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Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  798 ratings  ·  78 reviews
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. In Montessori, Angeline Stoll Lillard shows that science has finally caught up with Maria Montessori. Lillard presents the research behind eight insights that are foundations of Montessor ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published March 1st 2007 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 2005)
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2020 update: My views on Montessori have shifted quite a bit; I no longer work in a Montessori school but in a public early learning center, in a special education self-contained classroom.


For whatever reason, despite working at a Montessori school, I am biased against Montessori. I tend to be biased against sets of beliefs that come from some time ago, mostly because I believe that science has advanced (as it always does) and that there must be some part of the belief system that has been pr
Jan 13, 2012 rated it liked it
I read this in consideration of using the Montessori method to homeschool my daughter in a few years.

I appreciated the balanced tone of the book, both giving a history of the American school system and the place in which the Montessori philosophy of education diverges. It included numerous citations of scientific studies which support the Montessori method. What I especially appreciated was that there did not appear to be an attempt to "pad" the data. If there was not a study to support somethi
Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The amount of time this took is the reason I don't read non-fiction but it's such a good book.

“ a topic for empirical research”
May 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The best psychological studies just confirm what we inherently understand. Today we are so focused on "research" that we often lose sight of the overall picture. This book offers an extensive compilation of research that is based in the wisdom of Maria Montessori. No study can replace the overall understanding that she had of children through working with them on a daily basis. However, when compiled they present an overwhelming case for the accuracy of her theories.

While this is a review for t
Feb 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Did you know if you pay kids to color with markers, later they will color less than other kids?! Same is true if you require them to color a certain amount.

Good collection of educational research, but the purpose is only to show how good the Montessori method is, so the research is a bit lop-sided.
May 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: parenting
This is a thorough, straight-forward, objective detailing of Dr. Montessori's educational philosophy and method. What did she observe? What were her insights based on her research? What does modern psychology tell us about her theories? The author lays out 8 principles of a Montessori education and goes into detail about each. Briefly, some of what this book covers is: (1) the education system should be designed to suit the way that children naturally learn and develop; (2) The mind and hand are ...more
Callie Hornbuckle
Aug 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This appealed to me right now for several reasons. 1) My son just started in a Montessori based program for preschool, and I wanted to better understand the educational philosophy. 2) The book cites a ton of foundational research about child psychology, which is pretty relevant to my life as a parent right now. And 3) it provided a great deal of food for thought about the purpose and methods of education, both traditional and alternative. I walked away thinking Dr. Montessori was impressive in h ...more
Raymond Raad
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book far exceeded my expectations. I expected a good discussion of Montessori outcomes, and a few insights into the process and the psychological studies involved.

What I got instead was a really deep discussion of developmental psychology AND Montessori education. This woman really gets how to think scientifically. She reviews studies that are appropriate, and always recognizes the limits of her knowledge. The number of studies in this book is amazing and educational in its own right.
José Antonio Lopez
Jun 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Maria Montessori was an empiricist in many ways and her method developed from careful observation of children. In this book Angeline Stoll provides extensive research background to fill the voids of scientific support of the famous educational method.

In her book, Stoll addresses each of the eight principles of Montessori Education, providing support with specific research and expanded with actual Montessori practices.

1. Movement and cognition
2. Choice and control
3. Interest
4. Motivation
5. Colla
Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Lillard sets out to present the empirical evidence for the Montessori Method. Using research of Montessori directly and psychological research more generally, she explains both the Montessori theory and how the evidence supports much of what goes on in a Montessori classroom. The breadth of evidence that supports many of the key claims of Montessori is impressive and worth a serious look by anyone interested in Montessori or educational philosophy in general.

Another important aspect of the book
May 24, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in education
I probably should give this book more than 3 stars, it is deserving of more, I think I didn't give it more because it presented, to me at least, a lot of information I already knew.

What was new to me was the presentation of the evolution of the current education system. What the author says about how schools, "traditional schools" are taught and why there is so much room for improvement, is right-on-the-money.

We are a country so unwillingly to accept unconventional educational methods, yet are
Feb 03, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: education
I found this book to be an interesting overview of the learning and cognition research related to Montessori pedagogy. Unfortunately, I think I really needed to read some of Montessori's original writings first since the book didn't really go into her pedagogy deeply enough for me to really know if the research cited was relevant to Montessori. Also, the author's frequent disparagement of "traditional public school" pedagogy and process was off-putting and, at times, irrelevant. It was clearly a ...more
Paul Gier
Sep 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
If you want to know the solution to our current problems in education read this book. The Montessori method is equal to or superior to traditional education in every way. In addition, Montessori works best with large class sizes (~30 students per teacher), no standardized testing, and no homework. Almost the exact opposite of what is happening with "No Child Left Behind". Students attending a Montessori school through elementary school performed better than an equivalent sample of students who a ...more
Nov 18, 2011 marked it as to-read
Shelves: education
I've only read snippets from this book, and even that pretty much has me convinced that the current model of majority of our public schools (modeled after factory life and based on behaviorism) discourages life long learning. I'm not entirely sure that Montessori is *the* answer, but it's pretty obvious that the current public school system needs a complete overhaul, and political initiatives like No Child Left Behind are steps in the wrong direction. But I have to admit that I'm already complet ...more
Beth Williams
Jan 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Hands down THE BEST review of the studies out there looking at how children learn and how Montessori measures up. I only wish I had read it years ago when my kids first began montessori school, as I am only now truly beginning to appreciate the gift we stumbled upon. This author did her due dilligence and is very fair in presenting the studies. A very well done book. Very readable, full of good information.
Jeremy Gollehon
Jan 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Heidi Appleton
This is an amazingly detailed review of Montessori education. It frames the 50+ years of practical insights formed by Maria Montessori against the psychology-of-learning studies done over the last few decades. It's amazing how often a technique chosen by Montessori is proven affective, even though it is massively against the norm, years later. ...more
Apr 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. All 3 of my children have thrived in Montessori from toddlers to upper elementary. This book explains the method and the science. Follow the child.
Jun 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, montessori
Hands down best book that backs up Montessori's observations using modern day science and modern research. Cannot recommend this book enough. I dog-eared nearly every page. ...more
William Schram
The Montessori method of teaching, what can I say about it? Well, as it turns out, not that much before reading this book. I had heard of Montessori and her method, but for some reason, I likened it to hucksterism and balderdash. Looking through this book though, I can agree with the more salient points made by Dr. Maria Montessori.

