Frequently Asked Questions About Montessori


Q. Where did Montessori come from?

A. Montessori education was created by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman in Italy to become a physician. She began her work with children working with the "deficient" or retarded children, as they were called at the time. Through her work with these children, and the materials she developed, she was able to help these special needs children score at the same level as "normal" children on exams. While others were praising her great success, she was contemplating while "normal" children were being taught at such a low level that they could be equaled in tests by her "retarded" children. She returned to her studies. In 1908, in a slum in San Lorenzo, Italy, she began the first "Casa dei Bambini" -- or House of Children. She based her educational methods on scientific observation of children's learning processes. Guided by her discovery that children teach themselves, Dr. Montessori created a "prepared environment" and scientifically designed materials, from which children could freely choose from a number of developmentally appropriate activities. Now, a century after Maria Montessori's first casa dei bambini in Rome, Montessori education is found all over the world, spanning ages from birth to adolescence, and many of her ideas are found throughout education.


Q. What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?

A. Montessori found that children learn best through their activity and the use of their senses. Children in a Montessori environment are active learners, learning by doing, rather than simply watching or listening. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own individual pace and according to their own interests and abilities from numerous possibilities. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, inner discipline, and a love of learning. Montessori classes place children in three-year age groups (3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and so on), forming communities in which the older children spontaneously share their knowledge with the younger ones. Montessori is child directed, as opposed to teacher directed, with the teacher's responsibility being that of preparing the environment and putting the child in touch with that environment. The Montessori philosophy and materials creates a rich foundation where each activity the child engages in prepares him for the next and the next.


Q. Is Montessori good for children with learning disabilities? What about gifted children?

A. Montessori is designed to help all children reach their fullest potential at their own unique pace. 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. The idea in Montessori education is to "follow the child."


Q. Can I do Montessori at home with my child?

A. To create a true Montessori environment requires specialized training and the full spectrum of Montessori materials. A Montessori teacher goes through a very intensive training to learn the philosophy and functions of the scientifically designed materials. Moreover, the social development and sense of community that comes from being in an environment with other children is an integral part of Montessori education. However, you can absolutely use Montessori principles of child development at home. Children need a sense of belonging, and they get it by participating fully in the routines of everyday life. "Help me do it myself" is the cry of the young child. Providing opportunities for independence is the surest way to build your child's self-esteem. Involve your child in preparing meals, cleaning, gardening, and caring for their own clothes, shoes, and toys. Place dishes and toys in a manner that your child can easily retrieve and care for them herself. Purchase clothing that you child can easily manipulate independently. Resist the temptation to do things for your child in the interest of efficiency. The young child learns by doing and is creating himself.


Q. At what age should a child start in a Montessori school?

A. The ideal age is between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2. The child is beginning a new stage of development at around age 3. This is a natural time to separate from the primary caregiver. In addition, the Montessori preschool is optimally a 3 year cycle, with each experience leading to the next and preparing the child for the next. In the third year, or kindergarten year, this foundation culminates with the "explosion" into the academics. Children are seen to learn to read effortlessly and to enjoy more complex math activities, easily learning math facts. They enjoy creating maps of geography or making books about animals. They love learning! The program is also quite beneficial for children who enter later, although the earlier a child begins the better.


Q. Is it true that children in Montessori have too much freedom? I've heard that Montessori is too structured - that there is too much control?

A. It is interesting that some Montessori classrooms are seen to offer too much freedom, while others are seen to be very strict. In a quality program the perfect balance between freedom and limits is maintained, while helping the children to develop "inner discipline" and "normalization." Children in the prepared environment are free to make many decisions for themselves and are assisted in their independence. The Montessori setting offers "freedom within limits"; not license to do anything one pleases. As a child grows in their ability to make decisions for themselves, they may earn additional freedom. At the same time a very young child, or child new to the environment, would be offered less choices or freedom. One of the beauties of the prepared environment is the ability of children of all ages and stages to work together harmoniously. A true community is developed with the children helping each other.


Q. What are some ground rules?

A. Respect is an important aspect of the Montessori environment. Respect for ourselves, each other and the environment. A child may not interfere with another child or his work, unless invited to do so. A child is free to work with any material (at his ability level and once introduced by the teacher), but must treat it carefully and return it when finished, ready for the next person. A child has the right to work alone, or in a group, or to do nothing (he may be learning by observing others; he may be thinking; or he may simply be relaxing), as long as he does not disturb others.


Q. What is the idea of young children teaching themselves? How can they teach themselves when they don't yet have such knowledge?

A. Dr. Montessori believed that nature endowed the young child with an inner drive toward self development. She believed that the child is naturally drawn toward that which s/he needs at that time for development. She identified "sensitive periods" in children where they are intent on meeting the needs of that particular sensitivity and drawn to those activities which will aid in that development. The Montessori philosophy and materials are created to this end. Not only are the materials designed to follow the child's natural development, they are "self-correcting". As the child works with them they provide immediate feedback to the child. Montessori terms this quality of the material "control of error". The Montessori teacher observes the child and helps connect her to the various materials, continuously presenting until finding an activity that the child fully engages in, concentrates and emerges from with a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.


Q. Montessori schools are often more expensive than regular preschool programs. Why is this?

A. It is generally accepted that the first six years of life are the years when the greatest development takes place in the child. Montessori terms them the "formative period" when the child's fundamental patterns of personality are developed. It is during this time that children learn to love learning and are setting the foundation for who they will become. This period of life is critical to invest in, making sure your child has a rich environment suited to his/her development. In addition, Montessori teachers have a greater degree of education and specialized training than traditional preschool or day care teachers. Besides Montessori certification, most also hold a Bachelor's or Master's degree.


Q. Who accredits or oversees Montessori schools?

A. There is no single accrediting organization for Montessori. Parents are advised to observe and ask questions to be sure the school they choose is not just using the term "Montessori" but is fully implementing the Montessori philosophy. There are several Montessori organizations to which schools can belong. The two major ones operating in the United States are the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and the American Montessori Society (AMS). There are also other less known Montessori organizations of varying quality. The Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (MACTE) was developed to provide guidelines and standards for Montessori teacher training. Parents considering placing a child in a Montessori school should ask about the school's affiliation(s) and teacher training.


Q. What is the best way to choose a Montessori School for my child?

A. Visit the school, observe the classroom in action, and ask the teacher or principal to explain the theory behind the activities that you saw. Ask if the school is affiliated with any Montessori organization and what kind of training the teachers have. Most of all talk to your child's prospective teacher about his or her philosophy of child development and education to see if it is compatible with your own.


Q. What special training do Montessori teachers have?

A. The two major organizations offering Montessori training in the United States are the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI, with a U.S. branch office called AMI-USA) and the American Montessori Society (AMS). Most training centers require a bachelor's degree for admission or are part of a Bachelor's or Master's degree program. Training ranges from 200 to 600 observation and practice teaching hours and covers principles of child development and Montessori philosophy as well as specific uses of the Montessori classroom materials. Montessori training centers can be found across North America and around the world. The Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (MACTE) was developed to provide guidelines and standards for Montessori teacher training. Quality training programs are MACTE sanctioned.


Q. Are Montessori children successful later in life?

A. 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.


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