The Philosophies Behind The World’s Biggest Alternative Preschools

Published July 28, 2015
Updated August 15, 2019


Alternative Preschools Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori Source: Montessori

Maria Montessori’s initial claim to fame was that she was Italy’s first, and one of the nation’s finest, female physicians. Her philosophy of education began when she was working with Rome’s poor families and discovered that many children were struggling with disabilities. If these kids were to learn, Montessori realized that she would need to adjust her teaching methods.

Montessori’s model–which is based primarily on the belief that the path to psychological development is innate, and thus that kids should be given the freedom to choose and act freely within a given educational environment–began to spread beyond her practice, as even children who did not suffer from malnutrition or live in violent environments benefitted from one-on-one styles of learning and having special attention paid to their unique intellectual interests. However, Montessori teachings were almost immediately denounced by the Fascist regime of Italy because the publisher of Montessori’s book was Jewish.

Montessori took her teaching philosophy and left the country, offering her model to other nations that might be more receptive than her own. For the first few decades of the 1900s, Montessori education piqued American interest, but that interest didn’t stick. In Europe, however, the educational theory flourished. By the 1950s, it returned to the U.S. and quickly became one of the primary alternative education models. As many as 20,000 Montessori schools stand around the world, and a quarter of which are located in the United States.

In the Montessori model, teachers guide children to work in accordance with each student’s individual interests. The creative arts, music and performance play an important role in classroom learning and group activities. While the teacher prepares the learning materials, he or she makes them with a focus on what the children are interested in learning about.

Famous Alums? Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Helen Keller and David Blaine all attended Montessori preschools.

Abby Norman
Abby Norman is a writer based in New England, currently writing a memoir for Nation Books. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Independent, Cosmopolitan, Medium, Seventeen, Romper, Bustle, and Quartz.