montessori ed

thoughts from a primary guide

TEDxRainier – Dimitri Christakis – Media and Children

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Brief (16 min) compelling discussion of research detailing the long term affect of media exposure on the developing brains of very young children.

This is great for professionals and parents.  The video could be shown to start a parent education event or sent as a link in an email or newsletter.

I wonder if he knows about Montessori?

Written by stanforded

April 9, 2016 at 11:19 am

Posted in Thoughts

How can Montessori research be funded?

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I think the ideal situation for funding Montessori research would be

  • A well funded, non-partisan organization would provide grants for Montessori research.
  • Proposals would be reviewed by trained researchers (Psychology and Education researchers, professors, and graduate students) to confirm the methodology of the proposal is scientifically sound.
  • Proposals that meet methodology requirements would be reviewed by a committee of peers to prioritize and distribute funding.
  • The organization would publish research findings in a Peer Reviewed Journal of Montessori Research.

The current situation is not so ideal, in fact there are relatively few sources of funding for Montessori Research.

American Montessori Society offers these sources

AMS Mini-Grants

Mini-grants of up to $3,500 support research that can bring fresh insight to Montessori education.

AMS Dissertation & Thesis Awards

Awards of up to $1,000 are available for graduate-level research that furthers the understanding of Montessori education.

AMS Archives Travel Grant

Up to $500 may be awarded to graduate students and established scholars wishing to travel to consult the American Montessori Society archives in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut.

Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand offers a Research Grant

MANZ Research Grant

MANZ has set aside a research fund to provide a practical means of supporting Montessori research in New Zealand. In 2016 the interest on MANZ funds of up to $5000 will be available for research.This research fund is available to members of Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand.

These are the only Montessori specific funding sources that I have been able to find.  You may also be able to find grants open to a wider variety of research by searching the internet.

The funding and publishing options are limited because there is so little research to fund or publish.  I believe that when more research is conducted  the situation will improve.

“If you build it, they will come.”

Written by stanforded

March 25, 2016 at 7:48 am

A Measurement Tool

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In a previous post I made the assertion that “Science can heal the Montessori movement if we are willing to do the research.”

After such a bold statement it would be reasonable to ask “Well then, what research would you propose?”

I am interested in comparing the efficacy of different methods using empirical evidence (not opinion or experience or anecdotal evidence.)  I want to compare specific practices (such as three period lesson with 3 objects vs 2 objects) and to explore holistic comparisons (AMI vs AMS vs other trainings).  I sincerely believe that research is the most effective way to establish best practices that are supported by empirical evidence and unify the Montessori movement.

In a college Social Psychology class, almost 20 years ago, I learned the basics of designing and conducting a research study from Dr. Laura Sinnet.  I am not a professional researcher, but we don’t have to be professional researchers to conduct experiments, we just have to be passionate and curious and willing to learn.  Amateur researchers are better than no researchers.

One of the lessons I learned from Dr Sinnet was the design of a Nomological Network, “a representation of the concepts (constructs) of interest in a study, their observable manifestations, and the interrelationships among and between these.”  

Say, for example, that we want to conduct an experiment about meditation and relaxation.  Meditation and relaxation are intellectual concepts (or constructs) and are therefore a little vague and subjective.  What kind of meditation?  Transcendental? Yoga? Zen Buddhist? Tibetan Buddhist? Guided visualization?  What does “relaxed” mean?  How do we start with vague and subjective constructs and move to a real world experiment?

We construct a Nomological Network that defines the relationship between the constructs (Hypothesis: Meditation indicesin relaxation).  Then we define the observable manifestations of those constructs.  In this example we would clearly define the methodology of the meditation we are testing and other important variables (subject selection, previous meditation experience of subjects, etc…) as well as the method of measuring relaxation (resting heart rate, muscle tension, respiration rate, etc…).

Measurement Tool

The Nomological Network for my question would look something like this…

Measurement Tool (1)
When I consider my Nomological Network it is obvious to me that an important component is missing.  We do not have a tool to reliably measure the observable phenomena of Normalization.   

Trained Montessori Guides have been presented with a definition of normalization and seen normalized children in observations and practical experience. However, these experiences result in subjective, individualized definitions and scales of normalization.  What is highly normalized in my experience might be barely normalized in the experience of another guide.  If five Guides observe the same environment we might get 5 different ratings of normalization, and that is not a reliable measure.

“In the psychometrics, reliability is the overall consistency of a measure. A measure is said to have a high reliability if it produces similar results under consistent conditions. For example, measurements of people’s height and weight are often extremely reliable.”

