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What is Montessori?

Modern science has confirmed what Dr. Maria Montessori discovered long ago: the first few years of life are critical for personality and intellectual development of any child. Montessori is a comprehensive educational theory based on the scientific and meticulous observation of children’s needs and abilities. Its aim is to cultivate and support the child’s natural desire to learn. It was developed by Maria Montessori in 1907. She developed the educational approach based on her studies of children’s natural learning tendencies as they unfold in specially prepared environments for multi-age groups (0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-1, 12-15, 15-18). Dr. Montessori discovered that children pace their own development through a series of sensitive periods during which they become acutely aware of language, order, their own senses, movement, and society. Her method encourages this sensitive period to “explode” into bursts of creativity, introducing the child to the basics of mathematics, language, science, and other disciplines.

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 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 & geometry, history, science, and cultural studies (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. Under the guidance of trained teachers, children in a Montessori classroom learn by making discoveries with the material cultivating concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning.

Are all Montessori schools alike?

No, Montessori schools vary widely because the name “Montessori” is in the public domain. This means that anyone wishing to use the name “Montessori” for their school may do so. The best way to ensure that a program is faithfully incorporating the Montessori theory as developed by Maria Montessori is to ask if the school or program is following the standards or is affiliated with Association Montessori Internationale (AMI).

What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?

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 one on one 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. There are 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 age groups, forming communities in which the older children spontaneously share their knowledge with the younger ones. Montessori represents an entirely different approach to education.

Can I practice 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 child. In school, only a trained Montessori teacher can properly implement Montessori education with the specialized learning material taught during teacher training, but there are many ideas that can be used in the home with families. Ask your child’s teacher for ideas or read books about Montessori for inspiration. We recommend Montessori Madness by Trevor Eissler and books by Paula Polk Lillard.