Dr. Maria Montessori introduced many new terms and concepts to describe how children grow and learn and to name the materials typically found in a Montessori classroom. The following Glossary contains terms and their definitions found under family resources of the American Montessori Society as well as those used throughout the program and curriculum of The Montessori School. Please note that this Glossary is not a comprehensive overview of Montessori. Pictures of specific ‘didactic materials’ (see below for definition) have been included.

From birth through approximately age 6, the young child experiences a period of intense mental activity that allows her to “absorb” learning from her environment without conscious effort, naturally and spontaneously.

Association Montessori Internationale, headquartered in Amsterdam, Holland. AMI was founded in 1929 by Dr. Maria Montessori. AMI/USA is the functioning branch office of AMI in the United States.

American Montessori Society, headquartered in New York. AMS was founded by Dr. Nancy McCormick Rambusch in 1960.

Ability to self-educate which occurs only as learners are free to exert their own efforts without censure in an environment that supports learning.

Bank gameActivity using the Golden Beads and numeral cards to associate quantity with numerals and to perform all four mathematical operations. The child receives a written problem and sets out the corresponding numeral cards, using the golden beads to place each quantity next to its numeral. The Golden Beads are carried one quantity at a time using a tray from the shelf on which they belong. A process of combining, counting and exchanging if necessary is followed through to arrive at the total answer. This activity is often done cooperatively with two or three children working together. The process allows for practice of coordination, concentration, order and cooperation.

BCE/CE timelineLarge timeline naming years, centuries and Civilizations of both Before the Common Era and the Common Era. Timeline is color coded white for all B.C.E. dates and red for all C.E. dates. Work with this timeline prepares the child for work with other timelines, orients the child in time and introduces dates, the concept of eras and centuries.

bead barsMetal bars holding varying quantities of colored beads, 1-10. Colors are as follows: 1 bar – red, 2 bar – green, 3 bar – light pink, 4 bar – yellow, 5 bar – light blue, 6 bar – violet, 7 bar – white, 8 bar – brown, 9 bar – dark blue, 10 bar – gold. These bars are used with a variety of other mathematical place value materials for understanding of quantity and symbol to ten as well as place value and construction of multi-digit numbers fostering growth towards abstraction.

Binomial cubeWooden cubes and rectangular prisms painted red, blue and black. They are kept in a box, two sides of which fold out. On the lid and sides of the box is a control pattern. The cubes and prisms form the cube (A+B)³. This material is initially presented at the Primary level as the child deconstructs and constructs the cube; to recognize geometric forms by sight, feel and name, to develop the stereognostic sense through the isolation of objects and to develop a first impression of algebraic relationships. It is later reintroduced at the elementary level as the child explores the parts of the cube (A+B)³ and uses the equation mathematically.

Brown stairsTen solid rectangular prisms of the same length (20 cm) which gradually increase in height and width so they can be arranged to form a staircase. This material allows the child to develop visual discrimination, coordination and concentration while allowing for voluntary movement and the development of the mathematical mind’s impression of the decimal system.

Cards and countersLoose numerals from 1 to 10, or cards having the numerals 1 through 10 painted on them, fifty-five loose, identical chips and a set of cards – five saying “odd” and five saying “even”. The child uses the numeral cards and counters to lay out the corresponding quantity in horizontal pairs, with its numeral from one to ten. He labels numbers “without partners” as odd and those “with partners” as even. Work with cards and counters confirms that the child can associate quantity and symbol, knows 1-10 and can place the numerals in order while introducing concepts of odd and even. It is an exercise of coordination, concentration and preparation for later math work.

In Italian, “Children’s House,” and the name of Dr. Montessori’s first school.

In many Montessori schools, this is the classroom for children ages 2.5 (or 3) to 6 years; other schools call the classroom for this age group Casa, preschool, or primary school. Some schools use this term to refer to the entire school.

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.

