- What is Montessori?
- How did Montessori begin?
- Why do Montessori classes group different age levels together?
- Why do Montessori classes tend to be larger than those found in many other schools?
- How can Montessori teachers meet the needs of so many different children?
- Why do most Montessori schools ask young children to attend five days a week?
- Why do most Montessori schools want children enrolled by age three?
- Is Montessori for all children?
- Is Montessori unstructured?
- What’s the big deal about freedom and independence in Montessori?
- What if a child doesn’t feel like working?
- Is it true that Montessori children never play?
- What do Montessori schools mean by the term “normalization”?
- What about children with special needs?
- Wasn’t Montessori’s method first developed for children with severe developmental delays?
- Is Montessori effective with the very highly gifted child?
- Is Montessori opposed to competition?
- Is Montessori opposed to fantasy and creativity?
- Will my child be able to adjust to traditional public or private schools after Montessori?
- How can parents support their Montessori child at home?
What is Montessori?
It is a system of education in both a philosophy of child development and a rationale for guiding such development. It is based on the child’s need for freedom within limits and on a carefully prepared environment that guarantees exposure to materials and experiences through which to develop intelligence, as well as physical and psychological abilities. It is designed to take full advantage of the self-motivation and unique ability of young children to develop their own capabilities. Children need adults to expose them to the possibilities of their lives, but the children themselves must direct their responses to those possibilities.
Key premises of Montessori education are:
- Children are to be respected as different from adults and as individuals who differ from each other.
- Children possess unusual sensitivity and mental powers for absorbing and learning from their environment that are unlike those of adults, both in quantity and capacity.
- The most important years of growth are the first six years of life, when unconscious learning is gradually brought to conscious level.
- Children have a deep love and need for purposeful work. The child works, however, not as an adult for profit and completion of a job, but for the sake of the activity itself. It is this activity that accomplishes the most important goal for the child, the development of his or her mental, physical and psychological powers.
How did Montessori begin?
Dr Maria Montessori, one of the first women to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School, became interested in education as a doctor treating children with severe developmental delays. After returning to the University for further study, she began her work with normal children in 1907, when she was invited to organize schools in a reconstructed slum area of San Lorenzo, Italy. Later, she traveled all over the world lecturing about her discoveries, and founding schools. She has written approximately fifteen volumes and numerous articles on education. She died in 1952.
Why do Montessori classes group different age levels together?
Sometimes parents worry that by having younger children in the same class as older ones, one group or the other will be shortchanged. Those concerns are misguided. At each level, Montessori programs are designed to address the developmental characteristics normal to children in that stage.
Montessori classes are organized to encompass three year age spans, excluding the infant toddler program which is split into one and a half years. This 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.
Working in one class for multiple years allows children 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. With a half to two-thirds of the class returning each year, the classroom culture tends to remain quite stable.
Why do Montessori classes tend to be larger than those found in many other schools?
Many schools take pride in having very small classes, and parents often wonder why Montessori classes are so much larger. Montessori classes commonly group together 12-15 toddlers and 25 to 35 pre-school /kindergarten children covering the multi year age span. The best teacher of a young child is another somewhat older child. This process is good for both the tutor and the younger child. In this situation, the teacher is not the primary focus. The larger group size puts the focus less on the adult and encourages children to learn from each other, a skill they will use as they advance their education and when they eventually join the work force.
How can Montessori teachers meet the needs of so many different children?
Great teachers help learners get to the point where their minds and hearts are open, leaving them ready to learn. In effective schools, students are not so much motivated by getting good grades as they are by a basic love of learning. As parents know their own children’s learning styles and temperaments, teachers too develop this sense of each child’s uniqueness by spending a number of years with the students and their parents.
Dr. Montessori believed that teachers should focus on the child as a person, not on the daily lesson plan. Montessori teachers lead children to ask questions, think for themselves, explore, investigate, and discover. Their ultimate objective is to help their students to learn independently and retain the curiosity, creativity, and intelligence with which they were born. Montessori teachers don’t simply present lessons; they are facilitators, mentors, coaches, and guides.
Normally, Montessori teachers will not spend much time teaching lessons to the whole class. Their primary role is to prepare and maintain the physical, intellectual, and social/emotional environment within which the children will work. A key aspect of this is the selection of intriguing and developmentally appropriate learning activities to meet the needs and interests of each child in the class.
Montessori teachers usually present lessons to small groups of children at one time and limit lessons to brief and very clear presentations. The goal is to give the children just enough to capture their attention and spark their interest, intriguing them enough that they will come back on their own to work with the learning materials. Montessori teachers closely monitor their students’ progress. Because they normally work with each child for 2 or 3 years, they get to know their students’ strengths and weaknesses, interests, and personalities extremely well. Montessori teachers often use the children’s interests to enrich the curriculum and provide alternate avenues for accomplishment and success.
Why do most Montessori schools ask young children to attend five days a week?
Five day programs create the consistency that is so important to young children and which is essential in developing strong Montessori programs. Since the primary goal of Montessori involves creating a culture of consistency, order, and empowerment, most Montessori schools will expect children to attend 5 days a week.
Why do most Montessori schools want children enrolled by age three?
