Terminology and Definitions

Terminology and Definitions

“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” – Dr. Maria Montessori


Absorbent Mind

This is the term used by Dr. Montessori to describe the child’s mental capacity for soaking up knowledge and information unconsciously.

Casa dei Bambini

This is the Italian for Children’s House. Casa dei Bambini is the name given to the first educational establishment in the San Lorenzo district of Rome that was founded by Dr. Montessori. The word Casa is often used to describe the Montessori Early Childhood classroom (ages 2.5 – 6 years) of a Montessori School.


A part of the brain that grows rapidly between 6 and 15 months. The child’s power to stand up and walk depends on the development of the cerebellum.

Circle Time

This is the term used to describe the children gathering together for a group activity. The children often sit cross-legged on the circle or ellipse drawn on the floor for the Walking on the Line exercises.

Control of Error

This describes the inbuilt quality of a piece of Montessori material that helps the child to self- correct. It also helps the child perfect the work with that piece of material without needing the assistance or judgment of an adult.

Cosmic Plan

The basis of Dr. Montessori’s Method of education, deriving from her belief that all areas of knowledge are inter-connected and intrinsically related, and that it is essential to make the child aware of the furthest extent of human knowledge.

Cosmic Education

This term is used to describe the Montessori Elementary curriculum. Cosmic Education is a learning approach that offers a holistic view of human history, culture and knowledge. Cosmic Education promotes an awareness of the connections among events and the interdependency between all things and all life forms.

Cycle of Activity

This term is used to describe the cycle of a child’s activity from the choosing of an activity, the completion of the activity, and the return of the activity to the shelf.


This is the term used by Dr. Montessori to indicate the departure of a child from the norm of self- reliant, happy independence.

Early Childhood

The period in human development from years 0 – 6 years.


The period in human development from years 6 – 12.


German term for “earth child.” This term refers to Dr. Montessori’s concept of an adolescent educational programme, which typically includes a school farm.

Explosion into Language

An image used by Dr. Montessori to convey the suddenness, strength and scope of the child’s acquisition of his native language. This explosion typically takes place around 24 months.


An extension involves using familiar materials to teach new, often more complex or abstract concepts or skills.

False Fatigue

A stage in the child’s Work Cycle (see a definition of Work Cycle at end of this Glossary) where the symptoms of fatigue emerge, but in fact this is merely preparing for the most concentrated learning period.

Fundamental Needs of Human Beings

Basic things upon which human survival and civilisation depends. These include the five physical needs of clothing, nourishment, transportation, shelter and defence, and the four spiritual needs of religion or philosophy, culture, vanity or social acceptance and communication.

Great Lessons

Series of stories intended to provide an overview of the elementary curriculum and the impetus for research and further learning. These include The Story of the Universe, The Coming of Life, The Coming of Humans, The Story of Communication in Signs, and The Story of Numbers.

Gross Motor Skills

Use of limbs and large muscles to make large body movements.

Ground Rules

Basic standards and limits for behaviour to facilitate social harmony in a learning environment.


A Montessori term meaning “instinct” or “unconscious will power.”

Human Tendencies

Basic, motivating predispositions in people that guide behaviour. These include exploration, orientation, order, communication, repetition, exactness, activity, manipulation, abstraction and perfection.


The quality or condition of self-reliance, free from needing others or being controlled by them.

Indirect Preparation

The secondary aim or purpose of exercises that lead to future success in learning skills or that may not be readily apparent. For example, when working with the knobbed cylinders, using the pincer grasp, the child indirectly prepares for handwriting.

Inner Orientation

A sensitivity to internal order. The child becomes aware of the different parts of the body and the relationship between them.


Mutual need or reliance among things, individuals or groups for survival, comfort, growth, fulfillment or happiness.

Isolation of Difficulty

The act of separating a particular skill or concept into a specific exercise to facilitate its mastery.

Language Arts

Speaking, listening, writing and reading.

Learning Materials

The materials used in the prepared environment by the Montessori teacher as learning tools for the children.


An educational event or series of events usually involving some direct instruction by a teacher.


Freedom. Related to the degree of choices in learning materials, movement and participation in learning activities and groups.

Logical Consequences

Results or repercussions of an individual’s or group’s behaviour that are generally imposed from outside the individual or group but that are clearly and reasonably connected to that behaviour in the mind of the individual or group.

Look and Say Words

The most frequently used English words that are non-phonetic, such as “the”, “here”, “there”, “once”, etc.


Educational objects or sets of Montessori objects generally designed and created by Dr. Montessori.

Mathematical Mind

The intellectual quality or capacity of human beings to organise and categorize impressions and experience.