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

Maria Montessori urged us to give elementary-level children a “vision of the universe” to help them discover how all parts of the cosmos are interconnected and interdependent. In Montessori schools, these children, ages 6–12, begin by learning about the universe, its galaxies, our galaxy, our solar system, and planet Earth—everything that came before their birth to make their life possible. As they develop respect for past events, they become aware of their own roles and responsibilities in the global society of today and tomorrow.

Decimal boardLong, yellow or golden mat or board divided into thirteen columns of equal width. Progressing from right to left, each column is labeled with a color coded number at the top of the mat/board. Light green for millionths, light pink for hundred thousandths, light blue for ten thousandths, light green for thousandths, light pink for hundredths, light blue for tenths, green for units, blue for tens, red for hundreds, green for thousands, blue for ten thousands, red for hundred thousands, green for millions. The child uses correspondingly color coded stamps and cubes placed in the appropriate place value column to create, add, subtract, multiply and divide decimal fractions. The child’s initial work develops a mathematical understanding of decimal fractions as a subdivision of whole numbers and allows him to quantify decimal fractions. Later work extends into all four operations.

Decimal cubesVery small wooden cubes color coded to the decimal board. Light blue for tenths, light pink for hundredths, light green for thousandths, light blue for ten thousandths, light pink for hundred thousandths and light green for millionths. This material is used in conjunction with the Decimal Board as the child moves toward abstraction in working with decimal fraction operations.

Didactic meaning “designed or intended to teach,” these are the specially designed instructional materials, many of which were invented by Maria Montessori and are used in Montessori classrooms.

The specific and most obvious skills reinforced or taught by the activity and its materials.

Historically, the designation for the lead teacher in a Montessori classroom; some schools still refer to the lead teacher as a “guide.” In Montessori education, the role of the instructor is to direct or guide individual children to purposeful activity based upon the instructor’s observation of each child’s readiness. The child develops his own knowledge through hands-on learning with didactic materials he chooses.

Series of Practical Life exercises in which the child uses appropriately sized tools to prepare food to be consumed by himself and/or shared with his classmates. These activities not only teach skills of food preparation such as peeling, cutting, mashing, spreading, spooning, tonging and pouring,  but allow the child to practice coordination, concentration, independence, order and Grace and Courtesy.

The freedom of the child to engage in constructive concentration of his/her own volition. The child is free to choose which work they would like to do, where they would to work, with whom they would like to work with and for how long. The child must act responsibly toward his community and his environment in order to experience this freedom. The adult must recognize when to step back from the child and give him that freedom.

Geometric solidsTen solid geometric forms (cube, cylinder, cone, sphere, ovoid, ellipsoid, rectangular prism, triangular prism, square-based pyramid, triangular-based pyramid which are used in conjunction with a basket and an attractive cloth or cloth blindfold. This activity aims to help the child recognize the geometric forms by name, sight and feel while developing the stereognostic sense, coordination, order and independence.

Elementary practice of a child (or small group of children) arranging to leave the classroom to further his study of a topic of personal interest.

Golden beadsContainer of loose beads, representing units, bars of ten beads joined together representing tens, squares of ten bars joined together representing hundreds, cubes of ten hundred squares joined together representing thousands. Work with the golden beads helps the child learn hierarchical names, allows the child to experience sensorially the differences between orders and hierarchy while familiarizing the child with place value. It prepares the child for static and dynamic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and provides preparation for geometry concepts of point, line, surface and solid.

Golden matLong, yellow or golden colored fabric mat divided into seven columns of equal width. Progressing from right to left, each column is labeled with a color coded number at the top of the mat. Green 1 for units, blue 10 for tens, red for hundreds, green for thousands, blue for ten thousands, red for hundred thousands and green for millions. The mat is used in conjunction with stamps or bead bars to reinforce concepts of place value and solve problems of all four mathematical operations.

Children are formally instructed in social skills they will use throughout their lives, for example, saying “please” and “thank you,” interrupting conversations politely, requesting rather than demanding assistance, and greeting guests warmly.

