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Frequently Asked Questions

The Montessori philosophy of education is different from the educational approach many adults experienced as a child. The Montessori materials expose children to concepts that often were not introduced until a later age. Therefore, parents can feel puzzled and confused about the Montessori environment and the roles of the child and the adult in the environment. Often, observation of a Montessori classroom prompts many questions.

The Montessori Environment is equipped with a wide variety of activities. Maria Montessori designed materials to develop children’s skills in many ways. Some activities encourage skill development in daily living activities, the tasks that each of us performs on a regular basis to care for our environment and ourselves. This area, called Practical Life, includes activities such as pouring, teeth brushing, scrubbing, polishing, hammering, and many others. 

The sensorial materials stimulate awareness of size relationships, colors, sounds, and tactile qualities. These activities refine the child’s senses and organize the information received through the senses. 

Math, language, geography, and science activities provide academic stimulation. The math and language materials develop visual discrimination skills, math concepts and facts, and phonetic and reading capabilities. The science and geography areas contain activities that increase the children’s understanding of their world. 

Movement, music and art contribute to the children’s growth. Each child spends time in the gym daily, refining coordination skills through movement. Children sing and move to music during line time each day, and, through art our robust materials, they express their thoughts and experiences graphically. 

The adults demonstrate the use of the materials to the children. The purpose of such demonstrations is to provide a beginning, a guide, to insure the child’s success. The adults do not expect the children to use the materials in precisely the way they are shown, but rather to explore the activities in a constructive manner. Misuse or destructive use of materials includes anything that destroys the material or hurts or disturbs another child. Within this limit, the children are free to use the equipment in accordance with their own rhythm and needs. 

The traditional preschool approach is familiar to many adults. Children generally are grouped according to age, with three year olds in one group and four year olds in another. Five and six year olds are not present but rather attend a kindergarten program. Often, children attend the traditional preschool two or three days a week. The adults plan activities for the children as a group and they direct the children through the activities according to a schedule the adults have set, creating an adult-centered environment.

Montessori schools take a different approach. Montessori schools place emphasis on both social and academic skills. Children of different ages (sometime from ages 2 ½ up to 6 years) share the environment and interact with each other spontaneously. Since Montessori programs include activities/work for the kindergarten-age child, most children enter first grade after three years their three year cycle in a Montessori preprimary environment. Most Montessori schools operate five days a week.

The Montessori-trained adults prepare activities/’work’ for the children to use independently and individually. The adults guide and support as needed. Instead of directing all activities, they spend some time observing the children and their interactions with each other and the environment. Using these observations, the adults assess the needs of each child. The observations guide them as they plan and introduce new materials into the environment. Thus, the adults respect and follow the child’s direction, creating a child-centered rather than adult-centered environment.

The children need freedom to explore the material without interruption. Just as adults dislike distractions when involved in a task, so children prefer to complete their activities without distractions. In the environment, they develop the ability to focus their attention. Without unnecessary interruptions, attention spans increase and concentration develops.

Before children spontaneously share, they must feel free not to share. In the Montessori environment, the adults protect their right to explore an activity by themselves at their own paces. Any adult would resent being forced to relinquish his/her favorite magazine while in the midst of an interesting article. Children experience similar feelings. Sharing evolves naturally from the classroom experiences. When they desire, they share by communicating and helping others. The sharing is natural and spontaneous because it comes from within the child, rather than being forced arbitrarily by an adult.

The children are free to explore the environment and interpersonal relationships in constructive ways. The adults guide the children to insure that over a three year period, each child experiences all areas and aspects of the environment and appropriate curriculum.

The underlying theme is respect: the adults respect the individuality of each child. The children learn that others have needs and rights, and that they must respect those needs and rights. The children are free to explore only so long as their exploration does not include actions that hurt or disturb any other person. The children learn that what is good for the group is acceptable and what is not good for the group is unacceptable.