We need a tool or methodology for measuring Normalization that is valid and highly reliable.  Such a tool will allow for experiments that can be repeated to confirm similar results (a hallmark of the scientific method) as well as large scale experiments that combine the observations and measurements of many individuals.  (example: comparing normalization levels in 500 AMI environments and 500 AMS environments.)

As I stated earlier, my interest is in comparing the efficacy of different methods using empirical evidence (not opinion or experience or anecdotal evidence), however, since this research requires a valid and reliable tool to measure Normalization I would be forced to begin by researching and developing a measure that is tested and proven reliable.

How do we develop a Normalization Measure?  Initially I am curious if there might already be informal methods of measuring Normalization that could be assessed and formalized into a Measurement Tool. If there are experts who are able to reliably measure Normalization then we might be able to codify and define these techniques for use as a Normalization Measure that anyone can be trained to use.

Beginning with the assumption that individuals with greater experience and extensive study of the Montessori method would be most accurate in their measure of Normalization,  I would begin my research by testing a sample of individuals who meet these criteria.  As an AMI trained Guide I immediately consider AMI Trainers because all AMI trainers have a minimum of 5 years of experience in a working environment and have completed rigorous academic preparations.  

I would start by gathering video of 11 Primary environments from conditions assumed to result in varying levels of normalization.  For example: an environment in a well established school with the same Guide for the past 10 years would be assumed to be very Normalized, while a new environment in a new school with a recent graduate would be assumed to be not at all Normalized.  

I would then invite as many AMI Primary Trainers as possible to participate in the research.  The experimental method would look something like this…

  • A website is constructed to conduct the research online.  
  • An initial questionnaire will gather participant demographic information including name, gender, age, levels of training completed, years of experience before becoming a trainer, number of courses completed as a trainer.
  • Researcher text or video explains that the participant is to watch each video and rate the level of Normalization observed in the environment.  The ratings would be a predetermined Likert scale with 5-7 descriptors.  The participant is asked to narrate their thought process including specific observations while watching the videos.  Participants may stop the video when they are confident in their rating of the environment and proceed to the next video.
  • A single video will be selected as the first video seen by all participants as a practice/baseline video.  Subsequent videos will be viewed in a random order.  
  • A screen capture program is used to record the participant’s voice and cursor movements while they narrate their thought process and complete ratings.

Analyzing the results

  • The ratings would be analyzed for inter-rater reliability to determine if there is consensus among the AMI trainers.  
    • If there is a high degree of inter-rater reliability the next step is to examine the narration videos and look for patterns and similar approaches to rating Normalization.  These would become the basis for a Normalization Measure.  It would also be interesting to compare demographic information for factors that significantly influence inter-rater reliability.
    • If there is not a high degree of inter-rater reliability then we abandon the assumption that individuals with greater experience and extensive study of the Montessori method would be most accurate in their measure of Normalization.  An entirely new approach would be needed.
  • We would also analyze the time used by each participant to determine the Normalization rating.  This may provide some insight into the amount of observation time required to rate Normalization.

Future experiments

  • If a high degree of inter-rater reliability is found among AMI trainers it would be interesting to repeat the experiment with trainers from other organizations.  Would inter-rater reliability be similar among trainers from different trainings?  How would the inter-rater reliability change if all participants are considered as a single sample?  Is the variation in ratings greater within a training than between trainings?
  • If a Normalization Measure is created using the narration videos the reliability of that measure would be tested with new participants.  We would develop a training method and select samples for study (current AMI students, recent graduates, Guides with 5-10 years of experience, Guides with 10+ years of experience, Assistants, Administrators, Parents, individuals not associated with the Montessori community).  It is possible that additional videos would be required for this process.  We would compare ratings for inter-rater reliability, and adjust the training method until a high degree of reliability is achieved.  When a high degree of reliability is achieved with videos we would test the ratings in actual environments to confirm that the Normalization Measure continues to be reliable in the field.

Now you know the research I personally would propose.  Next we can ask, “How can Montessori research be funded?”

Written by stanforded

March 23, 2016 at 8:00 am

Can Science Heal the Montessori Movement?

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From time to time I contemplate the Montessori alphabet soup (AMI, AMS, IAPM, MEPI, IMC, NAMC, etc…) and I imagine how much better the lives of children, and eventually all humankind, might be if the Montessori movement was more unified.  

If more of the Movement spoke with the same voice, we would be easier to hear and harder to disregard.  If we were more unified there would be less confusion among those who try to understand our message.  If we were more unified there would be more hands working together and the load would be lighter for everyone.

