Parent Resources

Glossary of Terms

Montessori Terms

Absorbent Mind: From birth through approximately age 6, the young child experiences a period of intense mental activity that allows her to “absorb” learning from her environment quickly and easily without conscious effort.

Casa dei Bambini: In Italian, “Children’s House,” and the name of Dr. Montessori’s first school.

Children’s House: In many Montessori schools, this is the name of the classroom for children ages 2.5 (or 3) to 6 years; other schools call the classroom for this age group Casa, preschool, primary, or early childhood.

Concrete to Abstract: A logical, developmentally appropriate progression that allows the child to develop an abstract understanding of a concept by first encountering it in a concrete form, such as learning the mathematical concept of the decimal system by working with Golden Beads grouped into units, 10s, 100s, and 1,000s.

Control of Error: Montessori materials are designed so that the child receives instant feedback about her progress as she works, allowing her to recognize, correct, and learn from an error without adult assistance. Putting control of the activity in the child’s hands strengthens her self-esteem and self-motivation as well as her learning.

Coordination of Movement: Refining large- and fine-motor movements is one of the accomplishments of early childhood development, as the child learns to complete tasks independently. The Montessori classroom offers opportunities for children to refine their movements and children are drawn to these activities, especially to those which require exactitude and precision.

Cosmic Education: Maria Montessori urged us to give children a “vision of the universe” to help them discover how all of its parts are interconnected and interdependent, and to help them understand their place in society and the world. In Montessori schools, children in Elementary programs (between the ages of 6 – 12) learn about the creation of the universe through stories that integrate the studies of astronomy, chemistry, biology, geography, and history. These lessons help children become aware of their own roles and responsibilities as humans and as members of society, and help them explore their “cosmic task”—their unique, meaningful purpose in the world.

Didactic Materials: Didactic meaning “designed or intended to teach,” these are the specially-designed instructional materials—many invented by Maria Montessori—that are a hallmark of all Montessori classrooms.

Directress or Guide: Historically, the designation for the lead teacher in a Montessori classroom; some schools still refer to the lead teacher as “directress” or “guide,” while others use the more recognizable term, “teacher.” In Montessori education, the role of the teacher is to guide individual children to purposeful activity based upon her observations of each child’s readiness and interests.

Erdkinder: German for “child of the earth,” this term describes a Montessori learning environment for adolescents ages 12 – 15 that connects them with nature and engages them in purposeful, hands-on work in which they contribute to the community. Erdkinder programs are often referred to as “farm schools.”

Freedom within Limits: Montessori classrooms are carefully and thoughtfully designed to encourage children to move about freely and choose their own work, within reasonable limits of appropriate behavior. Those limits are the classroom ground rules, and enable children to exercise their own free will while ensuring that their chosen activities are respectful of others and their environment.

Grace and Courtesy: In Montessori schools, children are formally instructed in social skills they will use throughout their lives, for example, saying “please” and “thank you,” interrupting conversations politely, requesting rather than demanding assistance, and greeting guests warmly.

Ground Rules: Classroom rules in the Montessori classroom are typically referred to as “ground rules” which dictate appropriate behavior in the classroom. At all age-levels, the ground rules are simple—children are free to work with any material or activity displayed in the environment as long as they use it respectfully. They may not harm the material, themselves, or others.

Mixed-age grouping (or multi-age grouping): One of the hallmarks of Montessori education is that children of mixed ages work together in the same class. Age groupings are based on the Planes of Development as identified by Dr. Maria Montessori. Multi-age groupings enable younger children to learn from older children and experience new challenges through observation; older children reinforce their learning by teaching concepts they have already mastered, develop leadership skills, and serve as role models. Because each child’s work is individual, children progress at their own pace; there is cooperation rather than competition between the ages. This arrangement mirrors the real world, in which individuals work and socialize with people of all ages and dispositions. Typically, children from 2.5/3 – 6 years of age are grouped together in an Early Childhood classroom. 6 – 9 year olds share the Lower Elementary (grades 1 – 3) and the Upper Elementary is made up of 9 – 12 year olds (grades 4 – 6). At the Secondary level, groupings may be 2- or 3-years. Children from birth – age 3 may be grouped in varying multi-age configurations, and are commonly grouped from birth to 15/18 months (or when mobile) and 15/18 months to age 3.

