Montessori 101


Read about what makes a Montessori education unique, then scroll down to see local Montessori schools.

Developed in 1907 by Dr. Maria Montessori, the Montessori education method centers on specific, child-focused learning. Using child-led activities, referred to as “work” in Montessori lingo, children set the pace of their learning and development. A Montessori school’s purpose and goal is to provide a well-thought-out, stimulating environment to foster a child’s educational foundation in a positive and creative manner.


A 2017 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that preschool children with a Montessori education mastered concepts quickly and exhibited elevated performance levels. The study also observed that the Montessori method cultivated a love for learning, and children had a positive outlook on school altogether.

So what makes Montessori different from traditional curriculum? Read on to discover the unique method that may be exactly what you’re looking for!

Mixed-Age Classes

With a typical span of three years, a Montessori class is composed of a mix of ages. This encourages children of various levels to work alongside one another, with older students mentoring and helping younger friends. Not only does this foster strong community and relationships among the students, it encourages peer-to-peer learning and enhances social interaction. Set up to be more of a community than a traditional class, the mixed-age environment promotes cooperation and respect.

The Montessori curriculum focuses on developmental milestones. For example, within the mixed-age class, younger children work on gross motor skills and independence, while older students sharpen fine motor skills and comprehension.


“Our students have, for 50 years, been the embodiment of joyful learning, and our graduates have gone on to make many varied and meaningful contributions in the world,” said Delila Olsson, Assistant Head of School at West Hills Montessori, located in Southwest Portland. “While mastery of a new skill or concept may evoke in a child a well-deserved sense of gratification, the depth of learning that occurs within a Montessori environment extends far beyond the moment and is revealed throughout the course of a child’s schooling and life.” West Hills Montessori is currently celebrating 50 years of bringing Montessori education to the Portland area.

The Classroom

Set up to inspire and engage, the Montessori classroom is made up of different work stations and creative spaces that meet the developmental needs of each child, while encouraging choice. With the belief that a child’s environment is essential to learning, Montessori classrooms are playroom-meets-workshop-meets-school. With no center focal point of the room, areas are open and spacious, with children working on tables or floors, allowing hands-on learning within each defined space. This includes language arts, culture, math, science, art, geography and more. Each and every material in the classroom is thoughtful, there to support the student’s natural interests. Overall, Montessori classrooms aim to be peaceful, organized and inviting.

“Multi-age, multi-year classroom experiences, together with a diverse and integrative curriculum at every level, uniquely prepare each child for social, emotional, and academic successes in school, and form the essential building blocks for joy and resilience in life,” explains Olsson.

Teachers as Guides

Different from a traditional classroom where the teacher is the center of attention, Montessori method educators have an unobtrusive role in the classroom. As a guide, the teacher introduces activities to the class, allowing students to learn at their own pace, with their own interests, while observing progress and providing encouragement and one-on-one education. Students tend to focus on the act and joy of their work, rather than the end result, cultivating creativity and process comprehension. The same skills and subjects of traditional schools are taught in Montessori, but are presented in an integrated approach, allowing students to fully dive into a topic. This method advances self-discipline, concentration and motivation.

Many Montessori schools are bilingual, enabling children to absorb a different language naturally. “One of my favorite things about Montessori of Alameda is that we are bilingual, and every classroom has a fluent Spanish speaking teacher and a Montessori-trained teacher,” says Rose Witteveen, Head of School at Montessori of Alameda, located in Northeast Portland. “We follow the child’s natural development by observing their needs and providing them with a consistent and safe place to learn.”

Find Your Fit

Portland boasts many Montessori programs, from established centers that cater to infancy through middle school to smaller in-home Montessori-inspired options. Whether you’re looking for a multilingual curriculum or outdoor-based education, you can bet Portland has it.

“Families looking for a school that supports children in developing independence, self regulation and executive function skills would be well matched to the Montessori method,” says Mercedes Paine Castle, Head of School at Portland Montessori Collaborative, based in Southwest Portland. “Because all Montessori schools practice Montessori a little different from one another, it’s a good idea to visit lots of schools, both Montessori and non-Montessori, in order to find the right fit.”


Agia Sophia Academy
14485 SW Walker Rd.
Beaverton, OR 97006
Ages: 3-12 years

BeLoved Montessori
19393 Willamette Dr.
West Linn, OR 97068
Ages: 3 mos-6 years

Community Montessori School
Pilkington Rd.
Lake Oswego, OR 97035
Ages: 2.5-6 years

Franciscan Montessori Earth School
14750 SE Clinton St.
Portland, OR 97236
Ages: 2.5-15 years

Lewis & Clark Montessori Charter School
15600 SE 232nd Dr.
Damascus, OR 97089
Ages: 3-15 years

11065 NW Crystal Creek Lane
Portland, OR 97229
Ages: 3-12 years

Portland Montessori Collaborative
4817 SW 53rd Ave.
Portland, OR 97221
Ages: 3 mos-6 years

Sun Fern Montessori 
Children’s House
2936 SE 78th Ave.
Portland, OR 97206
Ages 2.5-6 years

Sunshine Montessori Preschool and Childcare Center
4845 SW Murray Blvd.
Beaverton, OR 97005
Ages: 2-6 years

Sunstone Montessori School
6318 SW Corbett Ave.
Portland, OR 97239
Ages: PreK-6th grade

The Portland Montessori School
205 NE 50th Ave.
Portland, OR 97213
Ages: 3-12 years

West Hills Montessori School
4920 SW Vermont St.
Portland, OR 97219
Ages: 15 mos-12 years

Whole Child Montessori
5909 SE 40th Ave.
Portland, OR 97202
Ages: 3-6 years

Amy Crawford
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