So why aren’t we unified?

Honestly, I don’t know and I doubt we’ll ever know why the movement has splintered.  I personally suspect each new organization begins for it’s own idiosyncratic reasons rooted in internal politics or economic opportunity or braggadocio.  “Why aren’t we unified?” is the wrong question to ask.

A better question is “What might unify the movement?”, because even if we assume that each organization has its own justification for its divisive beginnings, and even if we assume we will never know the true reasons, we can find motivations and incentives to unify the movement.  

I believe that embracing the Scientific Method is the best way to heal the Montessori movement.

If this were a panel discussion or a conversation at a professional conference I would expect to be interrupted now by someone strongly asserting that the Montessori movement is, in fact, based on scientific research.  This person would undoubtedly remind me that Maria Montessori was a trained medical doctor and that the method is based on her scientific observations.  I might even be reminded that Dr Montessori first called her method the Scientific Pedagogy.  We could sum up all these ideas in the following statement.

The Montessori method (or the Scientific Pedagogy) is based on the scientific observations conducted by Dr. Maria Montessori more than 60 years ago.

I would not disagree, and I do not think that anyone can dispute that statement.  However, I think we should explore specific words and phrases in more depth.  

The Montessori method (or the Scientific Pedagogy) is based on the scientific observations conducted by Dr. Maria Montessori more than 60 years ago.


There are dozens of organizations worldwide that offer training in the Montessori method, and every training differs from each other.  Regardless of whether the differences are minor (calling it the Red Rods vs the Long Rods) or major (the number of trained adults in the environment) every difference evolved or deviated from the original methods developed by Dr. Maria Montessori.

It is important and necessary that methods evolve to improve results and to accommodate cultural changes that influence families, but the mechanism of these evolutions should be more scientifically rigorous than just the experience of the trainers.  Every time that a trainer presents information based on her personal experience working with children (regardless of the vastness of that experience) she is offering anecdotal evidence in place of, or as equal to, the scientific observations that formed the basis of the method and this can result in deviations from the method instead of an evolution of the method.

Imagine a medical doctor prescribing medications based on her personal experience rather than the dosage recommendations derived from scientific research (“I know the guidelines says take two every morning but personally that makes me feel drowsy so you can take one instead if you want”).  That doctor fills me with concern, not confidence.

The role of scientific research in the Montessori movement is to define best practices and methods based on scientific observations of children. The role of personal experience and anecdotal evidence is to aid Montessori Guides in the art of implementing the method.  Put another way, science gives us the rules of the game and experience shows us how and when to bend the rules.  When a trainer presents her personal experience as fact equal to scientific research it corrupts the method.

Real Life examples

I trained AMI and I worked for several years in New Zealand with a colleague who trained St.Nicholas.  One day we were discussing three period lessons, specifically sandpaper letters, and found that our trainings advised different numbers of objects in the first period.  I had been trained to use three letters in the first period of a three period lesson and following a successful third period, if the child wished to continue, I should then introduce two further letters.  My colleague had been trained to begin with two letters and to stop after a successful third period.

My training emphasized an approach to writing and reading that avoided categorizations of words (three letter, four letter, etc…) and instead focused on phonetic vs phonogramatic.  In my training it was fine to offer the word “subtract” at almost anytime because it is phonetic and we were encouraged to focus on the structure of the word not the length.  In contrast, my colleague had been trained to use a “box method” of reading that categorized words based on length and structure. (blue box, pink box, green box, etc…) She always started with three letter words and progressed gradually to longer words.

These examples illustrate differences in trainings that develop when personal experiences supplant the scientific method.  How many letters should be in a three period lesson is not a subjective question.  When to introduce longer phonetic words is not a subjective question. There is a method for each question that is optimal for the majority of children but we don’t know these methods with certainty because, to my knowledge, there has been no scientific study to determine the optimal number of letters in a three period lesson or when to introduce phonetic letters. If there was such studies there is no peer review Montessori Research Journal in which to read it.  

If we are sincere in our desire to use a method that is based on a scientific understanding of the developmental needs of children, we need to be providing training in methods that are based on scientific research and not personal experience.  Personal experience can show Guides how to make minor adjustments to the method to accommodate an individual child’s needs and it can be the inspiration for future research, but anecdotes are not scientific evidence.

