Montessori FAQs: Part 1 of 3
Everything you wanted to know about Montessori education
This is the first part in a 3 part series answering the questions I get asked most often about Montessori education. I hope you find this series useful.
1. Is Montessori suitable for every child?
I’ve been asked a lot if Montessori is only for kids who can plan well and are super independent. Or only for kids that can sit quietly and work and not run about.
1. Different learning types
I’ve found that Montessori is suitable for all children. The materials offer opportunities to learn visually, aurally, kinaesthetically (through touch) and verbally, and thus easily accessible to children who learn in different ways. The teacher prepares and connects the child to the environment which is full of beautiful materials to explore and the children learn through discovery.
One of my children learns a lot from observing the other children – he watches and watches others doing an activity, then after some time tries it himself and has generally already mastered it. And my other child learns by doing the activity herself and repeating and repeating it until it is mastered. Both children have thrived in this environment despite their different learning styles.
2. Does your child have to be able to plan?
Planning their day is something Montessori children learn. Some children need more guidance than others, but a good Montessori teacher should be able to guide children who need more assistance to organise their work.
Both my children gradually learned the planning process during their time at Montessori preschool and primary school. And this was mastered in upper primary (the bovenbouw). Under 9 years, they could mostly do the activities they wanted as long as they were moving ahead in all areas of the class.
3. What if my child needs to move a lot?
If you enter a Montessori classroom, it can indeed be quite quiet. The children seem focussed on their activities without the teacher having to yell to calm them down. However, the children are also allowed to get up and move around the classroom so it can be ideal for children who need to move.
4. What is your family approach?
While I believe Montessori is suitable for all children, Montessori is not for all families. If you are laissez-faire at home where your child can do what they like, eat what they want and go to bed as they wish, they may find the limits of the Montessori classroom too constraining. And if you are strict at home, and your child is used to cooperating via rewards, stickers and time outs, they could find it difficult to control themselves with the freedom in the Montessori classroom. Montessori schools are most suited to children in families where there is respect for the child, the parent set few but clear limits, and the child learns to respect and follow these limits.
2. How does it work in practice?
It can be difficult for parents to understand how there can be 30 children in a Montessori primary school class, all up to different lessons, and working on different subjects all at the same time. I often get asked: “how can the teacher manage all this?”
So here’s an impression of how it works in practice.
Before the day starts, the Montessori teacher has prepared the classroom. Activities line the shelves at the children’s height in the various subject areas: meticulously prepared materials which scaffold onto each other, building skills on skills on skills. Once the child has mastered one activity, they receive a lesson for the next one if needed.
If you walk into a Montessori classroom in the middle of class, you will then see one child working on his maths, perhaps sitting next to another child working on a language activity, and then a pair of children working on a project together or a group of children making a play. The idea is that the child can choose for themselves what they would like to work on and the teacher will give them a lesson if needed. There is always something to work on in one of the subject areas, and so the teacher has time to come around to explain things and give lessons with each child.
As there is a mixed age group in the classroom, eg, from 6 to 9 year olds in one class, older children can also help younger children. When you explain something to another child, you also consolidate your own learning. The younger children also learn a lot from observing children older than them.
Lastly, there is less time spent on “crowd control”, eg, getting everyone to sit and listen to a lesson, visiting the bathroom as a group etc. So there is more time over to help the children.
3. What should I look for in a Montessori school?
As the name “Montessori” was never copyrighted, you will find a wide variety of schools calling themselves Montessori but may not be true Montessori schools. So here are some things to look for when you visit a school:
1. Mixed age groups – in primary schools in the Netherlands, you will have a kleuter class (preschool), 4-6 year olds in the onderbouw, 6-9 year olds in the middenbouw, and 9-12 year olds in the bovenbouw.
2. Unstructured work time – the children should be free to choose what they can work on, and work uninterrupted for (ideally) 3 hour work periods.
3. The materials should be set out on shelves at the child’s level. I have visited Montessori creches where they keep the materials up high on a shelf and bring them down for the children which is not ok as this means the child is not able to choose independently.
4. The activities should be clean and without any missing parts, beautifully presented on trays or in baskets.
5. The children should be happy and independent.
6. There should be little or no testing – the teacher knows which activities the child has mastered so there is little need to test a child.
7. The teacher has a recognised Montessori training. I particularly like AMI teachers as this is the training organisation that Dr Montessori’s family set up to maintain the integrity of the training. It can also be an idea to ask a school whether their substitute teachers (in case of sickness or absence) are also Montessori trained.
8. The teacher talks to the children as a guide – with respect, and with the approach, “I don’t know, let’s find out together!”, encouraging the children to seek answers for themselves and together.
Coming up in Part 2 of this series:
* How does a child transition to a traditional school after being at a Montessori school?
* What if my child avoids an area, for example, they don’t like doing maths?
* I’ve heard children in Montessori schools are allowed to do whatever they want. Is that true?