Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Concepts not fully integrated into mainstream thought can easily be shrouded in myth and misconceptions. The Montessori Method is no exception. Ask ten people “What is Montessori?” and you will likely get ten very different impressions. This is especially true when they have never actually observed a Montessori class in session. To help dispel some of these misconceptions, below are some frequently asked questions. Another good resource is available here: Misconceptions.

Q: What is the basic difference between Montessori and traditional methods?

The curriculum in most public and private schools is “teacher-centered.” They operate on the premise that a child is like an empty vessel, and that if they would just sit still, be quiet, and pay attention, their teacher could fill their empty little heads with “age appropriate” knowledge. The
Montessori Method is a “child-centered” program that recognizes, and deals effectively with, the following truths:

  - Children in this age group simply cannot sit still for more than a few minutes. Recognizing that movement is essential for development, the Montessori Method allows for considerable freedom of movement in the classroom.

  - Children create their own minds through interaction with their environment. Montessori teachers recognize that their task is to facilitate this self-discovery, by maintaining a meticulously prepared environment conducive to such, where children are free to follow their interests and learn through concrete experiences.
– Children vary considerably regarding the age at which they are ready to assimilate various concepts. Grouping children from 2 ½ to 6 years-old together, allows them to progress at their own pace in a safe non-competitive environment.

Q: Isn’t Montessori some revolutionary new experimental method of education?

Hardly, Maria Montessori opened her first school on January 6, 1907. Children all over the world have benefited ever since. With over 100 years of continued success, Montessori is anything but new, or experimental.

Q: Isn’t Montessori just for gifted and exceptional children?

Not at all, the first Montessori school was in a slum, for children of mostly illiterate parents. The method actually had its roots in successful experiments with retarded children. Dr. Montessori proved that most all children, regardless of innate ability or cultural background, flourish in the Montessori environment.

Q: Then how do they learn to read, write, and do basic math before kindergarten?

Research has shown that children have “absorbent minds” and experience somewhat predictable “sensitive periods” for assimilating various concepts. If inspired at the appropriate time by an interestingly enriched environment, they learn easily, eagerly, and joyously. The ages 2 ½ to 6 are critical to learning many concepts that are fascinating during these years, but become uninteresting and even difficult to absorb, if postponed until later years as is usually done with other education methods. In teacher-centered schools, children are required to follow a prescribed curriculum; resulting in the twin tragedies of quicker students being held back and bored into mischief, and slower struggling students being rushed ahead before they have fully grasped the concepts, resulting in poor self-esteem.

Q: What do you mean by “sensitive periods?”

Think of them as transitory “windows of opportunity” for acquiring certain life skills. The obvious example is language. A child learns his native tongue effortlessly, without being taught, by simply absorbing it during the sensitive period for language acquisition. If immersed in a bilingual environment, he will learn both equally well. Yet, were there no conversing adults in his environment, he could not even know of the existence of language, much less teach himself to speak it. Further, after this sensitive period has passed, children brought up in a language deprived environment experience extreme difficulty learning how to speak, and never really master it. Learning a second language later in life is infinitely more difficult. The same principle holds true for other sensitive periods in the natural growth of a child, and are carefully considered by Montessori teachers as they setup their specially prepared environments.

Q: Why are children not segregated by age in a Montessori classroom?

There are several good reasons for this. The sensitive periods come at different times for different children. Some become particularly interested in math while another the same age is intrigued with language. Soon, their focus will switch places; but it might cross an arbitrary age line. There can easily be six or more months difference between the chronological age and the developmental age of different children. This says nothing important about the learning ability of a particular child; but grouping by age creates the false impression that some are slow and some are precocious. Further, the younger children have the benefit of the roll model of older children doing advanced work, giving them an incentive to progress. The older children enjoy the opportunity to reinforce their learning, by helping the younger children with concepts and skills they have already mastered. Three year spanned classes resolve all of these issues and more.

Q: Isn’t Montessori frightfully expensive?

Considering value received, it is easy to understand why some expect it to be. Many Montessori schools do cater to the affluent, and charge accordingly. We value diversity in our environment and endeavor to keep our tuition affordable for the average child in our community. You will find us quite competitive with traditional preschool or daycare expenses. Besides, children receiving an early Montessori experience tend to excel throughout their education years, and a high percentage earn college scholarships, making it an excellent investment that could save thousands of dollars, come time for college.

Q: Is it true that Montessori students just do what ever they want, without discipline?

This is one of the least understood aspects of Montessori. After several weeks in the specially prepared environment, children attain a state that Montessorians refer to as “normalized.” Once normalized, they have a level of self-discipline that is remarkable. Then the teacher need no longer act as a disciplinarian, but can focus on giving lessons to individual children while others are independently choosing their own tasks, and working at their own pace. Until one has actually observed the order and serenity of a Montessori class in session, it is hard to imagine children of this age so genuinely absorbed in their own endeavors, that they are not distracted by the activities of others in the class.

