Montessori: The Science behind the Genius

Montessori: The Science behind the Genius

Montessori: The Science behind the Genius

Montessori: The Science behind the Genius


Traditional American schooling is in constant crisis because it is based on two poor models for children's learning: the school as a factory and the child as a blank slate. School reforms repeatedly fail by not learning from the shortcomings of these models.

One hundred years ago, Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy, devised a very different method of educating children, based on her observations of how they naturally learn. Does Montessori education provide a viable alternative to traditional schooling? Do Dr. Montessori's theories and practices stand up to the scrutiny of modern-day developmental psychology? Can developmental psychology tell us anything about how and why Montessori methods work?

InMontessori, now with a foreword by Renilde Montessori, the youngest grandchild of Maria Montessori, Angeline Stoll Lillard shows that science has finally caught up with Maria Montessori. Lillard presents the research concerning eight insights that are foundations of Montessori education, describing how each of these insights is applied in the Montessori classroom. In reading this book, parents and teachers alike will develop a clear understanding of what happens in a Montessori classroom and, more important, why it happens and why it works. Lillard, however, does much more than explain the scientific basis for Montessori's system: Amid the clamor for evidence-based education, she presents the studies that show how children learn best, makes clear why many traditional practices come up short, and describes an ingenious alternative that works. Everyone interested in education, at all levels and in all forms, will take from this book a wealth of insights. Montessoriis indispensable reading for anyone interested in what psychologists know about human learning and development, and how to use it to improve teaching effectiveness.


Twenty years ago, I was a Montessori skeptic. I had taken a Montessori teacher training course and was frustrated at not being able to discriminate scientifically supported ideas from mere opinion. I had met Montessori teachers who sometimes came across as more devoted to upholding their heroine than to learning about children. And I was convinced that while Montessori surely had its strengths, traditional and other forms of education surely had theirs too, and the best educational system would combine the strengths of each system.

When I embarked on graduate study in developmental psychology, I occasionally came across a study that happened to reiterate a major principle of Montessori, and I had seen enough of such studies by the time I had children to want them to be in a strong Montessori school if I could find one. (Not all Montessori schools would qualify, for reasons that will become clear in this book.) Having my children in a Montessori school led me to study Montessori practices more deeply, and I saw more convergences with research over time. The education director at my children's school, Trisha Thompson Willingham, asked me to write a column about these convergences for the school newsletter, and from that column this book was launched.

The delegates at Oxford University Press asked that I write a balanced assessment of Montessori, pointing out where the evidence is not supportive as well as where it is. I have done my best to do this, but there is a real . . .

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