Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Maria Montessori

Italian Educator, Physician and Humanitarian, Creator of the Montessori Method

"The first idea that the child must acquire, in order to be actively disciplined, is that of the difference between good and evil, and the task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility, and evil with activity."

"The pedagogical method of observation has for its base the liberty of the child, and liberty is activity... Discipline must come through liberty."

"The greatest step forward in human evolution was made when society began to help the weak and the poor, instead of oppressing and despising them."

"The number of different objects in the world is infinite, while the qualities they possess are limited. These qualities are therefore like the letters of the alphabet which can make up an indefinite number of words. If we present the children with objects exhibiting each of these qualities separately [and “classified in an orderly way”], this is like giving them an alphabet for their explorations, a key to the doors of knowledge."

"It is easy to substitute our will for that of a child by means of suggestion or coercion; but when we have done this we have robbed him of his greatest right, the right to construct his own personality."

"At particular epochs of their life, [children] reveal an intense and extraordinary interest in certain objects and exercises, which one might look for in vain at a later age… Such attention is not the results of mere curiosity; it is more like a burning passion. A keen emotion first rises from the depths of the unconscious, and sets in motion a marvelous creative activity in contact with the outside world, thus building up consciousness."

"The most striking [way in which children respond to external influences] and one that is almost like a magic wand for opening the gate to the normal expression of a child’s natural gifts is activity concentrated on some task that requires movement of the hands guided by the intellect."

"When an apostle seeks to win a soul to religion… he appeals to understanding, not to imagination, for he knows that his task is not to create something, but to call aloud to that which is slumbering in the depths of the heart."

"In nature nothing creates itself an nothing destroys itself."

"Within the child lies the fate of the future."

"Human dignity… is derived from a sense of independence."

"The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences."

"It is true that we cannot make a genius. We can only give to teach child the chance to fulfil his potential possibilities."

"Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed."

"Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future."

"It is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child he once was."

"The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. The child who concentrates is immensely happy."

"Respect all the reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them."

"To aid life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself, that is the basic task of the educator."

"To let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom."

"The child, in fact, once he feels sure of himself, will no longer seek the approval of authority after every step."

"Of all things love is the most potent."

"Little children, from the moment they are weaned, are making their way toward independence."

"Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment."

"Imitation is the first instinct of the awakening mind."

"No adult can bear a child’s burden or grow up in his stead."

"These words reveal the child’s inner needs; ‘Help me to do it alone’."

"The prize and punishments are incentives toward unnatural or forced effort, and, therefore we certainly cannot speak of the natural development of the child in connection with them."

"Character formation cannot be taught. It comes from experience and not from explanation."

"Growth comes from activity, not from intellectual understanding."

"Education is a natural process carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words, but by experiences in the environment."

"Education should no longer be mostly imparting knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentials."

"It is not in human nature for all men to tread the same path of development, as animals do of a single species."

"The child’s parents are not his makers but his guardians."

"The child should live in an environment of beauty."

"Our aim is not only to make the child understand, and still less to force him to memorize, but so to touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his innermost core."

"The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character; it is a preparation of the spirit."

"It is my belief that the thing which we should cultivate in our teachers is more the spirit than the mechanical skill of the scientist; that is, the direction of the preparation should be toward the spirit rather than toward the mechanism."

"The teacher's task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child."

"The first duty of an education is to stir up life, but leave it free to develop."

"Written language can be acquired more easily by children of four years than by those of six. While children of six usually need at least two years to learn how to write children of four years learn this second language within a few months."

"We must, therefore, quit our roles as jailers and instead take care to prepare an environment in which we do as little as possible to exhaust the child with our surveillance and instruction."

"We must help the child to liberate himself from his defects without making him feel his weakness."

"The adult must find within himself the still unknown error that prevents him from seeing the child as he is."

"In their dealings with children adults do not become egotistic but egocentric. They look upon everything pertaining to a child's soul from their own point of view and, consequently, their misapprehensions increase."

"There is a part of a child's soul that has always been unknown but which must be known. With a spirit of sacrifice and enthusiasm we must go in search like those who travel to foreign lands and tear up mountains in their search for hidden gold. This is what the adults must do who seeks the unknown factor that lies hidden in the depths of a child's soul. This is a labor in which all must share, without distinction of nation, race, or social standing since it means the bringing forth of an indispensable element for the moral progress of mankind."

"If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them into those kinds of activities which they can perform themselves and which keep them from being a burden to others because of their inabilities. We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down the stairs, to pick up fallen objects, to dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs in a way that is clearly understood, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts. All this is part of an education for independence."

"Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create."

"Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence."

"We cannot know the consequences of suppressing a child's spontaneity when he is just beginning to be active. We may even suffocate life itself. That humanity which is revealed in all its intellectual splendor during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration. It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom. Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child to open up himself to life."