General questions

Where did Montessori come from? 

Montessori education was founded in 1907 by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman in Italy to become a physician. She based her educational methods on scientific observation of children’s learning processes. Guided by her discovery that children teach themselves, Dr. Montessori designed an “environment” in which children could freely choose from a number of developmentally appropriate activities.

Now, nearly a century after Maria Montessori’s first casa dei bambini (“children’s house”) in Rome, Montessori education is found all over the world, spanning ages from birth to adolescence. Mario Montessori, the son of Maria Montessori continues his mother’s legacy.

What does Montessori mean for Parents?
  • Reassurance that the basics are being taught in a concrete, fun way, at the age when the child is most receptive to learning various concepts. The unique learning materials designed by Maria Montessori ensure this
  • Knowledge that child is respected and treated as a valued individual, trained by Montessori teachers, receptive to his individual needs
  • Relief that priority is given to developing social skills in children, to training them to be thoughtful and courteous; knowledgeable and appreciative of cultural diversity that characterizes our multi-ethnic society

“…if we compare our ability as adults to that of the child, it would require us 60 years of hard work to achieve what a child has achieved in these first three years.”

– Maria Montessori

What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education? 

Montessori emphasizes learning through all five senses. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own, individual pace and according to their own choice of activities from hundreds of possibilities. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning. Montessori classes place children in multi-age groups (for example, 3-6 group), forming communities in which the older children spontaneously share their knowledge with the younger ones. Montessori represents an entirely different approach to education.

Montessori’s most significant features are (i) a child-centered orientation and (ii) a highly structured, hierarchical curriculum. The balance of freedom and limits represents a major shift in the organization of the classroom and the role of adults in relation to children’s learning.  It also matches the way human beings actually learn.

Children are not required to sit and listen to a teacher talk to them as a group, but are engaged in individual or group activities of their own, with materials that have been introduced to them 1:1 by the teacher who knows what each child is ready to do. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning. Above age 6 children learn to do independent research, arrange field trips to gather information, interview specialists, create group presentation, dramas, art exhibits, musical productions, science projects, and so on. There is no limit to what they can create in this kind of intelligently guided freedom. There are no textbooks or adult-directed group lessons and daily schedule. There is great respect for the choices of the children, but they easily keep up with or surpass what they would be doing in a more traditional setting. There is no wasted time and children enjoy their work and study. The children ask each other for lessons and much of the learning comes from sharing and inspiring each other instead of competing with each other.

What does Montessori mean for Children?

Montessori education has an international reputation and influence. It is a holistic approach: it develops and educates the child physically, intellectually, socially and emotionally. It is child centered: each child progresses at their own pace, not pressured to achieve and encouraged to follow their own path of development. It offers a unique combination of a highly structured curriculum, even at pre-school level, and the freedom for the child to choose their own activities. Because they have this freedom of choice Montessori children become enthusiastic learners.

Are Montessori children successful later in life?

Research studies show that Montessori children are well prepared for later life academically, socially, and emotionally. In addition to scoring well on standardized tests, Montessori children are ranked above average on such criteria as following directions, turning in work on time, listening attentively, using basic skills, showing responsibility, asking provocative questions, showing enthusiasm for learning, and adapting to new situations.

Since Montessori classrooms emphasize non-competitiveness, how are students adequately prepared for real-life competition later on?

Montessori classrooms emphasize skills and dispositions that have been shown to have greatest impact on success in later life: self-regulation, collaboration, conflict-resolution, and a variety of other executive skills aimed at continuous improvement. Students typically become comfortable with their strengths and learn how to address their weaknesses. In older classes, students commonly participate in competitive activities with clear “winners” (auditions for limited opera roles, the annual spelling bee, etc.) in which students give their best performances while simultaneously encouraging peers to do the same. It is a healthy competition in which all contenders are content that they did their best in an environment with clear and consistent rules.

Are Montessori schools religious?

No. Montessori educates children without reference to religious denomination. As a result, Montessori classrooms are extremely diverse, with representation from all peoples, cultures and religions.

Is Montessori good for gifted children or children with learning disabilities?

Based in the assumption that children learn at different rates and through different avenues, all Montessori instruction is differentiated to meet the needs of each child in the classroom. For children who experience learning challenges, this means addressing difficulties early.  For children who require additional challenges, there is no ceiling to learning. A classroom whose children have varying abilities is a community in which everyone learns from one another and everyone contributes. Moreover, multi-age grouping allows each child to find his or her own pace without feeling “ahead” or “behind” in relation to peers.

What learning materials are used in the classroom? 

The sensorial, math, and some of the language and cultural materials (for example, metal insets, sandpaper letters, puzzle maps, bells) are professionally manufactured according to traditional standards that have been tested over many years. However, even some of these are made by newer companies that do not fully understand the reason for certain details and so produce materials that are not as successful.

Montessori, for very good reasons, make many of their own practical life and language material instead of buying them – as they learn to do in their training, depending on where in the world they live. They gather practical life materials piece by piece. This is an important process that gives a unique quality to each classroom that expresses the culture, and ideas of beauty in each community, instead of all classrooms looking alike with no personal touches.