Dr. Montessori identified four “planes of development,” with each stage having its own developmental characteristics and developmental challenges. The Montessori environment for children age 3 to 6 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 elementary 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 3 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 3 and stay at least through the kindergarten year. Children entering at age 4 or 5 do not consistently come to the end of the 3 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 might 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.
Is Montessori for all children?
The Montessori system has been used successfully with children from all socio-economic levels, representing those in regular classes as well as the gifted, children with developmental delays, and children with emotional and physical disabilities. 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. 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.
Is Montessori unstructured?
At first, Montessori may look unstructured to some people, but it is actually quite structured at every level. Just because the Montessori program is highly individualized does not mean that students can do whatever they want. Like all children, Montessori students live within a cultural context that involves the mastery of skills and knowledge that are considered essential. 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 primary level, external structure is limited to clear-cut ground rules and correct procedures that provide guidelines and structure for 3 to 6 year old child.
What’s the big deal about freedom and independence in Montessori?
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 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 primary 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.
What if a child doesn’t feel like working?
While Montessori students are allowed considerable latitude to pursue topics that interest them, this freedom is not absolute. Within every society there are cultural norms; expectations for what a student should know and be able to do by a certain age. 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.
Is it true that Montessori children never play?
All children play! They explore new things playfully. They watch something of interest with a fresh open mind. They enjoy the company of treasured adults and other children. They make up stories. They dream. They imagine. The impression that Montessori children never play stems from parents who don’t know what to make of the incredible concentration, order, and self-discipline that we commonly see among Montessori children.
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.
What do Montessori schools mean by the term “normalization”?
“Normalization” is a Montessori term that describes the process that takes place in Montessori classrooms around the world, in which young children, who typically have a short attention span, learn to focus their intelligence, concentrate their energies for long periods of time, and take tremendous satisfaction from their work. 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
- Joy; and
- The power to act from real choice and not just from idle curiosity
What about children with special needs?
Every child has areas of special gifts, a unique learning style, and some areas that can be considered special challenges. Each child is unique. Montessori is designed to allow for differences. It allows students to learn at their own pace and is quite flexible in adapting for different learning styles. In many cases, children with mild physical handicaps or learning disabilities may do very well in a Montessori classroom setting. On the other hand, some children do much better in a smaller, more structured classroom. Each situation has to be evaluated individually to ensure that the program can successfully meet a given child’s needs and learning style.
Wasn’t Montessori’s method first developed for children with severe developmental delays?
The Montessori approach evolved over many years as the result of Dr. Montessori’s work with different populations and age groups. One of the earliest groups with which she worked was a population of children who had been placed in a residential-care setting because of severe developmental delays. The Method is used today with a wide range of children, but it is most commonly found in settings designed for normal populations.
Is Montessori effective with the very highly gifted child?
Yes, in general, children who are highly gifted will find Montessori to be both intellectually challenging and flexible enough to respond to them as unique individuals.
Is Montessori opposed to competition?
Montessori is not opposed to competition; Dr. Montessori simply observed that competition is an ineffective tool to motivate children to learn and to work hard in school. She believed that for an education to touch children’s hearts and minds profoundly, students must be learning because they are curious and interested, not simply to earn the highest grade in the class.
Traditionally, schools challenge students to compete with one another for grades, class rankings, and special awards. For example, in many schools tests are graded on a curve and are measured against the performance of their classmates rather than considered for their individual progress.
In Montessori schools, students learn to collaborate with each other rather than mindlessly compete. Students discover their own innate abilities and develop a strong sense of independence, self-confidence, and self-discipline. In an atmosphere in which children learn at their own pace and compete only against themselves, they learn not to be afraid of making mistakes. They quickly find that few things in life come easily, and they can try again without fear of embarrassment.
Montessori children compete with each other every day, both in class and on the playground. Dr. Montessori, herself an extraordinary student and a very high achiever, was never opposed to competition on principle. Her objection was to using competition to create an artificial motivation to get students to achieve.
Montessori schools allow competition to evolve naturally among children, without adult interference unless the children begin to show poor sportsmanship. The key is the child’s voluntary decision to compete rather than having it imposed on him by the school.
Is Montessori opposed to fantasy and creativity?
No! Fantasy and creativity are important aspects of a Montessori child’s experience. Montessori classrooms incorporate art, music, dance, and creative drama throughout the curriculum. Imagination plays a central role, as children explore how the natural world works, visualize other cultures and ancient civilizations, and search for creative solutions to real-life problems. In Montessori schools, the Arts are normally integrated into the rest of the curriculum.
Will my child be able to adjust to traditional public or private schools after Montessori?
By the end of age five, Montessori children are normally curious, self-confident learners who look forward to going to school. They are normally engaged, enthusiastic learners who honestly want to learn and who ask excellent questions. Montessori children, by age six, have spent three 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. Learning will often be focused more on adult-assigned tasks done more by rote than with enthusiasm and understanding. Hence some students might be bored and 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 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 and even through Montessori high school.
How can parents support their Montessori child at home?
To nurture and support the child’s development, the Montessori principles and philosophy should be implemented in the home from birth. Parents can learn more through reading Montessori pedagogy books and blogs as well as attend workshops, lectures and courses. Contact us for more information on suggested reading and parent workshops.