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January 29, 2021

Getting Started with Montessori - Terms to Know

Montessori has changed my life. Montessori provides a wonderful anchor to how we parent and educate our children. But, Montessori can feel complicated, like entering a new world. There is a whole shift in the way we see children and childhood, how we respond to children, and how we prepare our homes. Montessori even seems to have a whole language of its own. 

I don't want this new language to be a barrier for anyone trying to become interested in Montessori. So, I've taken some of the most common phrases and concepts in Montessori and created a little cheat sheet just for you. Plus, I want to share some resources so you can learn more! Sign up below to receive a copy of the PDF sent directly to you. 

Montessori Terms to Know

This free printable and resource guide helps parents get started with Montessori at home by explaining some commonly used Montessori terms.

This list is by no means an exhaustive list of Montessori terms and phrases. However, I hope it gives you a greater understanding and introduction to this beautiful way of life. 

Respect and Love

Children deserve the utmost respect. In Montessori environments, children are respected and loved as whole individuals on their own individual developmental paths. Adults don't need to mould children into the people we want to become, but we need to love and respect who they were born to be. Our interactions need to be respectful, and our motivation for action needs to be powered by love.

Prepared Adult

A prepared adult guides a child through their environment. A prepared adult seeks to understand a child’s needs and responds with grace and love. We don't take on the role of disciplinarian and teacher, but one of a curious observer. We watch the child, prepare the environment, model expectations, respond with grace, and inspire a love for the world. We trust that our children need a guide more than they need correction, and specific direction. 

Prepared Environment

Children learn through interaction with their environment. A prepared environment is cultivated to meet the needs of the children working in that space. Each child is born with the power to develop themselves without influences from an adult through their interaction in their environment. A prepared environment is simple, organized, and allows for meaningful participation from the child. Prepared environments should be culturally relevant to the child and beautiful. It is the prepared adult's job to prepare the environment to meet the needs of the children. 


Materials are the things children interact with in their environment. They are simple, self-correcting, natural, and tailored to the interests of a child. They allow for repetition and order. The term materials refers to both academic learning tools and toys. Maria Montessori saw all of a child's play as valuable "work." These are the things that children are interacting with on a daily basis and include child sized tools, toys, learning materials, and more. 

Practical Life

Children can engage in real household tasks and practical work leading to a deep sense of self worth and connection to their community. These tasks include self care tasks (like bathing, combing hair and brushing teeth) and care of the environment tasks (like sweeping, dusting, and washing dishes.) Children are invited to participate and the environment is prepared for spontaneous practical work. However, these activities are not compulsory. Child sized materials help to make these task possible.

Sensitive Periods

Sensitive periods are windows of time where children are particularly drawn to a certain skill. During this special time they learn easily and with joy. Once the sensitive period is over it takes a lot more work for children to learn that particular skill. Sensitive periods change over time and depend roughly on a child' age. Understanding sensitive periods is often key to understanding which materials your child will be interested in your environment. 


It is through observation that adults see the needs of their children and  respond to them. Observation must be a frequent practice. Observation must occur without judgment. We can watch how our children are moving, what they respond to, what interests them, and what they are avoiding. It is through observation that we know where our children are and what they need from us and the environment. 

Planes of Development

Childhood is divided into four planes of development lasting six years each. Each plane has its own characteristics that effect our approach toward the child. The planes are distinct from each other and influence how we need to approach and see our child. What a child needs in one plane could be very different from what a child needs in another. The first plane of development is also split into two sub-categories (ages 0-3 and 3-6). The second plane is from 6-12. 

An Aid to Life

Montessori isn’t just for classroom learning but a way of life informing our action from birth through adulthood. Montessori is for homes, Montessori is for classrooms. Montessori is for how we see the child through adulthood. Montessori is a way of life. In Maria Montessori's words, "This is education, understood as a help to life; an education from birth, which feeds a peaceful revolution..."

Read More: Why choose Montessori at Home? | Beyond the Classroom: Montessori at Home (AMS) 

There are so many other amazing resources available to get started with Montessori. I hope this list of terms and this additional reading helps you get started on your Montessori journey. 

Are there any other terms that you would add to this list?

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