Materials in the classroom, without being used correctly by a trained teacher, are usually worthless in creating a real Montessori class, but they can help in some ways in non-Montessori situations. For example the math materials have been used to teach a concept sensorially, thus, helping a child to make the abstraction. Educational materials in the Montessori Method serve a very different purpose than in traditional education where the text books are ordered and the teacher learns how to use them. This difference is because in Montessori the child learns from the environment, and it is the teacher’s job to put the child in touch with the environment, not to “teach” the child. Thus, the creation of the environment, and selection of materials is done mostly by the teacher and is very important.

Do Montessori teachers follow a curriculum?

Montessori schools teach the same basic skills as traditional schools, and offer a rigorous academic program. Most of the subject areas are familiar, such as math, science, history, geography, and language, but they are presented through an integrated approach that brings separate strands of the curriculum together. 

While studying a map of Africa, for example, students may explore the art, history, and inventions of several African nations. This may lead them to examine ancient Egypt, including hieroglyphs and their place in the history of writing. The study of the pyramids, of course, is a natural bridge to geometry. This approach to curriculum shows the interrelatedness of all things. It also allows students to become thoroughly immersed in a topic and to give their curiosity full rein.

Is it true that Montessori students have the same teacher for all subjects rather than work with “specialists” in different curricular areas?

Montessori teachers are educated as “generalists”, qualified to teach all sections of the curriculum. But many schools choose to also employ specialists in certain subjects, including art, music, foreign language, and physical education.

Why don’t Montessori teachers give grades?

Grades, like other external rewards, have little lasting effect on a child’s efforts or achievements. The Montessori approach nurtures the motivation that comes from within, kindling the child’s natural desire to learn. A self-motivated learner also learns to be self-sufficient, without needing reinforcement from outside. In the classroom, of course, the teacher is always available to provide students with guidance and support. Although most Montessori teachers don’t assign grades, they closely observe each student’s progress and readiness to advance to new lessons. Most schools hold family conferences a few times a year so parents may see their child’s work and hear the teacher’s assessment and perhaps even their child’s self-assessment.

How do Montessori Schools report student progress?

Because Montessori believes in individually paced academic progress, most schools do not assign letter grades or rank students within each class according to their achievement. Student progress, however, is measured in different ways, which may include:

  • 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.
Why does Montessori put so much stress on freedom and independence?

Children touch and manipulate everything in their environment. In a sense, the human mind is handmade, because through movement and touch, the child explores, manipulates, and builds a storehouse of impressions about the physical world around her. Children learn best by doing, and this requires movement and spontaneous investigation. Montessori children are free to move, 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.

How does a teacher care for all children if everyone chooses freely?

The Montessori teachers are specially trained to observe the individual child or small groups of them that are formed spontaneously. Teacher is not sitting in her chair to give orders. When children are not there, carefully prepares the environment in every detail on the basis of the needs observed, so the proposals are always appropriate. And if after experimenting she notices that it is not exactly so, she is ready to change, to prepare other proposals.

The prepared environment is like another teacher: silent, indirect but powerful. It is a tacit invitation to act. When the teacher works with one or more children, others are busy with many other activities, chosen by themselves and so interesting for them. She oversees her students, but offers help only to those she is closely following at that time. Later in the day she offers its presence to each of them. Lessons are usually individual and short, that will last as long as necessary for the child to do for themselves. Even objects and materials are designed to do so, and most of them allow the child to check for themselves whether he did well or not, and this gives them the greatest pleasure to repeat and to concentrate.

Why in the Montessori school teachers do not tell fables or fairy tales to younger children?

The toddlers especially need reality, true tales of animals or plants, which they turn in their own way with their imagination to explain the world. This does not justify the attitude of adults, thinking that threatening and moralistic tales will preach the small children. See Little Red Riding Hood, who disobeys — see how it ends — and many others like the wolf and the seven little goats. Or Hansel and Gretel that cook the witch for revenge. Hidden violence in fables does not have a good impact on children.

What curriculum do Montessori schools follow?

Algebra, geometry, physical science, history, language arts, geography—these are a just few of the familiar subjects that Montessori schools offer.  It is a rigorous academic program, with an enriched, integrated curriculum that intertwines the individual strands, so that there is Art and Geometry in Geography, Language and Math in Sensorial studies, Music and Science in History, and so on. This immersion in their studies allows students, driven by their curiosity, to begin perceiving the interrelatedness of all things.  

How/when do you teach children to read?

Like all of the other aspects of the Montessori Method, reading is integrated into the entire curriculum.  Children begin to read through the provision of prepared environments rich with vocabulary-building opportunities, phonetically presented works, the inspiration of older students in the classroom and their reading materials, an attitude of reverence for books and words in a pressure-free environment, adults and older students reading aloud, and the introduction of writing prior to the development of reading skills.  Dr. Montessori observed that developmentally, writing precedes reading, so the methods used in the classroom follow that important distinction. The preparation for writing, phonemic awareness work and other components of reading preparation begins as early as age three, as the child’s development indicates readiness.

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