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Montessori Terminology

There are a lot of terms used in Montessori theory that are not used in other preschool educational theories. It's a whole new language that can take time to digest. Eventually the theories connect, the Montessori terminology makes sense, and everything meshes together; a new vision of the child can be seen. We've included the Montessori terminology you'll find most helpful.

Absorbent Mind:  The mental capacity of the young child to learn and assimilate effortlessly and unconsciously the sensations and information from the world around him. Learn more about the Absorbent Mind.

Abstraction: The act of drawing conclusions, conceptualizing, synthesizing or imagining from experiences in the real world. Read about Materialized Abstractions.

Auto-education: Self-teaching and self-learning through the use of the didactic materials, objects and activities within the Montessori environment.

Control of Error: Features of the learning material (or activity) which allows the child to detect if mistakes or errors have been made.

Cosmic Education: A learning approach that offers a holistic view of human culture and knowledge. Montessori promotes an awareness of the connections so that the child develops himself as a total being.

Cycles of Activity: Long periods of concentration on a particular task that the child feels internally compelled to complete.

Directress: Referred to as the "teacher" in traditional schools. The role of the Directress is to observe each child and, using their current interests, guide them to appropriate activities and materials.

Extension Lessons: An extension lesson uses familiar concepts and materials to teach new, usually more complex or abstract concepts or skills. Learn more about Extension Lessons.

Freedom: The child's free movements and experiences in an environment that provides discipline through liberty and respect for his rights.

Independence: The ability to be self-reliant and to be free from needing others. It is through independence that freedom is experienced.

Indirect Preparation: The secondary aim of an exercise or activity that will lead to future success in learning another skill. Example - the knobbed cylinders. The direct preparation of the knobbed cylinders is development of the pincer grasp. The indirect preparation is development of the hand for handwriting.

Isolation of Difficulty: Separating a particular skill or concept so that it is the main focus and may be mastered.

Logical Consequence: Consequences that are arranged when natural consequences cannot be used, or do not exist. Example - A child who is disrupting the works of others may be asked to work at an individual table.

Mathematical Mind: The mental capacity of human beings to organize and categorize impressions and experiences. The mathematical mind has an impulse to produce order out of disorder.

Natural Consequence: The results or repercussions of an individual's (or group's) behavior that occurs without the interference of another individual. Example -

Normalization: The process of adaptation and adjustment that results in a joyful, thriving, self-disciplined child or group. Read about Normalization.

Obedience: An act of will that develops gradually. Up until the age of 3 years, a child may obey occasionally but does not have the ability to obey consistently. As a child develops self-control and discipline their ability to obey improves.

Points of Interest: Directs a child's attention to specific points of the exercise to draw them deeper into the activity and guide them towards the completion of the exercise.

Prepared Environment: A Montessori classroom is considered a prepared environment. It is prepared by the adult for the children using developmentally appropriate materials that meet the needs of the children. Read about the Prepared Environment.

Presentation: The adult in the classroom (known as the Directress) gives individual children lessons or demonstrations on how to use the materials. After a presentation has been given, the child is free to choose to work with the materials at any time.

Sensitive Periods: A period of time in which a child is most receptive to acquiring a skill. It's during these periods that a child is drawn towards certain work in the Montessori classroom that will meet their need to fulfill the sensitivity. Read about Sensitive Periods.

Socialization: The Montessori environment emphasizes peer-to-peer social interactions and supports the social development of the child at each stage of development.

Sound Games: Sound games are simple language games that are played to assist the child in learning that words are made up of individual sounds. Children are brought to the awareness that words are made of sounds and not letter names. Learn about Language Training.

Three Hour Work Cycle: Maria Montessori consistently observed that children had the capacity and desire to work for extended periods of time (three hours was ideal). During this time they had the ability to focus and work freely, if they were not interrupted by the adults. Learn about the Three Year Cycle.

Three Period Lesson: Montessori three period lessons are used through the Montessori environment to help introduce a new concept and lead the children along a path to understanding and mastery. In the are of language, a three period less is used to increase, enrich and broaden a child's vocabulary. There are three steps to a three period lesson. Learn how to give a three period lesson.

Work: In a Montessori environment purposeful activity that the children engage in is called "work". The children choose their own work during the three hour work cycle.