The School Museum | Historic school furniture

Self-directed learning

Maria Montessori’s educational philosophy

At the beginning of the 20th century an Italian physician, Maria Montessori, started to develop reform of education for infants and elementary school children. Her concern was that children should be supported in discovering for themselves their strengths and abilities and that these needed to be facilitated. Learning materials but also furniture and architecture were to be oriented to that purpose. Montessori classroom, Berlin-Tempelhof, 1955.

Maria Montessori

As an inspirer of education in early childhood and the elementary school years, Maria Montessori (1870-1952) ranks amongst the greats in modern educational philosophy.

Child-centered learning

Children are fundamentally creative and spontaneous and capable of taking initiative. They develop into independent human beings through active participation in their environment.

Group room

Without social reference an individual cannot develop. Montessori Kindergarten in Frankfurt, 1928.


Children should learn to be their own person through their own activity. Education is limited to a supporting role in the child’s quest to develop the self. Berlin-Tegel, 1948.

Musical education

Free choice and opportunities for free musical expression for children: music and dance at the Children’s House, Berlin-Wedding around 1927.

Furniture for a Children’s House

Tables and chairs designed by architects Rudolf Schwarz and Hans Schwippert in 1929 enable children to experience the feel of wood and the clear simple shapes of the furniture.

VS and Montessori

Production and distribution of materials in Germany

From 1913 – 1935, P. Johannes Müller, VS’s Berlin-based founding company, held the sole right to manufacture and distribute Maria Montessori furniture and teaching materials in Germany. An appropriately fitted out Montessori children’s room was presented at the 1914 German Werkbund exhibition in Cologne – the first time in Germany it reached a wider public.

Congress for infant education, Berlin 1932

In 1932, P. Johannes Müller presented a room fitted out with Montessori materials on the occasion of the congress for infant education in Berlin.

Montessori advertising poster

Advertising poster from around 1926 for P. Johannes Müller, the “sole manufacturer” of Montessori materials in Germany.

Montessori learning materials

The specific learning materials could only be produced under the Maria Montessori license. Even the wooden and cardboard containers are meticulously made.

Learning their letters

Sandpaper letters stuck on to cardboard facilitate writing exercises based on sensory experience. Montessori elementary-grade class, Berlin-Tegel, around 1950.

Child-friendly measurements

Kindergartens and schools frequently did not have appropriate furniture. Maria Montessori was concerned with taking anatomical factors into account. Montessori room, 1931.

The Children’s House

Protected environment for child development

According to Maria Montessori, children in early childhood assimilate impressions from their environment in a holistic way. Children choose activities depending on what they need to development their personality. The Children’s House offers the perfect environment for this. Children’s House, Rudolfsplatz, Vienna, around 1930. Life on a wind-protected terrace serving as an activities room in summer.

Furniture of the German Montessori Society, 1927

Friedrich Benoit’s drawings for a Children’s House. From the windows inwards, the room is divided by low, built-in units usable on both sides. This allows objects and teaching materials to be placed in a clearly ordered way.

Simple and clear structure

A Children’s House has clear, structured rooms or areas for different activities. The large activities room allows room for exercise. Children’s House in Altona, 1928.

Light furniture

The furniture is suited to the size of the child. It has to be comfortable and alterable. Tables and chairs need to be such that children can move them themselves. Furniture for a play area, 1928 (after a design by Ferdinand Kramer).

Work room

Child-friendly furniture for different group activities. Children can open the windows themselves, even the door handles are fitted at child height.

Area for plants

A Children’s House should not just have a garden; experiencing and encountering nature is also part of everyday life. (Photo: Bauhaus-Archive, Berlin).

Everyday life tasks

Acquiring practical skills and social education

Maria Montessori’s educational philosophy is based on children’s natural physiological and psychological development. A significant part of that is the simple performance and practice of everyday life tasks. Such tasks appeal to children’s drive for self-construction and urge to move around; it also accommodates their natural interest in their environment. Furniture, teaching materials and the surrounding architecture support these education processes. Doing the dishes and drying at the Children’s House, Berlin-Lankwitz, around 1920.

Looking after themselves

Children’s House, Leopoldplatz, Berlin-Wedding, 1928. Children are helping each other tie their shoe-laces – it encourages mutual respect and social responsibility.

Looking after their environment

Housework is also one of life’s everyday activities. In all activities children’s attention needs to be in harmony with their movements and sense of appreciation of the task. Montessori Kindergarten, Berlin 1955.

Daily life skills

Independence and self-confidence: The boy is practicing pouring water from one container into another, preferably without spilling any. Children’s House, Berlin, 1961.

Community development at mealtimes

Peeling potatoes in a Children’s House, Berlin, 1920. Preparing and serving meals together and doing the dishes serve to help concentration and increase feelings of responsibility.