Montessori: The term may refer to Dr. Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori Method of education, or the method itself.

Nido: “Nest” in Italian, this is a Montessori environment for infants, though not all schools that offer an infant program use this term.

Normalization: A natural developmental process exhibited by a love of work or activity, concentration, self-discipline, and joy in accomplishment. Dr. Montessori observed that children in Montessori programs exhibit normalization through repeated periods of uninterrupted work during which time they work freely and at their own pace on their own chosen activities. A normalized child is a happy, well-adjusted child who exhibits positive social skills in the Montessori classroom.

Planes of Development: Four distinct periods of growth, development, and learning identifies by Dr. Maria Montessori that a human being progresses through: ages 0 – 6 (the period of the “absorbent mind”); 6 – 12 (the period of reasoning and abstraction); 12 – 18 (when adolescents construct the “social self,” developing moral values and becoming emotionally independent); and 18 – 24 years (when young adults construct an understanding of the self and seek to know their place in the world).

Practical Life: The Montessori term that encompasses “domestic” work to maintain the home and classroom environment; self-care and personal hygiene; and grace and courtesy. Practical life skills are of great interest to young children and form the basis of later abstract learning.

Practical life Activities: Young children in Montessori classrooms learn to take care of themselves and their environment through activities such as hand washing, dusting, and mopping. These activities help toddlers and preschool-age children learn to work independently, develop concentration, and prepare for later work with reading and math; older children participate in more advanced activities such as cooking, gardening, operating a business.

Prepared Environment:  The teacher prepares the environment of the Montessori classroom with carefully selected, aesthetically arranged materials that are presented sequentially to meet the developmental needs of the children using the space. Well-prepared Montessori environments contain appropriately sized furniture, a full complement of Montessori materials, and enough space to allow children to work in peace, alone, or in small or large groups.

Primary Classroom: In some Montessori schools, this is a classroom for children ages 3 – 6 years; however, the American Montessori Society uses the term ‘Early Childhood’ and defines the age range as 2.5 – 6 years.

Sensitive Period: A critical time during human development when the child is biologically ready and receptive to acquiring a specific skill or ability—such as the use of language or a sense of order—and is therefore particularly sensitive to stimuli that promote the development of that skill. A Montessori teacher prepares the environment to meet the developmental needs of each sensitive period.

Sensorial Materials: Work with these materials develops and refines the 5 senses—seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling—and builds a foundation for speech, writing, and math. Each scientifically designed material isolates a specific quality such as color, size, or shape. This focuses the child’s attention on this one characteristic, and teaches her to sort, classify, order, and develop vocabulary to describe objects she experiences in the world around her.

The 3-Period Lesson: A 3-step technique for presenting information to the child. In the first—the introduction or naming period—the teacher demonstrates what “this is.” (The teacher might say “This is a mountain” while pointing to it on a 3-dimensional map.) In the second—the association or recognition period—the teacher asks the child to “show” what was just identified (“Show me the mountain”). Finally, in the recall period, the teacher asks the child to name the object (“What is this?” she asks the child, while pointing to the mountain.) Moving from taking in new information, to passive recall, to active identification reinforces the child’s learning and demonstrates her mastery of the concept.

Work: Purposeful activity. Maria Montessori observed that children learn through purposeful activities of their own choosing. Montessori schools call all of the children’s activities “work.” While “work” sounds like a serious endeavor, Dr. Montessori observed that children exhibit joy and experience this purposeful activity as play.

Work Cycle: Within the prepared environment of the Montessori classroom, children are taught to complete a work cycle which includes 1) choosing an activity; 2) completing the activity to completion (perhaps repeating the full sequence of the activity multiple times), cleaning up and returning the materials to the proper place; and 3) experiencing a sense of satisfaction to have fully completed the task.

Terms Essential to Our Core Values

Affirmed Gender: A classification based on an individual’s gender identity, which may be different/separate from assigned birth sex.

Ally: Someone who supports a group other than one’s own (in terms of multiple identities such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, etc.). An ally acknowledges oppression and actively commits to reducing their own complicity, investing in strengthening their own knowledge and awareness of oppression.

