Questions on The Montessori Method & Philosophy
Q. Where did Montessori come from?
A. Montessori (pronounced MON-tuh-SORE-ee) education was founded in 1907
by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman in Italy to become a physician.
She based her educational methods on scientific observation of
children's learning processes. Guided by her discovery that children
teach themselves, Dr. Montessori designed a "prepared environment" in
which children could freely choose from a number of developmentally
appropriate activities. Now, nearly a century after Maria Montessori's
first casa dei bambini ("children's house") in Rome, Montessori
education is found all over the world, spanning ages from birth to
Q. What is the difference between Montessori and traditional
A. Montessori emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just
through listening, watching, or reading. Children in Montessori classes
learn at their own, individual pace and according to their own choice of
activities from hundreds of possibilities. Learning is an exciting
process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation,
self-discipline, and a love of learning.
Montessori classes place children in three-year age groups (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
represents an entirely different approach to education.
Q. Can I do Montessori at home with my child?
A. Yes, you can use Montessori principles of child development at home.
Look at your home through your child's eyes. Children need a sense of
belonging, and they get it by participating fully in the routines of
everyday life. "Help me do it by myself" is the life theme of the
preschooler. Can you find ways for your child to participate in meal
preparation, cleaning, gardening, caring for clothes, shoes, and toys?
Providing opportunities for independence is the surest way to build your
child's self-esteem. At the school level many homeschooling and
other parents use the Montessori philosophy of following the child's
interest and not interrupting concentration to educate their children.
In school only a trained Montessori teacher can properly implement
Montessori education, using the specialized learning equipment of the
Montessori "prepared environment." Here social development comes from
being in a positive and unique environment with other children -- an
integral part of Montessori education.
Q. Is Montessori good for children with learning disabilities? What
about gifted children?
A. Montessori is designed to help all children reach their fullest
potential at their own unique pace. A classroom whose children have
varying abilities is a community in which everyone learns from one
another and everyone contributes. Moreover, multiage grouping allows
each child to find his or her own pace without feeling "ahead" or
"behind" in relation to peers.
Q. What ages does Montessori serve?
A. There are more Montessori programs for ages 3-6 than for any other
age group, but Montessori is not limited to early childhood. Many
infant/toddler programs (ages 2 months to 3 years) exist, as well as
elementary (ages 6-12), adolescent (ages 12-15) and even a few
Montessori high schools.
Q. Are Montessori children successful later in life?
A. 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.
Q. I recently observed a Montessori classroom for a day. I was very
very impressed, but I have three questions.
1. There doesn't seem to be any opportunities for pretend play
2. The materials don't seem to allow children to be creative
3. Children don't seem to be interacting with another very much Any help
you give me would be appreciated. Thank you very much.
A. I can give you three very incomplete answers to your perceptive
(1) When Dr. Montessori opened the first Children's House it was full of
pretend play things. The children never played with them as long as they
were allowed to do real things - i.e. cooking instead of pretending to
cook. It is still true.
(2) the materials teach specific things and then the creativity is
incredible. Like learning how to handle a good violin and then playing
music. It is not considered "creative" to use a violin as a hammer, or a
bridge while playing with blocks. We consider it "creative" to learn how
to use the violin properly and then create music. The same goes for the
materials in a Montessori classroom.
(3) there is as much interaction as the children desire, but the tasks
are so satisfying that, for these few hours a day, children want to
master the challenges offered by them. Then they become happier and
kinder—true socialization. Also, since concentration is protected above
all, as all "work" is respected, children learn early on not to
interrupt someone who is concentrating.
Specific Details of the Montessori method as practiced in Montessori
Protection of the "best" in each child through respect of choice and
The most important discovery that Dr. Montessori has contributed to the
field of child development and education is the fostering of the best in
each child. She discovered that in an environment where children are
allowed to choose their work and to concentrate for as long as needed on
that task, that they come out of this period of concentration (or
meditation or contemplation) refreshed and full of good will toward
others. The teacher must know how to offer work, to link the child to
the environment who is the real teacher, and to protect this process. We
know now that this natural goodness and compassion are inborn, and do
not need to be taught, but to be protected.
