Is Montessori all about academics?
No. The Montessori Method is more than an academic program. It is a whole approach to life, which is one of respect, compassion, and guidance in all areas of learning. It is designed to help children with the task of their inner construction as they grow from childhood to maturity. The Montessori Method develops the whole personality of the child, not merely his intellectual faculties. Children develop creativity, social skills, cooperation, initiative, independence, responsibility, self-esteem, self-discipline, problem solving, critical thinking, care and respect for others and for the world – all which lead to becoming fulfilled individuals and contributing positively to society. Dr. Montessori identified four “planes of development,” with each stage having its own developmental characteristics and developmental challenges. The Early Childhood Montessori environment for children age 3 to 6 is designed to work with the “Absorbent Mind”, “Sensitive Periods” and the tendencies of children at this stage of their development. Learning that takes place during these years comes spontaneously without effort, leading children to enter Primary School with a clear, concrete sense of many abstract concepts. Montessori helps children to become self-motivated, self-disciplined, and to retain a sense of curiosity. They tend to act with care and respect toward their environment and each other. They are able to work at their own pace and ability.
Why a three-year cycle?
Dr. Montessori identified four “planes of development,” with each stage having its own developmental characteristics and challenges. The Early Childhood Montessori environment for children ages three to six is designed to work with the “absorbent mind,” their “sensitive periods” and the tendencies of children at this stage of their development. The years from 3-6 are one phase of growth, with physical, intellectual and psychological characteristics common to that whole period. Learning that takes place during these years comes spontaneously without effort, leading children to enter the elementary years with a clear, concrete sense of many abstract concepts. This process seems to necessitate an educational approach with an extended time frame within which the individual child has room to grow at his/her own pace. In accord with this thinking, a Montessori school program, including the developmental learning aids and the work activities which go with it, is sequential and meant to be experienced over a three-year time span and not in individual, successive, one-year capsules.
The 3-year cycle also relates to Montessori’s valuable concept of age-mixed and ungraded classes. However, it is not just a simple matter of 3-4 year olds, 4-5 year olds, and 5-6 year olds spending time together in one environment. The hope is really that the younger children might learn from older ones who, in turn, have come up from “the ranks” and are well on their way to being self-directed. Such quality is hard to achieve with frequent and substantial turn over. Montessori teaches us that the human personality comes into full engagement and self realization in successive stages and sub-stages of life – 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and beyond. Along the way, different things are introduced to these children within prepared environments, such as math, language, art and music. The design at each level of a Montessori class, has the child’s individual and physiological development in mind. The three year cycle allows the Directress to follow the natural transitions occurring within each child over a period of development, enabling them to meet the child’s individual needs and/or interests when those sensitive periods arise.
Within each 3-year cycle, a body of information and skills are presented. Failure to complete the 3-year cycle results in the child not achieving the “total possibility” offered by the class. Many loose ends, partially developed skills and incoherent knowledge are obvious. Montessori recognized sensitive periods in the development of children’s lives when they show strong interest in certain aspects of their environment. She designed her progress to introduce aspects of learning at a time when the children are most receptive. The third year is the culmination of this process. Within each 3 year cycle, a sequenced body of information and skills is presented. Much depends on the repetition, at successive stages of development, of similar exercises, so that understanding is fully assimilated through senses, feelings and thinking. Failure to complete a 3 year cycle will leave gaps in knowledge and understanding that may be difficult to fill at a later stage. The 3 year cycle ensures completion of the work necessary to the development of the whole child at that particular age.
To receive the full benefits of a Montessori education, a child who enrolls should remain in the program for 3 years or more. Each step of a child’s development and learning from the time he/she enters the Montessori classroom serves as a solid foundation for the next. The child who does not finish the program will never experience the same benefits, joy and satisfaction of having reached the end. A good analogy would be reading a book but never knowing what the last chapter is. If you never know how it ends, your experience won’t be the same. The Montessori program works in the same way.
The 3-year Montessori experience tends to nurture a joy of learning that prepares them for further challenges. This process seems to work best when children enter a Montessori program at about3 and stay at least through the kindergarten year. Children entering at age 4 or 5 do not consistently come to the end of the 3 year cycle having developed the same skills, work habits or values. Older children entering Montessori may do quite well in this very different setting, but this will depend to a large degree on their personality, previous educational experiences and the way they have been raised at home. Montessori programs can usually accept a few older children into an established class, so long as the family understands and accepts that some critical opportunities may have been missed, and these children may not reach the same levels of achievement seen in the other children of that age. On the other hand, because of the individualized pace of learning in Montessori classrooms, this will not normally be a concern.
My child is very active; will he/she adjust to the program?
Children who are active at home behave differently in the classroom. In the classroom, the limits and rules are clearly defined and consistently enforced. The classroom materials are routinely rotated to continually stimulate the child’s interest. The Directress (teacher) regularly observes the classroom and, if necessary, directs the child to materials that will engage him or her in the learning process.
What do polishing a mirror or scrubbing a table have to do with education?
