1What is a Montessori school?
2 What is the difference between a Montessori class and a traditional class?
Another difference is that Montessori classes place children in three-year age groups. The combined preschool and kindergarten class (Children’s House) has children age 3 to 6 years (PK-K); the lower elementary class (E1) has children ages 5 to 9 years (1st-3rd grade). The children stay with the same teacher for 3 years.
3Why Is a Montessori Classroom Called a 'Children's House'?
The Montessori classroom is not the domain of the adults in charge; it is, instead, a carefully prepared environment designed to facilitate the development of the children’s independence and sense of personal empowerment. This is a children’s community. They move freely within it, selecting work that captures their interest. In a very real sense, even very small children are responsible for the care of their own child-sized environment. When they are hungry, they prepare their own snacks and drinks. They go to the bathroom without assistance. When something spills, they help each other carefully clean up.
Five generations of parents have been amazed to see small children in Montessori classrooms cut raw fruits and vegetables, sweep and dust, carry pitchers of water, and pour liquids with barely a drop spilled. The children normally go about their work so calmly and purposely that it is clear to even the casual observer that they are the masters in this place: The “Children’s House.”
4Is Montessori Unstructured?
Montessori teaches all of the “basics,” along with giving students the opportunity to investigate and learn subjects that are of particular interest. It also allows them the ability to set their own schedule to a large degree during class time.
At the early childhood level, external structure is limited to clear-cut ground rules and correct procedures that provide guidelines and structure for three- and four-year-olds. By age five, most schools introduce some sort of formal system to help students keep track of what they have accomplished and what they still need to complete.
Elementary Montessori children normally work with a written study plan for the day or week. It lists the tasks that they need to complete, while allowing them to decide how long to spend on each and what order they would like to follow. Beyond these basic, individually tailored assignments, children explore topics that capture their interest and imagination and share them with their classmates.
5Is It True that Montessori Children Never Play?
Montessori students also tend to take the things they do in school quite seriously. It is common for them to respond, “This is my work,” when adults ask what they are doing. They work hard and expect their parents to treat them and their work with respect. But it is joyful, playful, and anything but drudgery.
6 Is Montessori Opposed to Fantasy and Creativity?
7Why Does Montessori Put So Much Stress On Freedom And Independence?
Montessori children are free to move about, working alone or with others at will. They may select any activity and work with it as long as they wish, so long as they do not disturb anyone or damage anything, and as long as they put it back where it belongs when they are finished.
Many exercises, especially at the early childhood level, are designed to draw children’s attention to the sensory properties of objects within their environment: size, shape, color, texture, weight, smell, sound, etc. Gradually, they learn to pay attention, seeing more clearly small details in the things around them. They have begun to observe and appreciate their environment. This is a key in helping children discover how to learn.
Freedom is a second critical issue as children begin to explore. Our goal is less to teach them facts and concepts, but rather to help them to fall in love with the process of focusing their complete attention on something and mastering its challenge with enthusiasm. Work assigned by adults rarely results in such enthusiasm and interest as does work that children freely choose for themselves.
The prepared environment of the Montessori class is a learning laboratory in which children are allowed to explore, discover, and select their own work. The independence that the children gain is not only empowering on a social and emotional basis, but it is also intrinsically involved with helping them become comfortable and confident in their ability to master the environment, ask questions, puzzle out the answer, and learn without needing to be “spoon-fed” by an adult.
8 Is there too much individual work in Montessori? Do children learn how to get along with others?
9What if a Child Doesn’t Feel Like Working?
Experienced Montessori teachers are conscious of these standards and provide as much structure and support as is necessary to ensure that students live up to them. If for some reason it appears that a child needs time and support until he or she is developmentally ready, Montessori teachers provide it non-judgmentally.
10Why Do Montessori Classes Group Different Age Levels Together?
At each level, Montessori programs are designed to address the developmental characteristics normal to children in that stage.
Montessori classes are organized to encompass a two- or three-year age span, which allows younger students the stimulation of older children, who in turn benefit from serving as role models. Each child learns at her own pace and will be ready for any given lesson in her own time, not on the teacher’s schedule of lessons. In a mixed-age class, children can always find peers who are working at their current level.
Children normally stay in the same class for three years. With two-thirds of the class normally returning each year, the classroom culture tends to remain quite stable.
Working in one class for two or three years allows students to develop a strong sense of community with their classmates and teachers. The age range also allows especially gifted children the stimulation of intellectual peers, without requiring that they skip a grade or feel emotionally out of place.
11With mixed age groups and individualized teaching how do Montessori teachers keep track of all the children?
In addition to keeping observation notes, teachers keep records of lessons presented to individual children and record children’s progress in working toward mastery of skills.
12Why Do Most Montessori Schools Want Children to Enter at Age Three?
age three to six is designed to work with the “absorbent mind,” “sensitive periods,” and the tendencies of children at this stage of their development.