Q: I think I already have a perfectly normal child, what do you mean by “normalized?”

Every field of endeavor has its “buzz words.” There is surely a better word, but “normalized” has been handed down through the decades and is now part of the Montessorian’s language. Years of study confirm that most of the disruptive behaviors exhibited by children are not the norm, but are the results of adults misunderstanding many of the basic needs of the developing child. Once immersed for a sufficient time in the carefully prepared environment of a Montessori classroom, these aberrant behaviors generally melt away, revealing the true gentle nature of all children. Early observers of this phenomenon chose to proclaim it a miracle, using words such as “transformation” or “conversion” to describe the delightful change in the children’s behavior. Dr. Montessori argued that the serene, cooperative, industrious, independent, joyful, and contented nature displayed by children in her classrooms was the norm, not the “naughty” traits there-to-fore considered inherent. Her use of the word “normalized” came of this insistence that she was not modifying children, but rather facilitating the emergence of their true nature. This is a fascinating subject, which is covered extensively in most of Dr. Montessori’s books, but for now understand that we make no value judgment when we refer to children as “normalized.” We simply mean that their general conduct is cooperative, and they are prepared to work independently in harmony with the rest of the class. One thing is likely; you too will relish the change in demeanor, regardless of what anyone is pleased to call it.

Q: Why is there not a fixed curriculum in a Montessori classroom?

Actually, there is a very definite curriculum; it is the time frame for the individual students progress that is flexible. Most of us have had trouble maintaining the pace of a structured class. Sometimes we struggle to keep up, and other times are bored while the teacher belabors a concept that we easily grasped. Some days we are sharp, alert, and quick; others we are dull, tired, and slow. There is no way to present material simultaneously to a large class at a pace suitable to all pupils. The Montessori curriculum is specifically designed to allow students to work at their own pace; taking all the time necessary to assimilate one concept, before being exposed to the next. Meanwhile, they are always free to go back and review previously learned concepts and activities, and very often reinforce their understanding by assisting younger children with them.

Q: Why are there were no grades given in Montessori Schools?

There is no competition in a Montessori classroom, much less grades. Normalized children show little interest in competition with classmates, or rewards for their scholastic achievements. Classifying children at this age can be very damaging to their self-esteem. In traditional schools, slower students often feel inadequate and conclude that they can’t learn. Swifter classmates get the message that they are superior, and often go astray out of boredom. Either complex is unhealthy, and counterproductive to the very purpose of school. Children are individuals and should always be encouraged to work at their full potential. They are learning how to learn in a Montessori class. Ample opportunities await them in life to learn how to compete.

Q: If there are no grades and no awards, how will my child know how he is doing?

One of the daily joys of a Montessori teacher is the look of shear delight on a child’s face when he has puzzled out something for himself. Many adults have an external frame of reference for their competence. They are in constant need of feedback, and praise from others, to know if they are doing a good job. Normalized children generally develop an internal frame of reference, and know for themselves that they are competent and progressing. While they may enjoy pleasing the adults in their lives, their motive for achieving is not praise, but the shear joy of learning and developing themselves.

Q: Even if all that is true, I still need to know how my child is doing. How can I tell?

For a child to receive full benefit from his Montessori experience there must be full cooperation between the teacher and parent. Frequent Parent-Teacher conferences keep you fully informed of your child’s individual progress.

Q: I delight in the paperwork my child brings home. Why isn’t there more of it?

Please, please, PLEASE! don’t inhibit your child’s progress by making too much fuss over paperwork. Most of the work they are doing is with concrete manipulatives that do not create a piece of paper to adorn your refrigerator. A child can easily go through a most beneficial stage of intense focus on Practical Life or Sensorial activities that generate no paperwork at all for over a week. Children naturally wish to please their parents, so if you show exaggerated interest in their paperwork, or disappointment when there is none, they will slack up on what their inner drive needs them to be concentrating on at this time, in order to create a piece of paper to please you when you arrive. Please be patient; as they get older and progress into writing and math, etc. there will be plenty of paperwork coming home.

Q: When I ask my child what new lessons she had today, why does she often say none?

Please stop pushing her. Learning how to learn and think is not a race, and Montessori school is not a contest to see how fast a child can absorb new lessons. Nothing pleases a Montessorian more than the sight of a child engrossed in repeating an activity over and over, while seemingly oblivious to what is going on around them. This is the magic time when they are literally wiring up their brain (myelinization), as they solidify and consolidate concepts. Developing their fine motor skills alone, requires much repetitious practice. Adults who do not understand this inherent need for repetition, often think children are wasting time on something they have already done. The opposite is true, and their inner drive will tell them when they are finished.

You must learn to trust that we are professionals and that your child’s progress is being carefully observed and managed. If she attends full-time for three years, there is more than enough time to absorb the whole program. Pushing her to advance before she is ready, will only frustrate her and stifle the self-confidence her classmates are enjoying. Besides, do you really want a child lamenting to her therapist one day that she could never quite seem to measure up to her mother’s expectations?