Frequently Asked Questions

Where did Montessori come from?

Montessori (pronounced MON-tuh-SORE-ee) 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 a “prepared 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.

What do children do in a Montessori program?

There are several different, yet integrated, areas of learning in a Montessori classroom: practical life skills, sensorial development, language, mathematics & cultural subjects (geometry, history, science, geography, art, music). In addition to the available materials in each area, children might also take time out during the day to sing songs, read a story, or enjoy nature.
Children have both individual and group lessons in each area. Throughout the day, children are free to work with the activities. Emphasis is placed on helping children choose pursuits that are of interest to them, thus supporting the child’s natural curiosity and desire to learn. At the elementary (6-12 years) level, you can also expect to see children working together on projects, since collaboration at this age helps the child to become socially adapted to society and aware of the needs of others.
What you won’t see in a genuine Montessori program are systems of rewards and punishments to promote work or control behavior. There will be no lost recess, gold stars, or grades. In a Montessori class, children are engaged, active, and respectful because they are internally motivated, spending their time in an environment that consistently supports development of their will—that is, positive willpower and self-control.

What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?

At the under age six level, Montessori emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just through listening, watching, or reading. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own, individual pace and according to their own choice of activities from hundreds of possibilities. They 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 forth. There is no limit to what they created in this kind of intelligently guided freedom. There no text books 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.

Montessori classes place children in three-year-or-more age groups (2.5-6, 6-12, and so on), forming communities in which the older children spontaneously share their knowledge with the younger ones. Montessori represents an entirely different approach to education.

 

MONTESSORI TRADITIONAL

 

Emphasis on concrete Emphasis on abstract
The teacher has unobstructed role, the child is an active participant in learning. Teacher has a dominant, active role in the classroom; children have a passive role.
Environment and method provide self-discipline The teacher enforces discipline
Instruction adapts to each student’s learning style Instruction conforms to the adult’s teaching style
Non-competitive Competitive
Three-year age span Same age grouping
Children are encouraged to teach, collaborate, and help each other. Teaching is carried out by teacher and collaboration is discouraged
Child chooses own work from interest and abilities Curriculum structured for child with little regard for child’s interests
Child formulates concept from self-teaching materials Child formulates concept through teacher’s instruction
Child works as long as he wishes on chosen project Child given specific time limit for work
Child sets own learning pace Instruction pace set by teacher
Child detects errors through self-correcting materials Errors pointed out by teacher
Learning is reinforced internally through repetition of an activity and feelings of success Learning is reinforced externally by rewards and discouragements
Child is free to work where he is comfortable; group work is voluntary Child assigned own chair; encouraged to sit still and listen during group sessions
Organized program for parents to understand Montessori and participate in learning Voluntary parent involvement, not participants in understanding learning
Materials used in sequence with presentations Materials used with no prior instruction
Work for joy and sense of discovery Work because they are expected to
Hands on learning manipulating objects Seek help from teacher
Reality oriented; no fantasy/animated characters in the classroom (lunch boxes, backpacks, etc) Much role playing and fantasy
Recognition of individual sensitive periods Play materials for non-specific skills
Child free to discover alone Community needs take precedence
Individual learning All children treated alike
Carefully organized environment Materials placed randomly
Multi-sensory materials to develop specific skills Fewer materials for sensory development and concrete manipulation
Self-respect of child foremost Respect of teacher foremost and enforced

 

The Montessori teacher addresses individual needs of children who are learning by manipulating specifically designed material. Depending on each child’s developmental needs, the teacher systematically introduces the child to new exercises.

Montessori children become very adaptable as they learn to work independently and in groups. Montessori children are encouraged to make decisions from an early stage, which makes them problem-solvers that can make appropriate choices and manage time adequately.

The best predictor of future success is a positive sense of self-esteem, and Montessori curriculum is based on self-directed, non-competitive activities that help the child to develop a strong self-image and the confidence to face challenges and change with optimism.

Can I do Montessori at home with my child?

Yes, you can use Montessori principles of child development at home. Look at your home through your child’s eyes. Children need a sense of belonging, and they get it by participating fully in the routines of everyday life. “Help me do it by myself” is the life theme of the preschooler, school age child, teenager, and young adult.

In school only a trained Montessori teacher can properly implement Montessori education with the specialized learning equipment taught during teacher training, but there are many ideas that can be used in the home with families whose children are in school full-time, or in families where the adults are in charge of the totality of the child’s education.

What is the advantage of having a three-year age span in the classroom?

Children have a wide range of experiences, skills, abilities, and interests. A three-year age span in the classroom allows children the opportunity to use a wide range of engaging materials that keep them challenged to learn. As the child’s interests change, the range of available materials allows the child to move from one level of complexity to another. Additionally, younger children learn from the older children through example and older children gain confidence and affirmation of their knowledge by helping the younger children. It is a win-win for all the children in a Montessori classroom.

How is discipline handled in a Montessori classroom?