Grammar boxesSequence of activities and materials introducing the nine parts of speech (noun, article, adjective, verb, preposition, adverb, conjunction and interjection) through initial presentations that pinpoint the function of the part of speech isolated by the corresponding box. Subsequent boxes introduce a new part of speech and allows for practice with the new part of speech in conjunction with those previously learned eg. an adverb box will only contain words which functions have been previously introduced (noun, article, adjective, verb and preposition). Each box contains phrase or sentence cards and individual word cards which the child uses to replicate the phrases and sentences. The child then identifies each word card’s part of speech by placing the corresponding paper symbol above the word and copies the sentences and symbols with paper and pencil. The work with the boxes involves active manipulation by the child as he studies syntax, gains understanding of meaning of words, enriches his vocabulary, studies the rules of grammar and practices reading.

Grammar command cardsSequence of activities used in conjunction with the Grammar Boxes. Command Cards contain commands, which involve specific actions illustrating the various functions of the parts of speech.The cards are read and commands performed by the child.

To introduce the Cosmic Education, Montessori Elementary educators use the Five Great Lessons entitled: “The Story of the Universe”, which introduces the beginning of the universe, “Life comes to Earth”, which introduces the history of life on earth from one-celled animals and plants to human beings, “Human Beings Come to Earth”, which relates the significance of beings and what differentiates them from other life forms, “The Story of Language”, which describes the origin, structure, and types of writing and speaking, and “The Story of Numbers”, which emphasizes how human beings needed a language for their inventions to convey measurement and how things were made. These lessons are stories which spark the students’ curiosity, and are used when introducing concepts in science, mathematics, social studies, and language. The Great Lessons give background material, the “Big Picture”, so the child will approach the study of any particular area with a feeling for its historical beginnings. The child then investigates the details of the subject matter. They speak to the infinite curiosity of the Elementary child. The lessons include timelines, charts, and demonstrations to provide a visual overview. The lessons are retold each year in increasing levels of detail and complexity. All these stories set the stage of what the child will encounter in his sojourn through Cosmic Education.

Montessori teachers. In order to differentiate the role of the adult as one who directs children to learn not from him/herself but from the environment, Dr. Montessori preferred the use of “directress” instead of teacher. Many Montessori schools in the U.S. use the term “Guide” since it is a better translation of her meaning in English. The teacher acts as a guide by getting the child in touch with the environment, presenting work that responds to the child’s sensitive periods and observed interests.

Hand washingPractical Life work using an apron, specially designed hand washing table with basin, pitcher, soap dish, soap, bucket, sponge and towels to follow a sequence of multiple steps aimed towards the learning of washing hands, pouring from a pitcher, bowl and bucket and hanging towels. This work allows for the child to practice sequencing, coordination, concentration, independence and order, skills later used in more advanced work such as reading.

The development, growth, or maturing process fostered in the child by its activity as well as reinforcement of previously taught or related skills.

Large bead frameA wooden frame with seven wires. Each wire has ten beads color coded green for units, blue for tens, red for hundreds, green for thousands, blue for ten thousands, red for hundred thousands, green for millions. Along the left hand side of the frame, from top to bottom, the symbols 1, 10, 100 are printed on a white background, 1,000, 10,000, 100,000 on a gray background and 1,000,000 on black. Work with this material follows work with the small bead frame and brings to consciousness the function of numbers from 1 to 9,999,999. It may also be used for addition, subtraction and multiplication of numbers larger than 9,999.

Triangle detective gameA box of 54 triangles: three different colors, three different sizes and six different types. The child uses their knowledge of the sides and angles of triangles along with color and size as adjectives describing a noun to identify a specific triangle. This activity aims to make the child aware of the detective power of the adjective and to show him with the help of adjectives it is possible to single out an object in a group.

Classroom for the 6-9 year old child, typically equivalent to first, second and third grade.

Blaise Pascal’s word for the mind’s innate propensity to learn that which will enhance one’s ability to be exact and orderly, to observe, compare and classify. Humans naturally tend to calculate, measure, reason, abstract, imagine and create. But this vital part of intelligence must be given help and direction for it to develop and function. If mathematics is not part of the young child’s experience, his subconscious mind will not be accepting of it at a later date.