The Practical Life area is very unique to a Montessori classroom. Through repetitive, hands-on and very purposeful activities, the child learns to do things for him or herself. At the same time, indirect learning beyond polishing a mirror, folding laundry, washing a table, or opening and closing a bottle is occurring. The children learn concentration, coordination, manual dexterity, order and independence. Far from being trivial, these skills form the necessary foundation for all future learning as they stir important areas in the brain. Not to mention, children are interested in learning “real” things which accounts for the tremendous popularity of these exercises.
Why is it so important for my child to experience the grade R year at a Montessori school?
The Montessori classroom is a carefully prepared environment where students are presented with endless opportunities to develop all of their senses and motor skills with the aid of self-correcting materials. During the third year a child can not only work with these materials in more depth, thus gaining more insights from them, but, using this base, can move into the academic areas. Once the child has established critical learning habits — concentration, self-discipline, a sense of order, persistence in completing a task, creative self-expression and a love for learning, (invaluable preparations for life), the third year reinforces these behaviors in a supportive, exciting environment. All preparations for later academic work and for social and emotional development, which have been so carefully nurtured in the three and four-year-old child, are reinforced in the grade R year. Finally, having learned from older children, shared with peers and helped younger children, the third year students now have the opportunity to assume leadership within the classroom. As one parent said, “everything my child had learned up to then seemed to fall into place, and he was ready to meet other challenges once he had this foundation.”
Won’t it be easier for my child to make the adjustment to public or private school at the grade R level rather than at some later date?
The goals of a Montessori classroom seem to be more closely related to those of a traditional first grade class than those of a traditional grade R. In most traditional grade R’s, the primary emphasis is on developing social skills with some preliminary work in cognitive readiness. In a Montessori environment, the emphasis is on individual growth, which allows for cognitive development based on a firm foundation of sensory and motor skill training, making the transition into academic work so much easier for the child. This transition occurs naturally during the third year in a Montessori environment – without stress, pressure, or praise. At this point, a child who is ready will begin reading and working with math materials, in addition to other activities. Few conventional grade R’s are geared to do this or have children who have been prepared for such work, and therefore it is seldom, if at all, introduced until first grade. One father’s reason for preferring to stay with a Montessori education was: “We considered the school years ahead. Children usually do their best if they have good learning habits, a sound basis in numbers and math, and the ability to read. We realized that our child had an excellent two year start in this Montessori school. Transferring now to grade R, the child will go no farther, whereas staying in Montessori ensures reaping the benefits of all past work under the enthusiastic guidance of teachers who share the child’s joy of learning.”
Will a child have enough experience working in groups in a Montessori school to later become a successful group member in a traditional school?
A visit to Bright Light Montessori school will show that considerable socializing and grouping takes place naturally in the environment and that the children behave in a socially responsible and orderly manner.The Montessori approach eliminates many of the discipline problems found in more conventional environments. There are a few well-chosen ground rules which are consistently reinforced. The children learn to help one another, care for one another and for their environment. Children are free to talk and move around, are treated with respect, and are not controlled by fear or punishment.The ambience of the Montessori classroom provides the opportunity for more meaningful talking and social interactions than a traditional environment. Thus, the young child is well prepared from the Montessori experience to act as a cooperative and skilled group member.
Do Montessori children transfer harmoniously into schools with other methods of educating?
Over the years we have witnessed many smooth transitions of Montessori children into all other kinds of learning environments from public to independent and private educational school systems. We recommend making this transition after your child has had the opportunity to complete the third year of the three-year Montessori classroom cycle, giving them closure within the academic curriculum, as well as the confidence gained from having been a leader and mentor in their classroom. Whether the child attends private school or goes on to public school, Montessori education provides an excellent background for education. Children who complete the 3-year cycle are well prepared academically, emotionally and socially. They have a strong academic foundation, but most importantly, they are usually adaptable, have a positive attitude toward learning, a sense of responsibility and respect for others. They have learned to work independently and in groups. Since they have been encouraged to make decisions from an early age, these children are problem-solvers who can make choices and manage their time well. They have also been encouraged to exchange ideas and to discuss their work freely with others and good communication skills ease the way in new settings. These qualities will serve them well in any future educational system whether it will be in continuing Montessori elementary education, public or traditional private institutions. Furthermore, research has shown that one of the best predictor of future success is a sense of self-esteem. Montessori programs, based on self-directed, non-competitive activities, help children develop good self-images and the confidence to face challenges and changes.
What makes a Montessori teacher different?
You will notice that Montessori teachers are often referred to as a Director/ Directress or Guides because what they do is direct and guide the child toward what he needs to teach himself. In the classroom, your child will be taught individually or in small groups. This allows the teacher to get immediate feedback and to see how well the child is absorbing the lesson and what questions or needs he/she may have. Each Montessori teacher has been trained in the science of child observation. They spend time every day observing the class: how it is functioning as a whole and how the children are progressing with their work. They use the Montessori materials to enhance the learning experience The Director/ Directress will observe your child, determine his/her level of development and what guidance they need to progress to the next level.