Educating the whole child and honoring the diversity of each individual from
Pre-elementary (age 3) through Grade 8.

Key Montessori Terms to Help Understand Your Child's Educational Journey

Key Montessori Terms to Help Understand Your Child's Educational Journey
Eton Communications

When you start your child in a Montessori school, you may hear some new terms and may wonder about their meaning and application. We chose a few key Montessori words to share and to help you understand your child's educational journey.

Mathematical Mind

All babies are born with mathematical minds in that they have a propensity to learn things that enhance their ability to be exact and orderly, to observe, compare, and classify. Humans naturally tend to calculate, measure, reason, abstract, imagine and create. However, this vital part of intelligence, the mathematical mind, must be given help and direction to develop and function. If mathematics is not part of the young child's experience, the child's subconscious mind will not be accepting of it at a later date.


Classification occurs when a child sorts, allocates, or distributes items according to shared characteristics. The young child engages in classification activities because the process is essential for the construction of the intellect. The Montessori classroom offers many opportunities for classification.

Concrete to Abstract

A logical, developmentally appropriate progression that allows the child to come to an abstract understanding of a concept by first encountering it in a concrete form, such as learning the mathematical concept of the decimal system by working with Golden Beads grouped into units, 10s, 100s, and 1,000s.

Control of Error

Montessori materials are designed so that the child receives instant feedback as the child works, allowing the child to recognize, correct, and learn from mistakes without adult assistance. Putting control of the activity in the child's hands strengthens the child's self‑esteem, self-motivation, and learning.

Practical Life and Practical Life Activities

The Montessori term "Practical Life" encompasses work to maintain the home and classroom environment, self‑care and personal hygiene, and grace and courtesy. Practical life skills are of great interest to young children and form the basis of later abstract learning. Young children in Montessori classrooms learn to take care of themselves and their environment through activities such as hand washing, dusting, and mopping. These activities help toddlers and preschool‑age children learn to work independently, develop concentration, and prepare for later work with reading and math; older children participate in more advanced activities.

Prepared Environment

The teacher prepares the environment of the Montessori classroom with carefully selected, aesthetically arranged materials that are presented sequentially to meet the developmental needs of the children using the space. Well‑prepared Montessori environments contain appropriately sized furniture, a full complement of Montessori materials, and enough space to allow children to work in peace, alone or in small or large groups.

Sensorial Exercises

These activities develop and refine the five senses (seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling) and build a foundation for speech, writing, and math through the use of Sensorial Materials. The exercises also bring order to the barrage of sensorial impressions the child experiences from birth onward.

Work and Work Cycle

Purposeful activity. Maria Montessori observed that children learn through purposeful activities of their own choosing; Montessori schools call all of the children's activities "work." A basic work cycle begins with choosing an activity, doing that activity, returning the activity to order, and then experiencing a sense of satisfaction. That defines one unit or cycle of work. This sense of satisfaction, which may last a few seconds to a few minutes, helps motivate the child (and adult) to choose the next activity, thus creating another cycle of work.