Anti-Racism: The work of actively opposing racism by advocating for changes in political, economic, and social life. Anti-racism tends to be an individualized approach, and set up in opposition to individual racist behaviors and impacts.

Assigned Birth Sex: A classification based on reproductive anatomy and physiology.

Bias: A form of prejudice that results from our tendency and needs to classify individuals into categories.

Bigot: A person who is obstinately devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices and intolerant towards other diverse social groups.

BIPoC: An acronym used to refer to Black, Indigenous, and people of color. It is based on the recognition of collective experiences of systemic racism. As with any other identity term, it is up to individuals to use this term as an identifier.

Cisgender: A term for people whose gender identity, expression, or behavior aligns with those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.

Color Blind: The belief that everyone should be treated “equally” without respect to societal, economic, historical, racial or other difference. No differences are seen or acknowledged; everyone is the same.

Continuum of Gender: A way of describing more than two genders.

Continuum of Masculinities/Femininities: A way of describing more than two discrete forms of gender expression.

Cultural Appropriation: The non-consensual/misappropriation use of cultural elements for commodification or profit purposes – including symbols, art, language, customs, etc. — often without understanding, acknowledgment, or respect for its value in the original culture.

Decolonize: The active and intentional process of unlearning values, beliefs, and conceptions that have caused physical, emotional, or mental harm to people through colonization. It requires a recognition of systems of oppression.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice: A method of teaching that incorporates knowledge of child development, identified strengths and needs of the specific children being taught, and the cultural backgrounds of each student.

Disability: Physical or mental impairment that affects a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Diversity: Socially, it refers to the wide range of identities. A broad includes race, ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, veteran status, physical appearance, etc. It also involves different ideas, perspectives, and values.

Discrimination: The unequal treatment of members of various groups, based on conscious or unconscious prejudice, which favor one group over others on differences of race, gender, economic class, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, language, age, national identity, religion, and other categories.

Equity: The fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. The principle of equity acknowledges that there are historically underserved and underrepresented populations and that fairness regarding these unbalanced conditions is needed to assist in the provision of adequate opportunities to all groups.

Gender: A socially constructed system of classification that ascribes qualities of masculinity and femininity to people. Gender characteristics can change over time, and are different between cultures. Gender is not the same as biological sex, though the two are often conflated with each other.

Gender Expression: The way people externally communicate their gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyle, voice, etc.

Gender Identity: Distinct from the term “sexual orientation,” refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.

Gender Identity Development: A process of determining and consolidating one’s gender identity, manifest first in toddlerhood, continuing through adulthood. Actual development of GI likely begins prior to toddlerhood.

Gender Identity Instruction: The conscious and unconscious ways that teachers, parents, media teach children the “right” way to “be” a particular gender.

Gender Non-Conforming: An individual whose gender expression is different from societal expectations related to gender.

Gender Roles: The set of roles and behaviors assigned to females and males by a given society.

Gender Variant: A more contemporary term to describe those whose gender identity or expression differ from cultural expectations based on biological sex; it is increasingly applied to gender nonconforming children who may or may not develop a transgender identity. Gender variance does not indicate pathology.

Harassment: The use of comments or actions that can be offensive, embarrassing, humiliating, demeaning, and unwelcome.

Heteronormativity: The binary view of gender and sexuality that assumes and privileges heterosexuality in individuals, couples and families, and supports traditional masculine and feminine gender roles and expression. It is the cultural and social “management” of gender and sexuality and is promoted and maintained by individuals and institutions.

Implicit Bias: Attitudes, assumptions, and  associations expressed automatically that people unknowingly hold and that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions; also known as unconscious or hidden bias. These can be negative or positive in nature. 

Inclusion: The act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported and valued as a fully participating member. An inclusive and welcoming climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions for all people.

Institutional Racism: Institutional racism refers specifically to the ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes and opportunities for different groups based on racial discrimination.

Intersectionality: A social construct that recognized the fluid diversity of identities that a person can hold such as gender, race, class, religion, professional status, marital status, socioeconomic status, etc.

“Isms”: A way of describing any attitude, action or institutional structure that subordinates (oppresses) a person or group because of their target group. For example, color (racism), gender (sexism), economic status (classism), older age (ageism), religion (e.g., anti-Semitism), sexual orientation (heterosexism), language/immigrant status (xenophobism), etc.

