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What Is Montessori?

Dr. Maria Montessori, the Italian pediatrician who founded the methodology over 100 years ago, believed that when children are given the freedom to choose their own learning activities, a self-confident, inquisitive, creative child emerges. By observing the way children learn through exploration, Dr. Montessori developed a new system of education. Her philosophy allows children to grow their skills through hands-on learning.

In a Montessori classroom, children work with specially designed, hands-on materials that engage the senses in learning. Montessori materials are beautiful and inviting. They teach only one concept at a time to allow the child to work independently and master the skill.

The sequence of Montessori lessons aligns well with and, in many cases, exceeds state learning standards, ensuring that children are introduced to complex learning concepts through hands-on experiences that lead to deep understanding. The combination of independent, partner, small-group, and whole-group lessons and activities introduces children to different learning relationships and interpersonal dynamics, which are valuable skills for their interactions outside the classroom.

Montessori in MPS

Milwaukee Public Schools is dedicated to providing an authentic, world-class Montessori education. MPS offers the nation’s largest cluster of public Montessori schools; our eight tuition-free Montessori schools enroll more than 4,000 students annually. MacDowell Montessori is the only public K–12 Montessori school in the nation, and Riley Dual Language Montessori School is the only public English/Spanish Montessori program in the region.


  • 1973: The Milwaukee Public Schools Early Childhood Program launched four Montessori pre-kindergarten programs, the first public Montessori schools in Wisconsin and among the first in the nation.
  • 1976: African American lawyer Lloyd Barbee sued MPS to desegregate and took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. MPS was ordered to desegregate, creating MacDowell Montessori School and others to begin integration.
  • 1978: MacDowell Montessori School was established, making MPS the first in the country to publicly fund Montessori for four-year-olds.
  • 1981: MPS was the first district to publicly fund kindergarten for three-year-olds.
  • 1996: Highland Community School, founded as a private school in 1968, became Milwaukee’s first charter school.
  • 2018: The Milwaukee Board of School Directors passed a resolution directing the administration to create a long-term Montessori Strategic Plan.


Seats are assigned through a random computer process. Sibling preference and the number of openings help determine the students selected.

Automatic admission is granted to the Montessori middle school for students who successfully complete year six of the Montessori elementary program.

Any child who will be age three or four by September 1 is eligible to apply for the Montessori program during the kindergarten enrollment period.

Students older than age four may be enrolled in MPS Montessori schools as seats are available using the following specifications:

  • Students with verified continuous, previous Montessori experience shall receive Montessori enrollment preference.
  • Students without Montessori experience and students with limited Montessori experience may be enrolled as seats are available following an intake conference with the school principal.

Visit to enroll your child.

Revised Board-Approved Montessori Strategic Plan

50 Years of Montessori

Montessori 50 Years Logo

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Montessori Coordinator:
Abigail Rausch

Phone: 414-475-8571

© Milwaukee Public Schools 2023
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