The study of quantities, numerals and their operations: addition, multiplication, subtraction and division. Includes measurement and problem solving involving quantities and numerals.


A special Montessori term meaning the recording by the subconscious memory of all the sensations experienced by an individual.

Montessori Method

The systematic and holistic approach to education developed by Dr. Maria Montessori.

Natural Consequences

Results or repercussions of an individual’s or group’s behaviour that occur without interference from another individual, especially a teacher or a parent or other adult.

Non-Phonetic Reading

The second stage of reading in the Montessori system where the child is able to read texts containing any combination of letters representing any of the sounds of the English language.


The Montessori term for a process of adjustment or adaptation, with the result that the child becomes a well-adjusted member of the group. The child develops a positive self-image becomes independent, self-reliant and happy, with the ability to concentrate.

Peer Teaching

The act of working and learning together by students in an educational learning.


This term is used to explain how something sounds. In the Montessori reading scheme the word “phonetic” is used with a specialized meaning to mean when a single sound in the spoken language is represented by a single letter in the written language and pronounced in the way taught to the child using the sandpaper letters.

Phonetic Grammar

The first stage in the Montessori scheme for teaching grammar. This involves the colour-coding of words occurring in phonetic reading material according to their grammatical function in the sentence.

Phonetic Letter

A letter, which by itself represents a single sound. In the Montessori reading scheme phonetic words are built up from phonetic letters.

Phonetic Reading

The first stage of reading in the Montessori system, where the child is expected to read only short words whose letters are pronounced to give single phonetic sounds, the sounds taught with the sandpaper letters.

Planes of Development

Four stages of human growth that go from birth to maturity. These levels have distinct tasks and ideal conditions for learning and include:

Early Childhood, Elementary, Adolescence, and Maturity.

Points of Interest

Features of a material or exercise that are likely to attract the learner’s interest.

Prepared Environment

The learning space that is deliberately and thoughtfully designed and maintained by a Montessorian for the purpose of educating others.


A word used to refer to the non-physical aspects of the child including the mind, the intellect, the personality, the temperament, the spirit and soul.

Sensitive Periods

A term adopted by Dr. Montessori to refer to specific times of intense interest in particular activities or for the learning of particular skills or concepts. Each sensitive period lasts for only as long as is necessary for the child to accomplish a particular stage in development. (The current term used for Sensitive Periods is times of optimal learning).


A curriculum area including materials, lessons, exercises, skills and activities involved in developing the skills of perception, and the mind’s capacity to organize those perceptions in meaningful ways, using the faculties of the senses.

Silence Game

A learning activity designed to help children develop good deportment and self-discipline skills. The Silence Game is usually a group activity, in which the children sit still and strive to make no sounds.

Social Cognition

The understanding of what is appropriate social behaviour for any given situation.

Social Embryo

The term Dr. Montessori used to characterise the stage of social development of the child aged from approximately 3 – 6 years.

Spiritual Embryo

The analogy Dr. Montessori used to describe the development of the child’s psyche from birth to three years old. She compared this development to the physical growth of the embryo in the womb before birth.

Spiritual Preparation

The mental preparations the Montessori teacher should make before entering the environment to ensure that s/he is as ready as possible to meet the needs of all the children in all areas all the time

Spontaneous Activity

Self-initiated involvement or engagement in work or learning.

Three Period Lesson

A systematic instructional procedure involving three distinct stages:

  1. the association of a sense perception or experience with a term or
  2. recognition of the phenomenon corresponding to the term, and
  3. memory and identification of the term or corresponding phenomenon to experience or perception.

Work Cycle

Dr. Montessori described her observation of the work cycle, both in the individual normalized child, and in the class as a whole, as “my never-to-be-forgotten impression.”

The work cycle lasts for 3 hours during which the child, upon arrival at school or after lunch, “…keeps still for a while, then chooses some task he finds easy, such as arranging the colours in gradation; he continues working at this for a time but not for very long; he passes on to some more complicated task, such as that of composing words with the movable letters, and perseveres with this for a long time (about half an hour). At this stage he ceases working, walks about the room, and appears less calm.”

This is the time that Dr. Montessori called “false fatigue.”    “After a few minutes he undertakes some much more difficult work, and becomes so deeply absorbed…that he shows us he has reached the acme of his activity…” When this work is finished, his activity comes to an end in all serenity; he contemplates his handiwork for a long time, then approaches the teacher and begins to confide in her. The appearance of the child is that of a person who is rested, satisfied and uplifted.”

Ref. Montessori, Maria, Spontaneous Activity in Education, 1965, Schocken Books Inc., US