The schedule - The three-hour work period
Under the age of six, there are one or two 3-hour, uninterrupted, work
periods each day, not broken up by required group lessons. Older
children schedule meetings or study groups with each other the teacher
when necessary. Adults and children respect concentration and do not
interrupt someone who is busy at a task. Groups form spontaneously or
are arranged ahead by special appointment. They almost never take
precedence over self-selected work. Note: For more information on the
"three-hour work period" see the chapter "My Contribution to
Experimental Science" from The Advanced Montessori Method, Volume I, by
Dr. Maria Montessori, or contact the Michael Olaf Montessori Company at
firstname.lastname@example.org for reprint
Children are grouped in mixed ages and abilities in three to six year
spans: 0-3, 3-6, 6-12 (sometimes temporarily 6-9 and 9-12), 12-15,
15-18. There is constant interaction, problem solving, child to child
teaching, and socialization. Children are challenged according to their
ability and never bored. The Montessori middle and high school teacher
ideally has taken all three training courses plus graduate work in an
academic area or areas.
The environment is arranged according to subject area, and children are
always free to move around the room instead of staying at desks. There
is no limit to how long a child can work with a piece of material. At
any one time in a day all subjects -- math, language, science, history,
geography, art, music, etc., will be being studied, at all levels.
Teaching method - "Teach by teaching, not by correcting"
There are no papers turned back with red marks and corrections. Instead
the child's effort and work is respected as it is. The teacher, through
extensive observation and record-keeping, plans individual projects to
enable each child to learn what he needs in order to improve.
Teaching Ratio - 1:1 and 1:30+
Except for infant/toddler groups (Ratio dictated by local social service
regulations), the teaching ratio is one trained Montessori teacher and
one non-teaching aide to 30+ children. Rather than lecturing to large or
small groups of children, the teacher is trained to teach one child at a
time, and to oversee thirty or more children working on a broad array of
tasks. She is facile in the basic lessons of math, language, the arts
and sciences, and in guiding a child's research and exploration,
capitalizing on his interest in and excitement about a subject. The
teacher does not make assignments or dictate what to study or read, nor
does she set a limit as to how far a child follows an interest.
The Montessori teacher spends a lot of time during teacher training
practicing the many lessons with materials in all areas. She must pass a
written and oral exam on these lessons in order to be certified. She is
trained to recognize a child's readiness according to age, ability, and
interest in a specific lesson, and is prepared to guide individual
Areas of study
All subjects are interwoven, not taught in isolation, the teacher
modeling a "Renaissance" person of broad interests for the children. A
child can work on any material he understands at any time.
Except for infant/toddler groups, the most successful classes are of
30-35 children to one teacher (who is very well trained for the level
she is teaching), with one non-teaching assistant. This is possible
because the children stay in the same group for three to six years and
much of the teaching comes from the children and the environment.
All kinds of intelligences and styles of learning are nurtured: musical,
bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, intuitive,
and the traditional linguistic and logical-mathematical (reading,
writing, and math). This particular model is backed up by Harvard
psychologist Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences.
There are no grades, or other forms of reward or punishment, subtle or
overt. Assessment is by portfolio and the teacher's observation and
record keeping. The test of whether or not the system is working lies in
the accomplishment and behavior of the children, their happiness,
maturity, kindness, and love of learning and level of work.
Requirements for age 0-6
There are no academic requirements for this age, but children are
exposed to amazing amounts of knowledge and often learn to read, write
and calculate beyond what is usually thought interesting to a child of
Requirements for ages 6-18
The teacher remains alert to the interests of each child and facilitates
individual research in following interests. There are no curriculum
requirements except those set by the state, or college entrance
requirements, for specific grade levels. These take a minimum amount of
time. From age six on, students design contracts with the teacher to
guide their required work, to balance their general work, and to teach
them to become responsible for their own time management and education.
The work of the 6+ class includes subjects usually not introduced until
high school or college.
Education of character is considered equally with academic education,
children learning to take care of themselves, their environment, each
other - cooking, cleaning, building, gardening, moving gracefully,
speaking politely, being considerate and helpful, doing social work in
the community, etc.
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