Frequently asked questions and answers
Montessori found that children learn best through their activity and the use of their senses. Children in a Montessori environment are active learners, learning by doing, rather than simply watching or listening. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own individual pace and according to their own interests and abilities from numerous possibilities. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, inner discipline, and a love of learning. Montessori classes place children in three-year age groups (1-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and so on), forming communities in which the older children spontaneously share their knowledge with the younger ones. Montessori is child directed, as opposed to teacher directed, with the teacher's responsibility being that of preparing the environment and putting the child in touch with that environment. The Montessori philosophy and materials creates a rich foundation where each activity the child engages in prepares him for the next and the next. So Montessori schools are learner-centered, whereas traditional schools tend to be more teacher-centered.
It is interesting that some Montessori classrooms are seen to offer too much freedom, while others are seen to be very strict. In a quality program the perfect balance between freedom and limits is maintained, while helping the children to develop "inner discipline" and "normalization". Children in the prepared environment are free to make many decisions for themselves and are assisted in their independence. The Montessori setting offers "freedom within limits"; not license to do anything one pleases. As a child grows in their ability to make decisions for themselves, they may earn additional freedom. At the same time a very young child, or child new to the environment, would be offered less choices or freedom. One of the beauties of the prepared environment is the ability of children of all ages and stages to work together harmoniously. A true community is developed with the children helping each other.
Respect is an important aspect of the Montessori environment. Respect for each other, the environment and ourselves. A child may not interfere with another child or his work, unless invited to do so. A child is free to work with any material (at his ability level and once introduced by the teacher), but must treat it carefully and return it when finished, ready for the next person. A child has the right to work alone, or in a group, or to do nothing (he may be learning by observing others; he may be thinking; or he may simply be relaxing), as long as he does not disturb others.
Dr. Montessori saw that there was a difference between truly creative imagination (based on reality) and fantasy (based on non-real events). When she watched children play she realized that they really wanted to be able to do real things in a real world, rather than just pretend. So Montessori schools really value imaginative play but will always try to help children work with real objects and situations.
True creativity comes from individual freedom of expression. What you won’t and shouldn’t find in a Montessori school is 20 pieces of art to take home that all look the same! Your child will be encouraged to express him or herself through singing, dancing, acting, talking, drawing, painting, sticking, gluing, cutting, arranging and writing. What we know is that, unlike adults, children aren’t really interested in the end result; they are much more interested in the fun and fascination of the creative process.
Dr. Montessori believed that nature endowed the young child with an inner drive toward self-development. She believed that the child is naturally drawn toward that which s/he needs at that time for development. She identified "sensitive periods" in children where they are intent on meeting the needs of that particular sensitivity and drawn to those activities which will aid in that development. The Montessori philosophy and materials are created to this end. Not only are the materials designed to follow the child's natural development, they are "self-correcting". As the child works with them they provide immediate feedback to the child. Montessori terms this quality of the material "control of error". The Montessori teacher observes the child and helps connect her to the various materials, continuously presenting until finding an activity that the child fully engages in, concentrates and emerges from with a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.
It is generally accepted that the first six years of life are the years when the greatest development takes place in the child. Montessori terms them the "formative period" when the child's fundamental patterns of personality are developed. It is during this time that children learn to love learning and are setting the foundation for who they will become. This period of life is critical to invest in; making sure your child has a rich environment suited to his/her development. In addition, Montessori teachers have a greater degree of education and specialized training than traditional preschool or day care teachers. Besides Montessori certification, most also hold a Bachelor's or Master's degree.
Research studies show that Montessori children are well prepared for later life academically, socially, and emotionally. In addition to scoring well on standardized tests, Montessori children are ranked above average on such criteria as following directions, turning in work on time, listening attentively, using basic skills, showing responsibility, asking provocative questions, showing enthusiasm for learning, and adapting to new situations.