed, noncompetitive activities, help children develop strong self-images and the confidence to face challenges and change with optimism.

The core difference between Montessori and “traditional” educational methods is its focus on the child. Maria Montessori spent decades observing children at different stages of development – from birth to adulthood.

Children attend multi-aged classrooms, which benefit them individually and socially by giving the younger children role models and the older children the opportunity to be leaders. The common thread in all of Montessori’s method is the deep respect that is shown for the child as an individual and the director of his own development.

Montessori vs. Conventional Schools comparison

– Courtesy of the Montessori Foundation – www.montessori.org


Conventional Schools

View of Child Holistic: Child is seen as a whole human being with cognitive, physical, psychological, spiritual and social needs. Child is seen as a “learner or “scholar” and is evaluated in terms of achievement against pre-defined academic and social goals.
Role of Child in Learning Child is active constructor of knowledge. Child is seen as a receiver of learning input.
Role of Adult The adult prepares the environment and offers opportunities for learning to the child and then gently guides and assists the child. The teacher transmits information and skills to the child.
Discipline Discipline is developed as an intrinsically motivated disposition controlled by the will. 

Focus is on disposition and attitude rather than simple observable behavior.

Relationships are important.


Discipline is externally defined and enforced. 

Focus is on behavior.

Hierarchies are important.


Instruction Lessons are short and individually planned. Group lessons are the exception rather than the rule. Lessons are geared to individual developmental level and learning style of the child. Lessons are usually given to the group.
Social Aspects The focus is on developing the community through the development of the individual. Peace, co-operation, talking and communication is encouraged. 

Collaboration is encouraged.


Competition and achievement are promoted. Talking among peers is discouraged. Helping others is regarded as teaching, not collaborating.
Grouping Mixed age and non-graded grouping conforming to developmental planes. Children are separated into grade levels according to age, not ability.
Curriculum Integrated across disciplines. Developmentally referenced. 

Main focus is on process of learning.

Values concentration over content.


Separated into distinct academic disciplines. 

Age and grade are referenced. Focus is on product/outcomes. Content and skills are a priority.


Scheduling Minimum three-hour, uninterrupted cycle of spontaneous activity. Short, distinct periods dictated by curricular outcomes, assumptions regarding age grouping or teacher needs.
Curriculum Specifics Care of self and environment are prioritized. Social issues, grace and courtesy are emphasized. Cosmic Education. Core curriculum – literacy and numeracy are prioritized. Personal development, social skills, etc. seen as extras to core curriculum.
Assessment Ongoing assessment based largely on observation. Individual developmental referencing. Standardized testing. Norm referenced. Comparative.
Point of Reference Whole to part. Starts with detail.
Movement and Choice Movement and free choice are integral to the system. This promotes intrinsic motivation. Core curriculum is more important than child’s interest. Movement is generally discouraged.
Error Error welcomed as an important component of learning. Errors are not welcomed. Teachers correct work.

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Dinosaur timeline

Dinosaur timeline

Learn more about Montessori

Library & Suggested Reading

Still have questions about the Montessori method of education, or parenting in general? Visit the CVMS lending library located in our main office. Parents can borrow a variety of books, DVDs, articles and other materials any time.
Some other great sources for more in-depth Montessori information include:

American Montessori Society (AMS) is a non-profit educational society founded in 1960 whose purpose is to help children develop their potential through the educational principles of Dr. Maria Montessori. This includes developing Montessori programs, accrediting schools, granting credentials, encouraging research, organizing seminars and symposia, and promoting all other areas which relate to the dissemination of Montessori philosophy.

North American Montessori Center (NAMC) Since 1996 the North American Montessori Center (NAMC) has
been offering professional Montessori diploma programs and curriculum development via distance learning to individuals throughout North America and around the globe

International Montessori Council (IMC) The International Montessori Council (IMC) is an international umbrella organization of Montessori schools, educators, parents, businesses, and friends dedicated to the advancement of Montessori education around the world. The Council works in close affiliation with the Montessori Foundation.

Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) The Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) was founded in 1929 by Dr. Maria Montessori to maintain the integrity of her life’s work, and to ensure that it would be perpetuated after her death. The site describes the pedagogy, provides a historical background, and has an online store for purchasing materials, books, and videos. AMI USA

North American Montessori Teacher’s Association (NAMTA) The North American Montessori Teachers’ Association (NAMTA) is a membership organization open to parents, teachers, and anyone else interested in Montessori education. Visit the site for more a wealth of Montessori information.

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Cedar Valley Montessori School • 110 5th Avenue S.E. • Cedar Rapids, IA 52401 • (319) 365-5155 • info@cvmontessori.org
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