Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Introducing Computer Applications in the Montessori Environment

NAMC Montessori classroom computer applications girl using tablet app

It seems everywhere we turn these days, we find an “app” for this or that. And while some believe there is no place for modern technology in the Montessori environment, others are busy creating online applications that are specifically geared toward the Montessori method. So, before labeling all technology as bad and ruling out new pedagogical tools, let’s look at how to decide if there is true Montessori value in these applications.

Is there a Montessori App for That? Computer Applications for the Classroom

Not all screen time is created equal

The majority of educational apps are predominantly instructive, with only 4% being constructive and 11% being manipulable. Let’s look at the difference.


The first type of software created for children was meant for drill and practice. Instructive apps are incentive based games. When the child gets a right answer, there are pleasant bells and whistles or even verbal praise: “Great job!” Wrong answers are accompanied by negative sounds and perhaps a prompt to try again. The child progresses to the next level by earning awards or prizes. While these games may be fun, they require little engagement or cognitive interaction. The quality of instructive apps varies, but there are some good ones.


Are you tired of your child playing Angry Birds all the time? Before you ban it all together, did you realize this manipulable app is actually teaching properties of physics and simple machines (levers and catapults)? Manipulable apps give children the opportunity to explore content by making choices through guided discovery. There are multiple answers and children are able to make multiple attempts.

NAMC Montessori classroom computer applications family using tablet app


Constructive apps encourage creativity through high cognitive engagement. Constructive apps are not babysitters; they require adults to engage and interact with the children. Constructive apps employ a very limited use of extrinsic rewards.

When choosing software, Kate Highfield, PhD (Macquarie University) recommends using what she calls the “Five Finger App Test.” Consider if the app has all of the following:

  • Educationally sound
  • Intuitive
  • Appealing
  • Unique features
  • Novel way of learning

Dr. Kristy Goodwin (Macquarie University and creator of Every Chance to Learn) goes further and suggests these considerations for selecting apps for children. Ask yourself “Does it…”

  • …allow for creativity and self-expression?
  • … limit the use of “drill-and-practice”
  • … keep in mind emerging reading and fine motor skills?
  • … develop language skills?
  • … allow the child to become part of the app?
  • … encourage the child to discover new information?

Keep in mind that the use of technology is not meant to replace direct instruction or hands-on practice with Montessori materials. Its primary function is to support the Montessori pedagogy and methodology. As a Montessori teacher, it is ultimately up to you to decide what is developmentally appropriate and in line with the best practices of Montessori.
NAMC Montessori classroom computer applications boy using tablet app
Preschool App Examples:
(All of these apps are available through the Apple Play store, though not all may be available for Android or Windows currently.)
  • Constructive: Kidpix Deluxe 3D; Explain Everything; Puppet Pals; Drawing Pad; doodlecast, my story; http://artpad.art.com/artpad/painter
  • Manipulable: Soup Toys; Friends of Ten; ABC Art Maker; Toca Tea Party; national Library of Virtual Manipulatives (pattern blocks); Make a Face (ABC Playschool); Photo Peach or Photostory; Bee Bot
  • Instructive: Alphabet Soup; Monster Physics; Friends of Ten; Hungry Guppy; Quick Math; StarWalk; Go Away big Green Monster; http://www.storylineonline.net
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, March 19, 2013.


  1. I am the owner of a Montessori school and I have really been conflicted about adding technology to the environment. I think our children are enandated with technology and adding it to the 3-6 classrooms will only take away from the essesence of the Montessori environment. I do want to incorporate them in the 6-9 program for writing and research mostly. I just think the children already get enough of that outside of school and really need a more concrete learning environment before 6.

  2. Hi Nancy,

    I completely agree that a concrete learning environment is necessary in both the 3-6 and 6-9 environments. Part of our job as Montessorians is also to provide parent education. Being able to help parents choose what apps to use will significantly benefit both parent and child.

  3. We use NO screen-time for under age 6. VERY limited use in elementary (not "earned" in chunks of time because this make technology the "goal" - instead it is used for specific purposes, hence remaining a true *TOOL*).

    I think that is the difference - is it a tool or a end-goal by itself? If a tool, it can be used constructively and it can be one tool among many. If as an end-goal (children who earn time on such devices), it will be harder to achieve balance and appropriate use, to know when to stop (perhaps its use is done after 5 minutes, but child keeps going because he has "earned" 15 minutes) ---- and all the other issues that go along with extrinsic reward systems.

  4. Jessica your right, I have been using it as a reward and have had a lot of problems.


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