Learning that takes place during these years comes spontaneously without effort, leading children to enter the elementary classes with a clear, concrete sense of many abstract concepts. Montessori helps children to become self-motivated, self-disciplined, and to retain the sense of curiosity that so many children lose along the way in traditional classrooms. They tend to act with care and respect toward their environment and each other. They are able to work at their own pace and ability. The three-year Montessori experience tends to nurture a joy of learning that prepares them for further challenges.
This process seems to work best when children enter a Montessori program at age two or three and stay at least through the kindergarten year. Children entering at age four or five do not consistently come to the end of the three-year cycle having developed the same skills, work habits, or values.
Older children entering Montessori may do quite well in this very different setting, but this will depend to a large degree on their personality, previous educational experiences, and the way they have been raised at home.
Montessori programs can usually accept a few older children into an established class, so long as the family understands and accepts that some critical opportunities may have been missed, and these children may not reach the same levels of achievement seen in the other children of that age. On the other hand, because of the individualized pace of learning in Montessori classrooms, this will not normally be a concern.
13Why Do Most Montessori Schools Ask Young Children to Attend Five Days a Week?
14What does ‘normalized’ mean in a Montessori classroom?
In his book, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, E.M. Standing described the following characteristics of normalization in the child between the age of three and six:
- A love of order
- A love of work
- Profound spontaneous concentration
- Attachment to reality
- Love of silence and of working alone
- Sublimation of the possessive instinct
- Independence and initiative
- Spontaneous self-discipline
- The power to act from real choice and not just from idle curiosity
Normalization is another word for what we call Montessori’s Joyful Scholars.
15Is Montessori right for All Children?
There is no one school that is right for all children, and certainly there are children who may do better in a smaller classroom setting with a more teacher-directed program that offers fewer choices and more consistent external structure.
Children who are easily over-stimulated, or those who tend to be overly aggressive, may be examples of children who might not adapt as easily to a Montessori program. Each situation is different, and it is best to work with the schools in your area to see if it appears that a particular child and school would be a good match.
16How Do Montessori Schools Report Student Progress?
Online Montessori Record Keeping: Over recent years, online record keeping software has simplified the process of recording student progress as Montessori teachers give lessons and observe their progress. Our favorite is MontessoriCompass, which was developed with the collaboration of the Montessori Foundation (www.montessoricompass.com) It provides a record keeping, parent communication, observation recording, and progress report system used by Montessori schools around the world.
Student Self-Evaluations: At the elementary level, students will often prepare a monthly self-evaluation of the past three month’s work: what they accomplished, what they enjoyed the most, what they found most difficult, and what they would like to learn in the three months ahead. When completed, they will meet with the teachers, who will review it and add their comments and observations.
Portfolios of Student Work: In many Montessori schools, two or three times a year, teachers (and at the elementary level, students) and parents go through the students’ completed work and make selections for their portfolios.
Student/Parent/Teacher Conferences: Once the students’ three-month self-evaluations are complete, parents, students, and teachers will hold a family conference two or three times a year to review their children’s portfolios and self-evaluations and go through the teachers’ assessment of their children’s progress.
Narrative Progress Reports: In many Montessori schools, once or twice a year, teachers prepare a written narrative report discussing each student’s work, social development, and mastery of fundamental skills.
17What specialized training do Montessori teachers have?
Montessori teachers learn principles of child development and Montessori philosophy as well as specific uses of the Montessori classroom materials. They become knowledgeable about the sensitivities of each age group of children, and develop classroom leadership skills that foster a caring learning environment, such as class meetings and peace education. They also learn to observe and respond to individual learning styles of their students. Because respect for children and the willingness to encourage children to grow in a noncompetitive environment are essential, Montessori teachers are taught to be positive, gentle and encouraging in their interactions with children.
18Will My Child Be Able to Adjust to Traditional Public or Private Schools After Montessori?
Montessori children by age six have spent three or four years in a school where they were treated with honesty and respect. While there were clear expectations and ground rules, within that framework, their opinions and questions were taken quite seriously. Unfortunately, there are still some teachers and schools where children who ask questions are seen as challenging authority.
It is not hard to imagine an independent Montessori child asking his new teacher, “But why do I have to ask each time I need to use the bathroom?” or, “Why do I have to stop my work right now?” We also have to remember that children are different. One child may be very sensitive or have special needs that might not be met well in a teacher-centered traditional classroom. Other children can succeed in any type of school.
There is nothing inherent in Montessori that causes children to have a hard time if they are transferred to traditional schools. Some will be bored. Others may not understand why everyone in the class has to do the same thing at the same time. But most adapt to their new setting fairly quickly, making new friends, and succeeding within the definition of success understood in their new school.
There will naturally be trade-offs if a Montessori child transfers to a traditional school. The curriculum in Montessori schools is often more enriched than that taught in other schools in the United States. The values and attitudes of the children and teachers may also be quite different. Learning will often be focused more on adult-assigned tasks done more by rote than with enthusiasm and understanding.
There is an old saying that if something is working, don’t fix it. This leads many families to continue their children in Montessori at least through the sixth grade. As more Montessori High Schools are opened in the United States and abroad, it is likely that this trend will continue.