Garden, plants, animals

The children are looking after their bird and plants themselves, Children’s House Berlin, around 1920. They are learning that plants and animals need thoughtful and responsible care.

Rhythmical and musical movement

The first rhythmic exercises are for balance. Walking along a line encourages conscious coordination of movement. Children’s House, Vienna, 1935.

Outdoor exercise and play

Children’s House in Altona, around 1928. A significant part of a child’s natural physiological development is building muscle strength.

Sensory materials

Learning in harmony with children’s developmental stages

Children are no longer the object of education but self-determining subjects who are able, in a suitable environment, to choose activities according to their own particular stage of development. At every stage receptivity to acquire certain sensual skills is especially pronounced. Children with their teacher enjoy an activity with rattle boxes – sensual materials to development the auditory and musical senses. Children’s House at the Fröbelseminar, Hamburg, around 1930.

Development of sense of proportion

Practice material with different kinds of cylinders to insert in a block – same-dimension cylinders and others with different diameters and decreasing heights.

Sense of color and touch

Paint pans in a wooden box. There are eight ground colors each with eight shades ranging from dark to light.

Estimating weight

The girl is assessing the weight of wooden blocks. She can check whether she’s right by noting the color of the little blocks. Montessori Kindergarten, Berlin, 1950.

Development of musical sense

The child is ordering the bells each time into the two with the same sound, later into whole and half tones according to the scale.

Recognizing geometric shapes

A boy is feeling the contours of geometric shapes. Blindfolded he feels around the figures with fore and middle finger to understand the shape. Children’s House, Berlin, around 1920

Language material, math material and cosmic education

Exercising the mind as child-friendly basis of school education

In the course of years of practical work with children, Montessori designed teaching and learning objects of a completely new kind – clear and simply designed objects, but equally, precise and appealing to the senses. Sandpaper letters on colored cardboard – children learn to write starting with this equipment. In the Children’s House the cards are available in wooden boxes. Vowels are on blue card, consonants on red.

Sand paper letters on cardboard

Using his/her fore and middle finger, the child follows the shape of the letters and utters the appropriate sound. Children’s House, Berlin, around 1927.

Reading and grammar exercises

Even grammar materials offer learning opportunities for hand and senses. Cards with articles on are set before the noun. Montessori school class, Berlin, 1927.

The world of words

Children’s House Altona, 1928. A girl goes to the teacher with something she has written.

Introduction to the decimal system

Montessori class, Berlin, 1949. Girls count the “thousand chains” to practice the decimal system. They mark off the distances between the hundreds.

Geometric materials

Learning with the aid of the senses: Pupils compare areas and lengths on geometric basic shapes and thus develop a sense of mathematical relationships. Montessori class, Berlin-Tegel, around 1950.

Comprehensive educational horizons

Cosmic education includes nature, culture and society. The boy studies the composition of a flower with tweezers and magnifying glass and arranges the individual parts on the labeled card. Montessori School, Aachen, around 1930.

The Montessori school

Holistic development of abilities and dispositions

Montessori education takes into account the whole character/personality of the young person. What the school offers is especially designed to do justice to that concept. On the shelves, Montessori materials are available to choose from. The work tables are arranged in a loose way, the largest part of the room is left freely available to the children. The teacher goes where she is needed and helps when necessary. The children are absorbed in the work they have chosen for themselves, every child is working independently and on their own initiative. Munich, Integrative Montessori school “Action Sunshine”, 1972

Education center - Ingolstadt-Hollerstauden

The girl is working with material dealing with parts of speech. Open shelves have learning materials and useful objects freely available for the children to use.

School complex - Ingolstadt-Hollerstauden

Open, light and transparent architecture by Behnisch & Partner, 1993-1997.

Montessori College Oost, Amsterdam, 2000

View into the atrium of the classroom block where there are wide corridors and spacious stairways positioned offset to each other connecting with a dense mesh of routes and communication networks.

Class-room block

The Montessori College Oost by Herman Hertzberger, from the year 2000, was the first new construction worldwide to be purpose-built for a Montessori secondary school.

Lingering and communicating

A place for meeting up: view into the hall of the Oost Montessori College.


Documentation on a Montessori education

At the heart of this documentation are the learning environment and educational equipment proposed by Maria Montessori for kindergartens and elementary schools. Original materials owned by VS or its Berlin-based founding company, P. Johannes Müller - who were producing Montessori teaching materials for the German market between 1913 and 1935 – are presented for the first time in their historical context.

Montessori: Teaching Materials, Furniture and Architecture, 1913-1935

Published by Thomas Müller and Romana Schneider Prestel Verlag, 2002 (ISBN 3-7913-2650-3) 158 pages with numerous illustrations

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