LGBTQIA: An inclusive term for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual.

Microaggression: The verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, insults, or belittlement, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon discriminatory belief systems.

Multicultural Competency: A process of embracing diversity and learning about people from other cultural backgrounds. The key element to becoming more culturally competent is respect for the ways that others live in and organize the world, and an openness to learn from them.

Oppression: The systemic and pervasive nature of social inequality woven throughout social institutions as well as embedded within individual consciousness. Oppression fuses institutional and systemic discrimination, personal bias, bigotry, and social prejudice in a complex web of relationships and structures.

Patriarchy: Actions and beliefs that prioritizes masculinity. Patriarchy is practiced systemically in the ways and methods through which power is distributed in society (jobs and positions of power given to men in government, policy, criminal justice, etc.) while also influencing how we interact with one another interpersonally (gender expectations, sexual dynamics, space-taking, etc.).

People of Color: A collective term for men and women of Asian, African, Latinx, and Native American backgrounds; as opposed to the collective “White”.

Prejudice: an inclination or preference, especially one that interferes with impartial judgment and can be rooted in stereotypes that deny the right of individual members of certain groups to be recognized and treated as individuals with individual characteristics.

Privilege: Exclusive access or availability to material and immaterial resources based on the membership to a dominant social group.

Queer: An umbrella term that can refer to anyone who transgresses society’s view of gender or sexuality. The definitional indeterminacy of the word Queer, its elasticity, is one of its constituent characteristics: “A zone of possibilities.”

Race: A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification, and the social, economic, and political needs of a society at a given period of time.

Safe Space: Refers to an environment in which everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves and participating fully, without fear of attack, ridicule, or denial of experience.

Sexual Orientation: An individual’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

Socialization: The process by which people are taught or made to behave in a way that is acceptable to their society.

Social Justice: Social justice constitutes a form of activism, based on principles of equity and inclusion that encompasses a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. Social justice involves social actors who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of social responsibility toward and with others and society as a whole.

Stereotype: A form of generalization rooted in blanket beliefs and false assumptions, a product of processes of categorization that can result in a prejudiced attitude, uncritical judgment, and intentional or unintentional discrimination. Stereotypes are typically negative, based on little information that does not recognize individualism and personal agency.

Structural Inequality:  Systemic disadvantage(s) of one social group compared to other groups, rooted and perpetuated through discriminatory practices (conscious or unconscious) that are reinforced through institutions, ideologies, representations, policies/laws, and practices. When this kind of inequalities is related to racial/ethnic discrimination is referred to as systemic or structural racism.

System of Oppression: Conscious and unconscious, non-random, and organized harassment, discrimination, exploitation, discrimination, prejudice, and other forms of unequal treatment that impact different groups. Sometimes is used to refer to systemic racism.

Tokenism: Presence without meaningful participation. For example, a superficial invitation for the participation of members of a certain socially oppressed group, who are expected to speak for the whole group without giving this person a real opportunity to speak for her/himself.

White Supremacy: A power system structured and maintained by persons who classify themselves as white, whether consciously or subconsciously determined; and who feel superior to those of other racial/ethnic identities.
The terms contained in this glossary have been reproduced from the following resources:
  1. Anti-Violence Project. Glossary. University of Victoria
  2. Colors of Resistance. Definitions for the Revolution
  3. Cram, R. H. (2002). Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook
  4. Equity and Inclusion. Glossary. UC Davis
  5. Potapchuk, M., Leiderman, S., et al. (2009). Glossary. Center for Assessment and Policy Development
  6. Center for Diversity & Inclusion. Glossary of Bias Terms. Washington University in St. Louis
  7. Ontario Human Rights Commission. Glossary of human rights terms
  8. W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Racial Resource Guide
  9. American Montessori Society website

Athena Montessori Academy

“I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my son’s education. The loving guides at Athena taught him so much more than reading and writing– he’s learned how to take care of himself and those around him while navigating the social community of his classroom. I feel these life skills will serve him well as he graduates and enters first grade in the fall!”
- Rebecca O’Hara (Child now attending Eanes Elementary)