Maria Montessori’s and Jean Piaget’s Child Development Theories


Maria Montessori’s theory is based on discovery learning and supporting learning where teachers’ role is supervisory rather than directive. Moreover, specially designed materials that facilitate learning using all senses are utilized. Respect for a child is advocated since each individual is unique. Furthermore, the learning environment is as important as learning process, therefore the learning environment should be conducive for learning.

Piaget’s theory of intellectual development describes four invariant sequences of qualitative stages of cognitive development. “The four stages are sensor-motor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational” (Huitt and Hummel, para.5). Moreover, there are four interrelated factors that aid a child from one level to another name; maturation, experience, social interaction and equilibrium are factors.

Thus this paper will describe Maria Montessori and Jean Piaget’s child development theories. Moreover, the paper will explore examples of how some ideas from these theories are used in good programs.

Maria Montessori Theory

Maria Montessori’s theory of childhood development argues that children think and learn differently from adults. The theory is structured around a child’s innate desire to learn; thus it lays more emphasis on individual self-realization. Primarily, learning in children is encouraged by self activities and utilization of freedom provided in an educational environment (Montessori & Gutek 11). Essentially, the following materials and activities are used to train children; practical life, sensory and academic materials.

The learning environment needs to be designed to encourage child’s natural potential, besides learning environment is believed to be as important as the learning process. Moreover, the theory advocates learning through all five senses and eliminates traditional methods of performance evaluation.

Furthermore, teachers aim to help their students to develop their unique skills rather than focusing on other activities. Generally, teachers play a passive role in learning while students actively direct their learning. Children have absorbent minds thus they have capacity to educate themselves in learning environment. In addition, children require specifically designed materials to assist them in exploring their world and enable them to develop essential cognitive skills. Similarly, the theory argues that children need to be placed in mixed-age groups to encourage development of personalities socially and intellectually.

Maria’s theory favors students’ independence, where student controls their learning process. Primarily, teachers are to reframe from assisting a child with a task which the child feels they can succeed. Moreover, Montessori theory asserts that there are sensitive periods in which children can learn specific skills more easily. Therefore, teachers need to identify these periods in order to optimize learning.

Jean Piaget Theory

The Jean Piaget theory is a cognitive theory that describes intellectual development of children. The theory describes four invariant sequences of qualitative stages of cognitive development. The stages are invariant meaning that the stages can not be reordered; however there is variability in age at which children remain in one stage.

The four stages are sensor-motor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational (Huitt and Hummel 5). Piaget’s theory also states that, a child has to attain some levels of cognitive development in each stage before they can move to the next. “Basically, at sensor-motor stage (0-2 years) the mental structure is concerned mainly with masterly of concrete objects” (Huitt and Hummel 5). Therefore, the main mode of learning is through one’s senses. In the preoperational stage (2-7 years), there is heavy reliance on senses but also increased use of language. Moreover, in the concrete stage (7-11 years), children are developing the concept of numbers, relationships, and processes. Finally, informal operational stage (11 years onwards) children are able to think in terms of concepts and abstraction.

Similarly, Jean asserts that maturation, experience, social interaction and equilibrium are factors that aid children to move from one stage to another. Essentially, knowledge is attained through social, physical and logico-mathematical relationship learning. Furthermore the role of educators is to facilitate learning rather than deciphering knowledge.

How Montessori and Piaget Ideas are used in good programs

Educators reckon that Montessori theory provides a path which children follow in the process of active construction of their individuality. Therefore, Montessori ideas and techniques have become common in preschools and daycare centers. Besides, some Montessori techniques have been incorporated into the traditional classroom environment.

Montessori idea of prepared environment for learning has been introduced in many educational centers. Good programs create learning environment where there is adequate space, and conducive environment for learning. Montessori classrooms create an environment where children are able to develop their interest to learn. In this environment children are helped to develop a sense of individual competence and community with fellow students. Freedom incorporated in a prepared environment helps children to choose their preferred activities. Similarly educators have introduced materials used in Montessori programs as teaching aids.

Moreover, allowing students to work on their projects uninterrupted has been introduced to help children to hone their creativity and innovation. Furthermore, in Montessori class teachers form multiage groups so as to help the students to socialize and form closer peer relationships. Similarly, good programs advocate for smaller educator/director student ratio to promote closer observation and individualized attention. In addition, to conventional methods of assessment (grading, testing and competition) observation assessments are also used.

Thus, assessment of learning is done using portfolios, presentations, and multimedia projects which are done individually or in groups. Educators make analysis of their student’s strengths, weaknesses, improvement or decline on a specific skill with the aim of assisting them. Furthermore, teachers play the role of facilitation of children’s interests rather than directing.

Since Montessori activities, have strong ties to physical and occupational therapy, they are used in training children with learning or developmental defects.

Similarly, Piaget’s ideas and techniques have been incorporated into education programs. Firstly, good programs understand the differences that exist developmental stages of various students. Thus, good educational programs have introduced schemes that allow students to learn at their own rate therefore educators form small groups rather than total class groups for performing activities. Moreover, evaluation is compared with previous individual performance rather than performance of same-age peers.

The Piaget idea of intellectual development has deterred good programs from emphasizing practices of speeding development through the stages. Premature teaching does not produce efficient learning since it does not lead to true cognitive understanding.

The recognition of students’ self-initiated active involvement in learning, propel educators to provide teaching aids or encourage their students to learn by exploring the environment. Indeed discovery learning and supporting the developing interests of the child are two primary instructional techniques (Huitt and Hummel, para.3).


Maria Montessori’s theory argues that children think and learn differently than adults, moreover, they have capacity to educate themselves provided that they are placed in prepared learning environment. In Montessori classrooms, teachers play the role of facilitation and supervision but not directing learning. On the other hand, Piaget’s theory describes stages of intellectual development. It also cites factors that influence intellectual development from one stage to the other. Similarly, the ideas and techniques of Montessori and Piaget are used in structuring activity groups, assessing learning and creating a learning environment.

Works cited

Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. (2003). Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University.

Montessori, Maria & Gutek, Gerald. The Montessori Method: The Origins of an Educational Innovation: Including an abridged and annotated edition of Maria Montessori’s The Montessori Method. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.