This book argues that schools of the modern era have two fatal errors woven into the very fabric of their foundations. The first error is the concept of school as an
Chris Ward
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've just finished this excellent book by Angeline Still Lillard. She discusses the Montessori method and how scientists are now confirming its effectiveness following scientific analysis and experimentation.
It's interesting first because she speaks both of the Montessori principles in a very clear fashion, and compares them with traditional teaching methods.
The author is in the USA, but these traditional methods are similar in the UK, France and elsewhere in the West, i.e. schools are based on
Donatas Ditkus
The eight principles of Montessori Education discussed are:

(1) that movement and cognition are closely entwined, and movement can enhance thinking and learning;
(2) that learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives (free choice);
(3) that people learn better when they are interested in what they are learning;
(4) that tying extrinsic rewards to an activity, like money for reading or high grades for tests, negatively impacts motivation
Scott Paulson
Mar 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has fascinating insights into child development and teaching styles. The author really seems to give a thorough review of the methods of teaching used in Dr. Montessori’s curriculum and then adds a friendly critique, including the ideas behind the instructional process. This edition contains 50 pages of end matter that includes a comprehensive bibliography, a name index, and a subject index.

I would recommend this book, because it gives the motivations behind the methods (or seems to, f
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The book clearly goes through the tenets of the Montessori school, how it was founded, the evidence of how their teaching "sticks" with kids, compares it to the current school system, gives examples of ways that they use movement and kid interest in learning to their advantage and the role of the teacher in the class setting. Plus, there is lots more information...the book goes in depth with research that showcases how the brain works as well as the results of Montessori practice and philosophy. ...more
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A great insight into Montessori education. I already was enamored with the approach, but after reading this book I love it even more. While the author is obviously coming from a pro-Montessori angle, she also does an admirable job of treating topics fairly, pointing out some areas where more research needs to be done and even a few areas where research is against the Montessori approach. A great, if textbook style, read for anyone interested to know more about the Montessori approach.
Feb 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An educational philosophy that is rooted in the physical world, inculcates awe, nurtures autonomy and agency, sees life as an end and not a means, celebrates communality, considers knowledge as an infinitely interconnected web of meaning, and above all cherishes the accretion of independence in children, is surely one that is simultaneously humane and effective. A large number of studies are included in this very fascinating book. Balanced and erudite – five stars.
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
Good for educators without much prior knowledge of Montessori. This text succeeds in providing a clear understanding of the basics of Montessori education as well as the benefits, backed up by numerous studies.
Robin C
Jan 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book links many of our recent understandings of child development that have been proven according to current methodology of science to those of Dr. Maria Montessori, revealing her genius in striking ways.
Stephanie Bransom
Sep 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This makes the Montessori approachable and still grounds it in science.
Megan Ashman
Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a very scientific book, as the title suggests, but very interesting and helpful to have such background knowledge behind the parts of Maria Montessori's theory. ...more
Dec 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who is looking to put a child in school
This is the book that you should read if you want to learn more about Montessori schools and the philosophy behind their curriculum. It gives specific examples of how and why certain works are included, such as the Red Rods, the Golden beads, or the Bank Game. Lillard highlights the developmental needs of the children that are satisfied by those works and others, which helps explain how valuable and well thought out each particular material is.

The one critique I have of this thorough Montessori
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49 likes · 26 comments
“ is interesting to consider research on mastery versus performance goals in learning (Dweck 1999), discussed more in chapter 5. People with mastery orientations, in brief, are people who are interested in learning in order to master a topic. They tend to like challenges, and they persist at them. People with performance goals, in contrast, tend to like to do easy jobs that make them look good. They want to be judged positively. Although these two different orientations appear to characterize two different people, the same person can adopt different orientations under different environmental conditions. And it ends up that the particular conditions under which people are more apt to adopt mastery goals bear striking similarities to Montessori environments (Ames, 1992, see chapter 5).” 2 likes
“Indeed, children’s intrinsic motivation in school has been shown to decline every year over the course of traditional schooling.” 1 likes
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