Although I expect that considerable original research will be required to verify Dr. Montessori’s principal findings and to sort out the tangle of deviations that have developed over the last century, I see no better way to break the gridlock of entrenched organizational doctrine than confronting that doctrine with solid scientific facts about our methods.

scientific and more than 60 years ago

In 1896, Maria Montessori graduated as a doctor of medicine and soon after she utilized her training to observe children and develop the Montessori method.   The scientific methods of the turn of the century are not the scientific methods of today.  

Dr. Montessori was trained in observation because at that time there were few other diagnostic tools available to Doctors.  Here is a description of the medical diagnostic methods used in the 19th century

At the beginning of the century, physicians depended primarily on patients’ accounts of symptoms and superficial observation to make diagnoses; manual examination remained relatively unimportant. By the 1850s, a series of new instruments, including the stethoscope, ophthalmoscope and laryngoscope, began to expand the physician’s sensory powers in clinical examination. These instruments helped doctors to move away from a reliance on the patients’ experience of illness and gain a more detached relationship with the appearance and sounds of the patients’ body to make diagnoses. (Berger, 1999)

Germ Theory (the idea that illnesses are caused by microorganisms and not humours) had only been established in 1870.  The medical uses of x-rays were discovered in 1895 but when she graduated Medical school the profession was still unaware of different blood types (discovered 1901) or even vitamins (1906) much less EKGs (1903), Ultrasound (1965), CT Scanner (1971), PET Scans (1976) , or MRI (1980). (Timeline of medicine and medical technology).

The field of psychology was even less developed and still in its infancy at the turn of the 20th century. The first psychological laboratories in the world were opening, Pavlov was beginning his studies and Freud his private practice but neither had published yet.  

Dr. Montessori has never been given the credit she deserves as a pioneer in developmental psychology, but it is important to remember that by definition pioneers are charting new territory, not settling and developing that territory.  A century of scientific advances have given us improved methods and tools resulting in a wealth of research in all areas of psychology including developmental and cognitive.

Dr. Montessori used the scientific methods in which she was trained (careful observation) to develop her educational methods until her death in 1952 (hence more than 60 years ago), and in my opinion she was a singular genius of developmental psychology.  However,  I am unaware of any studies she published in psychological journals or of any studies published in an academic forum.  Einstein was a singular genius of physics, but he published his research in the public forum for his field of study.  

I am uncertain if the Montessori movement has sequestered itself away from the psychological and educational communities because Dr. Montessori’s chose not to adopt new research techniques and participate in the these communities, or if her death and the loss of such a central and inspirational figure may have led to the movement resting on her previous research.  I am certain that today’s movement lacks the scientific rigor to be taken seriously by government policy makers or the scientific and educational communities.

The legend of Dr. Montessori is not a suitable foundation on which to base our practices, we need research to verify and expand on her theories.  If a doctor tried to treat my cardiac arrhythmia using only a stethoscope and justified their choice by relating a story of a brilliant doctor working at the turn of the 20th century, I would leave to immediately for a second opinion and I would never return.  

There may be many reasons why Dr. Montessori’s work does not appear on the syllabi of most early childhood education or developmental psychology programs, but I believe that a significant factor is the Montessori movement’s self-imposed isolation from the scientific community.  We are thrilled when researchers outside the Montessori community include us in their research (Dr. Angeline Lillard, Dr. Adele Diamond, etc…) but we make no effort as a community to fund or conduct original research. There is no peer review Montessori research journal to publish relevant studies.  

I shared this statement earlier,

The Montessori method (or the Scientific Pedagogy) is based on the scientific observations conducted by Dr. Maria Montessori more than 60 years ago.

Someday I hope to be able to say

The Montessori method (or the Scientific Pedagogy) is based on the observations conducted by Dr. Maria Montessori more than 60 years ago and has been verified and continues to develop through rigorous peer reviewed scientific study.  

When that day comes our message will be more credible, we will be more unified as a movement, and we will better serve children and humanity.  

Science can heal the Montessori movement if we are willing to do the research.



(n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2016, from

Berger, D. (1999, July). A brief history of medical diagnosis and the birth of the clinical laboratory Part 1—Ancient times through the 19th century. Retrieved January 17, 2016, from

Written by stanforded

March 21, 2016 at 9:00 am

A Montessori MBA

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” Starbucks recently announced that it will offer hourly employees discounted tuition in their first two years of study, and pay the entire tuition for junior and senior years if a worker goes on to complete a four-year degree.” Forbes

I started thinking about online education and I remembered my own graduate school experience at
Loyola University in the Montessori Masters program.   Although these were general requirement courses for any Masters of Education, I remember the comraderie of our shared Montessori background and focus on Montessori applications.