It is the development of self-discipline that is encouraged and valued. By maintaining a carefully prepared, structured environment that encourages exploration, creativity, and choice within clear boundaries, the child learns self-control and problem-solving skills that foster independence and responsibility. In this setting, discipline is viewed as a maturation process that evolves, supported by guidance from the teacher. With gentle, prudent assistance, children eventually become comfortable and equipped to accept the consequences of their own behavior. Skilled AMI-trained teachers use Montessori materials and activities to promote a classroom atmosphere that reinforces personal discipline and harmony by offering each child the opportunity to gain a sense of direction, confidence, cooperation, and self-control.

How does the Montessori classroom balance individual freedom with community and cooperation?

In the Montessori classroom a microcosm of society is developed with the result that mutual acceptance and cooperation flourish within a context of individual freedom.

Why is there such a non-competitive atmosphere in Montessori programs when we live in such a competitive world?

The emphasis in a Montessori class is on assisting and supporting children to develop and learn based on their own interests, desires, and timing. Attention is also paid to promoting collaborative social and educational relationships that enhance learning through shared ideas and insights. Thanks to the mixed age groups, children have the opportunity to be learners and teachers simultaneously. This allows a child to experience the joy of providing leadership to those who are younger and the satisfaction of receiving useful assistance from those who are older or more skilled.

In a Montessori program, children are on their own journey at their own pace toward maturity, acquisition of skills, and incorporation of knowledge. Using systems of rewards in the classroom distracts a child’s personal journey by intentionally directing his or her attention to the progress of other children. Ultimately, many studies have shown that competition inspired through the environment does little to build confidence or strengthen internal motivation and self-direction over the long-term. There certainly are situations where competitive activities can move children to greater efforts and improved skills, but as Maria Montessori stated, “The prize and the punishment are incentives towards unnatural or forced effort, and therefore we certainly cannot speak of the natural development of the child in connection with them.”

Do children have difficulty transitioning to a public school after going to a Montessori school?

Moving from a Montessori school to another school setting is an issue often raised by parents and family members. Happily, the habits and skills a child develops in a Montessori class last a lifetime and stand a child in good stead no matter where they go. Montessori children tend to be adaptable, working well alone or with a group. They have solid decision-making skills, practical problem-solving abilities, and generally manage their time well. Since children in a Montessori classroom are also encouraged to share ideas and discuss their work, fitting into new situations is made easier thanks to good communication skills.

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.

Specific Details

Protection of the “best” in each child through respect of choice and concentration

The most important discovery that Dr. Montessori has contributed to the field of child development and education is the fostering of the best in each child. She discovered that in an environment where children are allowed to choose their work and to concentrate for as long as needed on that task, that they come out of this period of concentration (or meditation or contemplation) refreshed and full of good will toward others. The teacher must know how to offer work, to link the child to the environment who is the real teacher, and to protect this process. We know now that this natural goodness and compassion are inborn, and do not need to be taught, but to be protected.

The schedule – The three-hour work period
Under the age of six, there are one or two 3-hour, uninterrupted, work periods each day, not broken up by required group lessons. Older children schedule meetings or study groups with each other the teacher when necessary. Adults and children respect concentration and do not interrupt someone who is busy at a task. Groups form spontaneously or are arranged ahead by special appointment. They almost never take precedence over self-selected work. Note: For more information on the “three-hour work period” see the chapter “My Contribution to Experimental Science” from The Advanced Montessori Method, Volume I, by Dr. Maria Montessori, or contact the Michael Olaf Montessori Company at [email protected] for reprint GB850

Teaching method – “Teach by teaching, not by correcting”
There are no papers turned back with red marks and corrections. Instead the child’s effort and work is respected as it is. The teacher, through extensive observation and record-keeping, plans individual projects to enable each child to learn what he needs in order to improve.

Basic lessons

The Montessori teacher spends a lot of time during teacher training practicing the many lessons with materials in all areas. She must pass a written and oral exam on these lessons in order to be certified. She is trained to recognize a child’s readiness according to age, ability, and interest in a specific lesson, and is prepared to guide individual progress.

Areas of study

All subjects are interwoven, not taught in isolation, the teacher modeling a “Renaissance” person of broad interests for the children. A child can work on any material he understands at any time.

Learning styles

All kinds of intelligences and styles of learning are nurtured: musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, intuitive, and the traditional linguistic and logical-mathematical (reading, writing, and math). This particular model is backed up by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.

Character education

Education of character is considered equally with academic education, children learning to take care of themselves, their environment, each other – cooking, cleaning, building, gardening, moving gracefully, speaking politely, being considerate and helpful, doing social work in the community, etc.

Assessment

There are no grades, or other forms of reward or punishment, subtle or overt. Assessment is by portfolio and the teacher’s observation and record keeping. The test of whether or not the system is working lies in the accomplishment and behavior of the children, their happiness, maturity, kindness, and love of learning and level of work.