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The Research

Rathunde, K., “A Comparison of Montessori and Traditional Middle Schools: Motivation, Quality of Experience, and Social Context,” The NAMTA Journal 28.3 (Summer 2003): pp. 12-52. 

This study compared middle school students in Montessori programs with students in traditional middle schools, and found significantly higher student motivation and socialization among the Montessori students. “There were strong differences suggesting that Montessori students were feeling more active, strong, excited, happy, relaxed, sociable, and proud while engaged in academic work. They were also enjoying themselves more, they were more interested in what they were doing, and they wanted to be doing academic work more than the traditional students.”

"[Montessori] developed a school movement that is perfectly in-line with what modern science and today’s neuroscience research confirm our children need.

Even though the field of modern neuroscience and brain research did not exist during her time, her theories and methodologies have withstood the test of time, and today neuroscience and brain research fully support the Montessori methodology."

"'The first duty of an education is to stir up life, but leave it free to develop,' claimed Maria Montessori more than a century ago. Today, the educational triangle that her education and her fundamental principle are based on are being proven by neuroscience.

What’s more, after years of experimentation, Steve Hughes, neuropsychologist, pediatrician, and Montessori father, is firm in his conviction that the Montessori Method strengthens certain brain functions that help expand cognitive development. He has even given the method the nickname “the original system of learning based on the brain.”

Neurological development is strengthened by learning through Montessori methodology. This claim can not only be supported by hundreds of successful cases of development since its establishment, but also through the various discoveries that today’s neuroscience has made."

Maria Montessori described observing children in a traditional classroom as being tantamount to an entomologist observing dead insects pinned to a board, “where the spontaneous expression of a child’s personality is so suppressed that he is almost like a corpse, and where he is so fixed to his place at a desk that he resembles a butterfly mounted to a pin” (Montessori, 1967b).

Montessori’s insights about the way children learn and develop were not confirmed by science until many years later...

In her book, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, Angeline Stoll Lillard (2005) outlines the eight principles incorporated into Montessori Education and provides the evidence base supporting each one. The principles are:

  1. movement and cognition are intertwined

  2. students should have a sense of control

  3. interest improves learning

  4. extrinsic rewards hinder intrinsic motivation

  5. learning from and with peers

  6. learning should be contextualized

  7. optimal adult-child interactions

  8. order in the environment

“The Montessori method is like education designed by a pediatric developmental neuropsychologist.”

– Dr. Steven Hughes, Ph.D, President, American Academy of Pediatric Neuropsychology

The Neurological Case for Montessori Education

by Dr. Steven Hughes

Dohrmann, K., “Outcomes for Students in a Montessori Program: A Longitudinal Study of the Experience in the Milwaukee Public Schools” (AMI/USA May, 2003). 

This longitudinal study of Milwaukee high school graduates showed that students who had attended Montessori preschool and elementary programs significantly outperformed a peer control group on math/science scores. “In essence,” the study found, “attending a Montessori program from the approximate ages of three to 11 predicts significantly higher mathematics and science standardized test scores in high school.

Donabella, M.A. & Rule, A.C., “Four Seventh Grade Students who Qualify for Academic Intervention Services in Mathematics Learning Multi-Digit Multiplication with the Montessori Checkerboard,” TEACHING Exceptional Children Plus, 4(3) Article 2 (January 2008). Retrieved October 4, 2012 from

This article describes the positive impact of Montessori manipulative materials on four seventh grade students who qualified for academic intervention services because of previous low state test scores in mathematics. The article presents a brief introduction to the Montessori approach to learning, an overview of Montessori mathematics, and an explanation of the Checkerboard for Multiplication with related multiplication manipulatives. Pretest/posttest results of the four students indicated that all increased their understanding of multiplication. The results of an attitude survey showed students improved in enjoyment, perceived knowledge, and confidence in solving multiplication problems.

East Dallas Community Schools: Montessori Outcomes

East Dallas Community Schools operates two inner-city Montessori schools that serve an ethnically and culturally diverse group of primarily low-income families. In over 30 years of using the Montessori approach to education, EDCS has proved that all children, regardless of race or income, can succeed in school when you start young and involve parents.   In a neighborhood in which the high school dropout rate is over 50%, children who attend EDCS have graduated from high school at a rate of 94%, with 88% of those graduates attending college. A ten-year study of standardized test scores found that third grade students’ average scores were in the top 36% nationwide in reading and math. Even though many of these children start school without speaking any English, 100% of the children test as fluent in English by the end of the third grade.

Lillard, A.S. & Else-Quest, N., “Evaluating Montessori Education,” Science 131: 1893-94 (Sept. 29, 2006).

Researchers compared Montessori students with students in other school programs, and found that 5-year-old children who completed the three-year cycle in the Montessori preschool program scored higher on both academic and behavioral tests than the control group.   The study also found that 12-year-old Montessori students wrote more sophisticated and creative stories and showed a more highly developed sense of community and social skills than students in other programs. 

Diamond, A. & Lee, K., “Interventions Shown to Aid Executive Function Development in Children 4 to 12 Years Old,” Science 333:959-964 and Supporting Online Material (Aug. 19, 2011).

To be successful takes creativity, flexibility, self-control, and discipline. Central to all those are executive functions, including mentally playing with ideas, giving a considered rather than a compulsive response, and staying focused.  This review compares research results from various activities and curricula that have been shown to improve children’s executive function, including computerized training, aerobic exercise, martial arts and mindfulness practices, and classroom curricula including Montessori education. In a comparison of curricula and curricula add-ons, the Montessori approach is shown to meet more criteria for the development of executive function for a more extended age group.

Diamond, A., “The Evidence Base for Improving School Outcomes by Addressing the Whole Child and by Addressing Skills and Attitudes, Not Just Content.” Early Education and Development, 2: 780-793 (2010)

Dr. Adele Diamond, Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia, is one of the world’s leading researchers on the development of cognitive function and a supporter of Montessori education. In this article she discusses effective strategies for advancing academic achievement, and advises: “Programs that address the whole child (cognitive, emotional, social and physical needs) are the most successful at improving any single aspect – for good reason. For example, if you want to help children with academic development, you will not realize the best results if you focus only on academic achievement (though at first glance doing that might seem the most efficient strategy); counterintuitively, the most efficient and effective strategy for advancing academic achievement is to also nurture children’s social, emotional, and physical needs.”

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