Mirror polishingPractical Life exercise using a plastic mat, basket, polish kept in a small eyedropper bottle, small bowl, cotton swab, minute hourglass timer, small hand mirror, soft flannel cloth to polish a mirror and practice coordination, concentration, sequencing, independence, order and care of the environment.

The term may refer to Dr. Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori Method of education, or the method itself.

Movable alphabetA set of cut-out lower case letters in a style to match the sandpaper letters. There are several of each letter of the alphabet and follow vowel and consonant color coding of the sandpaper letters. Cut-outs are stored in a wooden box, compartmentalized to hold all letters. The material is used in a series of exercises which serve to help the child in the exploration and analysis of language, to reproduce words with graphic symbols and understand that written words express thoughts. More advanced work makes the child aware of sound patterns and syllables in preparation of reading and writing.

Children’s House students are aged between 3-6 years old. Lower Elementary students are 6 to 9 and Upper Elementary students are 9-12. The three year cycle is an important aspect of Montessori pedagogy. Its importance is twofold; one, the curriculum is designed for a three year cycle to its completion and two, it is the basis for the establishment of each classroom as a community in and of itself.

North American Montessori Teachers’ Association. Founded in 1970, NAMTA is an affiliate of Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), Amsterdam, Netherlands.

A natural or “normal” developmental process marked by a love of work or activity, concentration, self-discipline, and joy in accomplishment. Dr. Montessori observed that the normalization process is characteristic of human beings at any age.

Within the prepared environment of the Montessori classroom, children experience a normalizing event every time they complete a basic work cycle, which includes (1) choosing an activity; (2) completing the activity and returning the materials to the proper place; and (3) experiencing a sense of satisfaction.

Number rodsTen wooden rods varying in length by increments of ten centimeter, and ranging in length from ten centimeters to one meter. The ten centimeter segments are painted alternately red and blue. This material is used to introduce the quantity of numbers 1 to 10, show the sequence of numbers, introduce the names of numbers and associate the name and quantity of numbers 1 to 10. The child working with this material practices concentration and order and experiences sensorially the increasing size of each rod.

Pink towerTower of ten pink, wooden cubes which are graduated in dimension by one cm on all sides moving from the smallest cube (sides 1 cm long) to the largest (sides 10 cm long). The child works to deconstruct and construct the tower one cube at a time experiencing sensorially the concept of size while developing coordination, order and concentration. This material gives the child the sensorial experience of a set of ten and the decimal system.

Four distinct periods of growth, development, and learning that build on each other as children and youth progress through them: ages 0–6 (the period of the “absorbent mind”); 6–12 (the period of reasoning and abstraction); 12–18 (when youth construct the “social self,” developing moral values and becoming emotionally independent); and 18–24 years (when young adults construct an understanding of the self and seek to know their place in the world).

Animal storiesPlant storiesPictures of plants and animals, labels of these plants and animals, corresponding stories which provide a description of the plant or animal in a “Who Am I?” format. The child either reads the information himself, or listens as an adult reads and matches the information to the corresponding picture card and label. This work involves early knowledge of the plant and animal kingdoms and is a reading exercise.

The Montessori term that encompasses domestic 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.

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.

In some Montessori schools, this is a classroom for children ages 3–6 years; however, the American Montessori Society uses the term Early Childhood and defines the age range as 2.5–6 years.

Reading analysisWooden board and wooden labels consisting of a red circle labeled predicate, black arrow and circle labeled subject, black arrow and smaller circle labeled direct object. Additional black arrow and circle for indirect object, orange arrows and circles labeled as adverbials may be included. Child uses the board and a series of questions to cut apart sentence strips, placing the part of the sentence on its corresponding place on the board. The child may later diagram the sentence using pencil and paper. This sequence of study helps the child to focus first on the sentence and interrelationship of its parts one to another, and ultimately on the kinds of sentences defined according to type and usage.

