Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thoughts on Worksheets and Workbooks in the Montessori Environment

NAMC worksheets and workbooks in the montessori prepared environment girls writing

A NAMC student recently asked about the role of worksheets and workbooks in the Montessori environment. It seems that the parents at her school are demanding their students bring home more work. This need to show tangible evidence of learning is entrenched in modern society. But does it have a place in Montessori?

What makes Montessori different from conventional methods of education is the use of concrete materials that guide the child to inquire and construct their own knowledge. While conventional classrooms use manipulatives, in Montessori, the children use the materials to discover the laws of nature and learn on their own. Manipulatives used in a conventional setting are only used after the teacher has told the child the laws, and the manipulatives are used to practice, not discover.

Worksheets and Workbooks in the Montessori Environment: Not Always a Good Fit

"1. The principal quality of my material is to attract the attention of the child and to provoke a permanent reaction within the child.

2. (The next quality) of my material is that it is systematic. All the objects are connected in a series and together form a material of development.

3. (The third quality) of my material is that it contains (what I call) the control of error. As the child uses the material, the material shows the child his mistakes and, in this free path the child can correct these errors.

This also liberates him from unfavorable and discouraging criticism of others and develops in him the sense of (self-) criticism."
- The California Lectures of Maria Montessori, 1915, p.11, 12

The Montessori materials bring abstract thought and concepts to life in front of the child. They understand what it means to cube a number because they have built it, touched it, held it, and seen it. They construct whole sentences and stories using the moveable alphabet before they are even able to read. These ‘materialized abstractions’ represent the child’s work. However, the parent is not there to see this work and must, therefore, rely on the teacher to tell them what was worked on.

There are several reasons worksheets/workbooks do not work in the Montessori environment:

  • No logical control of error makes them adult-centered
  • Child does not create the work
  • No room for creativity
  • Right answers receive praise or incentives; wrong answers require corrections (punishment)
  • The nature of a worksheet, matching/fill-in-the-blank/unscrambling does not lead to real thinking skills

NAMC worksheets and workbooks in the montessori prepared environment math materials

Perhaps the most logical argument against the use of worksheet/workbooks in the Montessori environment comes from Montessori veteran teacher, Kitty Bravo:

". …the children who needed the extra support were the least likely to want to work in the workbook, and the ones that easily learned to read and write breezed through workbook after workbook. It seemed like for the language challenged children it was pure torture, and for the advanced student it quickly became meaningless busy work as well as a source of unhealthy competition ("I'm on work book 5, what are you on...")."

Using workbooks in the first plane of development (ages 0-6) removes the very important element of self-discovery. Moving to paper and pencil immediately moves work from a concrete level to one of abstraction. Young children need movement and the ability to manipulate objects and experience and embrace learning with all their senses.

Parents want their children to succeed and they need evidence that their child is learning. In our next blog, you’ll learn about ways you can document the child’s progress without having to resort to conventional worksheets, as well as when using a worksheet/workbook may be appropriate in the Montessori setting.
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 Thursday, March 28, 2013.


  1. How do you explain the many worksheets in the NAMC elementary black line masters?

  2. Very good post! I am a homeschooling mom, traditionally rooted yet Montessori converted :) A good way of saying that I am learning, and although not strictly Montessori (for lack of materials among other things) I am trying to center more and more of our learning on the concrete and not abstract. That being said, I have a five year old that LOVES worksheets! She will do the Montessori-inspired works, and even enjoys them, but still loves doing worksheets as much, if not some days, more! So what would you suggest I do with a child like that? I really don't mind the worksheets, as long as they are not her the main method of learning, but maybe more as a way of reinforcing what she knows at her own pace and choices. But I would like to know your thoughts on where/how you would suggest I try to fit them in.

  3. Dear Amy and Anonymous,

    You both have very good questions. I think you'll find some answers in our follow up blog Worksheets and Workbooks in the Montessori Environment: Practicing Concrete Concepts.

  4. The correct post for the blog on Worksheets and Workbooks in the Montessori Envirionment should be: I apologize for any confusion.


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