Loyola offers a great program for Masters of Education, but what about an MBA? 

Why would we even want a Montessori MBA program?  Because opening a school is scary.  

I sometimes day dream about the kind of school I would want to open (an all day,  all year multilingual environment with great architecture adjacent to a senior living facility for intergenerational interactions) and then I think about the skills required to open a new school,  or even run an existing school (human resources,  hiring,  firing,  marketing,  budgeting,  admissions,  taxes, and more) and I don’t have any idea where to start.  I am paralyzed and carefully pack away my dreams.

But it doesn’t have to be so scary.   Imagine a cohort of Montessorians taking business classes in which the examples and case studies are all from Montessori and early childhood.   Lessons such as designing a business plan,  or a marketing plan,  or determining where to locate a business,  would all be taught through a Montessori lens.  

The Montessori community could benefit greatly from an online MBA that can be completed from anywhere but is focused specifically on the needs of the Montessori community.  Current administrators could upskill and experienced guides could develop the confidence to spread the Montessori movement to new communities.

Starbucks made its deal with Arizona State University,  which also happens to have the #2 online MBA program  according to U.S. News and World Report.   Maybe they would be interested in a niche market like Montessori,  and it seems to me that NAMTA and MAA might have some interesting input for the program,  maybe they could even provide adjunct faculty.

Written by stanforded

July 21, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Posted in Thoughts

Observations about and with Goggle Glass

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I have long been interested in how we learn (to be fair, it is that interest that led me to Montessori ) and I find that a strong model can be a great learning tool.  A model is not the same as a mentor.  A  mentor may observe me working and share insights with me, discuss strengths and areas for improvement, suggest ideas.   A mentor supports my own reflective process.   A model on the other hand is someone I observe because they are more experienced or have natural talent.  A model shows me how they accomplish a task and moves my reflective process in new directions.

Recently I have been thinking about how Google Glass could provide models of the most essential and challenging of Montessori skills, Observation.  What if an exemplary, experienced Guide wore Google Glasses throughout a morning or day and video recorded the experience.  We could then literally observe the day through their eyes (or at least a few centimeters above and to the right of their eyes).  While we would not be privy to their thoughts, we would get an idea of what events draw their attention,  how focused their attention is on the presentation they are giving,  when they look to other adults for support, etc… 



Currently Google Glass cost $1500 USD each and can only record continuously for about 30 minutes.  However, if these ever get cheaper and enough memory gets packed in to record a few hours, I will be asking for Guide volunteers to consider wearing a pair for a day.

Written by stanforded

July 7, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Thoughts

an outside-in environment

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In thinking about how to improve the indoor outdoor flow of an environment I have begun to consider many other aspects of the prepared environment.

On the one hand I really enjoy an environment that feels like a family home, especially a well converted older home like a bungalow.  However, traditional building structures split the indoor outdoor spaces  more or less 50/50 and often a single or double door is the only flow between the spaces.

I have lived the last 4 1/2 years in Auckland, New Zealand, where the outdoor loving people have evolved a fondness for massive folding glass doors to open entire walls and enjoy the warm temperate climate.  (It it worth noting that bug screens are nearly unheard of in the country and birds often wander into cafes and homes.  The ubiquitous moving glass walls, the popularity of modern and contemporary architecture, and the government mandated  2:1 outdoor : indoor area ratio in early childhood centers, have led me to the idea of an outside-in environment.

What if we surrounded an outdoor area with several small buildings that open completely?  Each small building could be a curriculum area (Practical Life, Language,Mathematics, Sensorial, etc…) and additional buildings could be added for specific functions (snack/lunch/rest area for all day programs, an office, a bathroom block).  Each building might be 15′ (5m) deep and can be equipped with a covered deck.  Most would not require plumbing and only minimal lighting (especially if skylights or solar tubes are used).

Here are a sketches of different arrangements that might be possible.


This arrangement creates a contained courtyard requiring no fencing and clear sight lines.


This arrangement creates a larger central courtyard and smaller private areas in the corners.  This also demonstrates that each building can be individualized with different colors (or even sizes).


This shows a different arrangement with more buildings.

How small each building is depends on the needs, but I envision that shipping containers could be up-cycled.  Here are a few photos of converted container buildings.

Here is a website with additional information about converting shipping containers.

Or some fantastic pre-fab builders are also available such as Wee Houses from Alchemy Architects.

I think the idea has merit and I hope that it will be shared and considered by many.

Written by stanforded

November 15, 2013 at 3:21 am