Red rodsSensorial material consisting of ten wooden rods varying in length by increments of ten centimeters, and ranging in length from ten centimeters to one meter. Rods are carried by the child from the shelf to a work mat by placing one hand at each end of the rod. Through this movement the child experiences sensorially the concept of length while practicing coordination, sequence, concentration, order and independence.

Sandpaper letter 'e'Sandpaper letter 'n'Twenty-six wooden tablets with the letters of the alphabet on them in sandpaper. The consonants are red and the vowels are blue. The letters are presented and traced by the child in a variety of language exercises aimed to help the child associate sound to symbol, coordinate the visual, stereognostic and auditory senses and prepare for reading and writing.

A critical time during human development when the child is biologically ready and receptive to acquiring a specific skill or ability—such as the use of language or a sense of order—and is therefore particularly sensitive to stimuli that promote the development of that skill. A Montessori teacher prepares the environment to meet the developmental needs of each sensitive period.

These activities develop and refine the 5 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.

Small bead frameA wooden frame with four horizontal wires. Each wire has ten beads color coded green for units, blue for tens, red for hundreds, green for thousands. Along the left hand side of the frame, from top to bottom, the symbols 1, 10, 100 are printed on a white background, and 1,000 is printed on gray. The child slides the beads from left to right to compose numbers for work with place value and to solve problems involving addition, subtraction and multiplication.

Spindle boxTwo wooden boxes, each of which has five components side by side. The compartments of the first box are numbered 0-4, and the compartments of the second box are numbered from 5 to 9. Forty-five wooden spindles. The child places the corresponding quantity of spindles into each compartment in the box to practice sequential counting, association of quantity and symbol, the concept of zero and be introduced to the terminology of sets.

Term used to describe characteristics of the Montessori Curriculum such as:

  • Everything is interrelated. One lesson leads to many others.
  • The child moves from the concrete toward abstract understanding.
  • Lessons and work begin with the big picture and move to increasing detail.
  • Major themes in the curriculum are repeated in increasing levels of abstraction.

Stamp gameA box of small square tiles in the colors of the decimal numeral cards. Units are green and imprinted with the numeral 1. Tens are blue and imprinted, 10. Hundreds are red and imprinted, 100. Thousands are green and imprinted, 1000. The child uses the stamp game for further experience with functions of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. He develops understanding of all four operations in a more abstract form.

Stereognostic bagA small, cloth drawstring bag in which various objects are placed to be explored through stereognostic (tactile-muscular) senses. This activity is most often used in a small group setting developing Grace & Courtesy and social skills.

A 3-step technique for presenting information to the child. In the first—the introduction or naming period—the teacher demonstrates what “this is.” (The teacher might say “This is a mountain” while pointing to it on a 3-dimensional map.) In the second—the association or recognition period—the teacher asks the child to “show” what was just identified (“Show me the mountain”). Finally, in the recall period, the teacher asks the child to name the object or area. Moving from new information to passive recall to active identification reinforces the child’s learning and demonstrates her mastery.

Timeline of lifeLarge, colored timeline identifying periods of the Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic Eras. The timeline includes illustrations of dominant life forms during each period, lines of evolution for those life forms and illustrations of the changes in land distribution. The timeline is used in the presentation of the second Great Lesson, Coming of Life and its subsequent studies to give the child a detailed understanding of the progression of the development of life on Earth.

Timeline of manLarge, colored timeline identifying the development of early humans (Australopithecus, Paranthropus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens sapiens) over the past 4 million years. The timeline is used in the presentation of the third Great Lesson, Coming of Man and its subsequent studies to help the child develop an awareness of the different early human species, to show how technology and culture develop at an increasing pace and to build a foundation for the study of human culture.

Classroom for the 9-12 year old child, typically equivalent to fourth, fifth and 6th grade.

Word study towerContainer of word study activities meant to aid the development of language. They are aids to spelling and to the extension of vocabulary beginning with suffixes, prefixes and including compound words, synonyms, antonyms, homophones, homographs and homonyms followed by the study of the origin of words.

Work is 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.”

Posted with permission from: American Montessori Society