The most effective means of discipline involve communication among the children. The adults help the child whose rights have been violated to verbalize their feelings to the offender. The adults encourage the offending child to acknowledge these feelings with either “I’m sorry for______. “ and/or “Are you okay? Would you like a tissue or a drink of water?” and/or “I’ll try not to do that again.”

When children continually disrespect others’ needs and rights, they are removed temporarily from the group and their right to participate is temporarily ended. During this period, the child sits with an adult in the environment. The child observes other children continuing their activities in constructive ways. After a few minutes, the adult invites the child to re-enter the activities.

However, having a child sit and be removed from the group rarely occurs because the children express their feelings openly to one another. Children respond to their peers and their own social needs to be part of the community. They choose to monitor their behavior so as not to infringe on the rights of others.

The children speak quietly so they do not disturb others who are concentrating. The children may interact freely and appropriately according to their individual needs. Young children need time to observe the five and six year olds; they observe the work and interactions of the older children. The kindergarten children have very high social needs and spend much time in conversation with one or several children.

The day includes group activities at the beginning, during gym time, and at the end of the day. However, group activities do not encourage spontaneous interaction among the children. During group activities, the children’s attention is focused on a specific task, and communication relates to the task. Group activities help develop listening skills and confidence to speak in groups, but the children need something different to develop social skills.

The children are given periods of time that are less structured than group activities for spontaneous communication. The work period provides the kind of setting that encourages communication and sharing that is spontaneous, personal, and pertinent to what is happening in the child’s life.

Maria Montessori found that three-year olds are particularly eager to bring order to their minds and surroundings. They readily absorb the order in materials and the environment. The ability to organize an activity begins with this desire for order, and organization is the foundation for problem solving. At no other age is a child as eager to have order. Therefore, three is the most desirable age to begin.

Children need routine and predictability in their lives. They do not understand the concept of time (yesterday, tomorrow, three hours from now, etc.) until around the age of five. When their lives lack routine and predictability, they feel out of control and insecure. Having school each weekday gives them the security of knowing what will happen next. In fact, often parents make a special trip to school on the weekend to prove that school is closed.

Initially, some three year olds are tired at the end of the school day. Lunch or a substantial snack and a rest period help them and their families through the rest of the day. Their bodies adjust with time and patience.

The children learn from each other. When children are grouped by age, the range of capabilities is considerably smaller than when several ages are grouped together. The young children learn academic and social skills from observing their older peers. The older children learn patience, tolerance and leadership skills from interacting with their younger peers. The Montessori classroom reflects our society with the mixture of ages.

Our goal is to prepare children for life’s experiences. We prepare them in the academic area so that most children enter the first grade reading or on the brink of reading. They have a firm understanding of the decimal system. Their abilities to organize themselves and problem solve are excellent. Their listening skills and their abilities to show respect and participate in community are remarkable. Their confidence and communication skills are very high. Most important of all, they love school and learning and they have very positive feelings about themselves. These qualities are assets in any kind of setting.

  1. To provide the children with specific skills in the intellectual, physical and social areas.
  2. To encourage independence and responsibility for self.
  3. To help children learn respect for others’ rights and needs so they are able to participate in and contribute to the community.
  4. To build confidence and self-esteem through the above goals and through the warm, accepting, caring atmosphere in the environment.

Montessori: A Modern Approach by Paula Polk Lillard

Primer for Parents by Terry Molloy

The Child in the Family by Maria Montessori

Montessori’s Own Handbook by Maria Montessori

Look at the environment and note:

  1. The beauty and order in the classroom
  2. The different materials available to the children
  3. The movement and noise levels of the children

Watch the group as a whole, and then focus on a few specific children:

  1. Observe children initiating their own work
  2. Observe children working independently and concentrating
  3. Observe children returning to work after distraction
  4. Observe careful use of the materials
  5. Observe children finishing work and returning it to its original location
  6. Observe children socializing

Notice the role of the adults:

  1. Observe adults inviting children to use materials
  2. Observe adults presenting materials
  3. Observe adults watching children and recording their observations
  4. Observe adults facilitating conflict resolution
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