Commonly Asked Questions about Montessori Education

What is Montessori in a nutshell?

Montessori is a brain based method of education that follows the observations and philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori. Montessori observed that children go through several “planes of development” each with its own characteristics and amazing sensitive periods for learning specific skills. Montessori classroom environments are carefully prepared and teachers are specially trained to nurture every individual child as they naturally move through each developmental plane. The children are happy, focused, interested and supported as they move about their classroom; teachers are presenting materials individually and in small groups, as well as observing each child’s progress. A Montessori classroom is a peaceful, loving environment where children flourish.

How do you know your kids are learning what they are supposed to learn?

The primary role of a Montessori teacher is that of an observer. Montessori teacher do careful, thoughtful observations every day. A child’s progress through the curriculum is charted in all academic areas daily and children are given or practice lessons according to ability and interest. Progress reports and parent conferences allow for the parents to see the progress on a regular basis. Montessori offers an extensive curriculum including, but unlimited by grade level restrictions. Studies show that Montessori students are typically more academically advanced and do very well when they move on from a Montessori environment.

How do you know they are smart without tests and grades?

Talking with and observing your child is the best guide to the progress of your child. Montessori offers an unlimited and cosmic curriculum…the children are engaged and excited about learning. The elementary children have an amazing written collection of work to demonstrate the depth and breadth of their experiences. They will be happy to share with you what they have learned.

How will they get into college without a grade point average?

Here are related thoughts of one nearby Montessori High School:
“It is our hope to prepare students for their next academic step. However, instead of preparing students for a move to another classroom in the school, teachers are preparing them for university, a major step in a young adult’s quest for independence and responsibility. The high school program has had tremendous success in placing students in excellent universities. Thus far, our students have been accepted at their top choice university each and every time, which is a tremendous accomplishment.

Our students have a lot to offer the college community. During their high school years, they have been pushed to succeed in both academic and non-academic pursuits. The extensive traveling experience that our students have provides them with a level of independence and global awareness that students in more traditional high school programs often times lack. Another unique component of our program is called “The Start Something New Program.” Upon graduation, high school seniors are required to complete an individual project that benefits either the school or larger community. In past years, students have developed a vast array of projects, such as a Model UN program for the 9th-grade students, a school talent show, a nature observation hut for younger students, and a school barnyard.

It is these “extra” things that impress college admissions committees and make MMS students stand out from the throngs of other applicants at competitive universities. The high school community is small, which ensures that faculty members are able to keep tabs on individual students and help them through any problems that might arise. Last year, our High School implemented a mentoring program. At the beginning of each school year, students select a teacher as a mentor. Mentors meet with their students each week and discuss the students’ recent academic and social successes and challenges. The mentors also help the students create goals and success strategies for themselves; it is often during mentoring sessions where “Start Something New” projects are chosen. During the students’ junior and senior years, the college application and selection process becomes a major topic of conversation. It is the mentor’s job to help the students apply to appropriate schools, keep track of deadlines and other admissions material, and offer advice when it comes time to select the ideal school. Our students are usually accepted at multiple impressive universities, so the selection process can sometimes be tough.

It is through respecting the individual student’s interests and goals and through offering daily academic and practical life challenges that our High School ensures that each class of students is prepared for whatever opportunities or challenges await them at the next level of learning.”

Don’t children need a lot of kids the same age in order to be socialized?

Montessori teachers regard social development as a curriculum area. They guide the children through a wide range of social interactions, one on one and in small or large groups. Children are moving through the development of social skills at varying levels and each plane of development has it’s own social curriculum. The children in a Montessori classroom make choices about their own social experiences. They can work alone, near a friend, with a friend or in a small group. Children learn by watching, doing and teaching within the guidance of a trained teacher. It is a very normal social environment. Studies show that Montessori children are consistently more advanced socially and they very well known for amazing social skills, confidence, patience and poise.

Why does Montessori have 3 ages together?

Montessori groups children by their plane of development. The planes are:

  • 0 – 6 years
  • 6 – 12 years
  • 12 – 18 years
  • 18 – 24 years

Most classrooms group by sub-planes of 3 year age spans. The classroom is prepared to facilitate the span…academically and socially. Sometimes, elementary programs incorporate 6 – 12 years within the same classroom…they are in the same plane of development. This is acceptable and even encouraged when new classrooms are starting or class size is very small. The mixed age grouping allows for the full cycle of learning: watching, doing and teaching to be experienced in different areas by each individual child. It also means that they will be in the same classroom and with the same adults for 3 years, allowing for a level of comfort and familiarity that facilitates trust, understanding and self-mastery.

It seems that Montessori gives too much freedom
It seems Montessori is too structured

Montessori teachers believe that within our classrooms we have the perfect balance of structure and freedom. A child may move about the classroom, choosing activities, deciding where to work and whether to work alone or with another child. They are invited by teachers to have lessons and presentations and to practice work that they have been shown previously. They are surrounded, and comforted by the ground rules within the classroom…respecting others, the environment and materials and themselves. Within that safe blanket of kindness, they learn to make appropriate choices both academically and socially. We call this “liberty within limits”.

If the teacher is not lecturing all day how does a student learn?

As stated above, Montessori teachers prepare an amazing and engaging environment. The child learns by watching others work, or watching presentations, by doing the self-correcting activates with the amazing hands-on materials and by teaching other children how to use those materials. The teacher prepares, steps back while the child engages and observes, stepping in and out as often as needed to facilitate the child’s own desire to learn.

How do Montessori students transition to public school?

Montessori children do very well. They are well prepared academically and socially and can seek their own learning paths, even within environments that can be restrictive. We would always recommend a transition occur at the end of a plane of development or 3 year cycle. This allows the child to full achieve the amazing inner growth that was begun at the beginning of the cycle. The child is in the process of self-construction and the full integration of the environment for any 3 year cycle is beyond beneficial.

How do public school students transition to Montessori?

When public school students come to us, they are usually quite amazed and the levels of freedom and self-responsibility that our students take for granted. They can be tentative until they start to trust the consistency of their new environment. They are usually delighted and embrace this new experience with great joy and enthusiasm. We will usually back up, present some of the basic hands on materials and access their levels of development in all areas…and then we introduce the materials that are on the cutting edge of their abilities. Now the child begins to engage directly with the environment!

How can I afford Montessori?

Most Montessori schools are private schools. They do not receive state or church funding and rely on tuition to provide the excellent level of education for which they are widely known. Schools usually offer payment plans and many offer scholarship assistance to help committed families afford the cost. Keeping in mind the importance of a child’s development, we encourage and support your effort to provide this amazing experience for your child. It is important to carefully examine your own spending priorities…we know parents that drive older cars, cut back on personal spending and take bag lunches to work to give this gift to their child. Tuition is usually annual and you can break that down into how much it would cost per day…is there something you could give up?

Some parents use their income tax refunds, ask grandparents to help or look for income producing opportunities that will support the cost. Some parents are able to provide services such as cleaning, gardening or teaching extras like flute, sewing or guitar…talk with your school and see what may be available.

Your child will have one childhood…one time that their brain is developing connections to last their whole life, one opportunity to develop social skills and a love for learning that will translate into the adult they are becoming. They are worth your every effort!

“We cannot know the consequences of suppressing a child’s spontaneity when he is just beginning to be active. We may even suffocate life itself. That humanity which is revealed in all it’s intellectual splendor during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration. It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom. Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child to open up himself to life.” Dr. Maria Montessori

“It is necessary, then, to give the child the possibility of developing according to the laws of his nature, so that he can become strong, and, having become strong, can do even more than we dared hope for him.” Dr. Maria Montessori