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Montessori FAQs

Who was Maria Montessori?

Over 100 years ago, Dr. Maria Montessori set out an education plan that has changed the face of education theory and practice. As the first female medical doctor in Italy, she incorporated her scientific understanding of human development with her passion for mathematics, physics, natural sciences, anthropology, psychology and philosophy. Her work was influenced by key educational theorists such as Rousseau, Itard & Seguin and Frobel and her work in turn influenced well-know child psychologists such as Jean Piaget.

What is the Montessori method?

The Montessori philosophy focuses on the development of the whole child. It is based in three principles: observation, individual liberty, and the prepared environment. Montessori noticed that children had five tendencies: to move, to repeat, to refine and explore, language, and a mathematical mind. Current educational concepts such as individualized learning, readiness programs, ungraded classes, combined age groups, team teaching, and open classrooms reflect many of her early insights. Dr. Montessori’s passion for peace both internally for the child and externally in the world is a theme throughout the Montessori theory and practice. With these principles and themes, an environment where children are respected and intellectually stimulated according to their specific development and personal interests is created.

What are the benefits of multi-aged classrooms?

Montessori classrooms are multi-aged. Current educational theories and studies show that “students in multi-aged classes tended to be higher or better than those in single-aged classes in the following areas: study habits, social interaction, self-motivation, and attitudes toward school.” (Gayfer, 1992).

The benefits of multi-aged classrooms include:

  • - less competition and more cooperation in work and play between older and younger children;
  • - a wider range of knowledge, experiences and abilities to draw upon in the multi-aged setting;
  • - higher motivation towards learning;
  • - respect for one another’s individual abilities and experiences;
  • - children who are more likely to include all others in their games;
  • - appropriate peer modeling, especially when older children are role models for the younger ones;
  • - interaction and friendship opportunities are easier with a wider range of ages;
  • - a greater sense of security and belonging is evident; and,
  • - children develop responsibility, kindness, friendliness, diplomacy, language skills and self –respect.

What is the prepared environment?

Montessori believed in a prepared environment which included two important aspects: the physical space and the trained guide. The physical space needs to be clean, materials organized and with purpose in a logical manner, and child-sized furniture to invite the child into the space.
The guide or teacher is required to be well educated in the characteristics and tendencies of children at various developmental stages and have the desire and knowledge to engage the child into the learning environment and the materials within it.

How is work assessed?

In the Primary classroom, work is assessed mostly through observation, as the child interacts in the prepared environment. The materials have inherent checks, so by observing a child working with a material, a trained guide can observe if the child has understood the concept.

In the Elementary classrom (6-12 year olds), observation and materials play a huge role in assessment. In addition, there are individual meetings where the Elementary Guide and the child discuss current and future work. Standardized tests are given to enable children to learn how to take a test as well as to provide the Elementary Guides with information for them to tailor lessons for each child.

Is Montessori right for my child? For my family?

Through daily experience, Montessori children develop empathy for others of all ages, creative and reasonable ways of thinking and confidence. Montessori environments are right for many children who naturally have an inquisitive mind and want to socialize in a safe, caring community. Montessori education is right for families who value their child’s voice and perspective, who trust in their child’s innate ability to learn and who consciously choose an alternative way of teaching children.

How do the children learn to socialize and share in the classroom?

There are a limited amount of materials in a Montessori classroom. With the limited material as well as limited adult interaction, there are times when more than one child would like to work with a particular material at the same time. This interaction fosters discussion and the children develop patience, empathy and in later years, collaborative negotiation. Teachers give “grace and courtesy” lessons as early as three years of age, and continue throughout the nine years to remind and encourage the children to negotiate fairly and with empathy in the classroom.

How do Montessori children do when they enter “mainstream” schools?

In a Montessori school, a child’s inherent desire to learn has been encouraged and strengthened. They have been allowed to follow their own interests in depth, and this, along with experiencing the benefits of a multi-aged classroom for nine years, and extensive socialization which includes freedom and responsibility, Montessori children demonstrate a broad understanding for what mainstream schools offer. They are very confident and often try out for sports, arts and music opportunities. They also understand the necessity for homework, group projects and testing. Because they have formed deep, caring relationships with children of various ages, they tend to make friends easily and choose appropriate work partners and peer groups.

How do I know if a school is a real Montessori school?

There are a number of standards for Montessori education as Dr. Montessori was invited to many countries to offer advice and programs for children. In her final years, she established Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) to provide support and standardization for education centres and schools around the world. The MSofC is one of four schools in Canada that has achieved an AMI designation.

In addition to accreditation, the following lists a few ways to help you determine if a school offers a true reflection of the Montessori philosophy and methodology:

  • - children free to move around
  • - full classroom of materials available for children to use
  • - teachers are trained with recognized certification (usually a year or more)
  • - large class size
  • - multi-aged class (at least three years age mix)

What can a Montessori Education offer my child?

Montessori education offers children an environment to break down and understand processes at their level, test out hypotheses and find solutions. Montessori-educated children gain sophisticated wisdom as well as broad general knowledge, solid leadership and team skills, and a sense of belonging to society. A child’s strong qualities of confidence, maturity, and self-motivation will enable them to engage in the community at large.

What does the concept of freedom in a Montessori classroom mean?

Through the years, a Montessori child is taken on a tour of the classroom and the materials. This journey is paired with the ability to choose what and when to work. The child is given the parameters to work in the class, including knowing they have the responsibility to clean up after themselves, waiting until another child is finished using the material and/or has negotiated their role in the work (Elementary), and waiting and/or asking for a lesson on an interest. This freedom paired with responsibility enables the child to develop confidence when given the opportunity to have a voice in their own education.

What is the approach to discipline?

One of the main Montessori principles when approaching a child with regards to discipline is to teach by teaching, not correcting. Children are at different developmental mindsets in Montessori education, and as a result, the application of this simple principle is applied in different ways:

Casa dei Bambini (Primary)

From the age of 3-6 years, the child is focused in their own world. In Montessori, the children are given parameters to work in, such as keeping their hands to themselves. When the child tests the environment outside of these given parameters, a teacher will remind the child of the guideline and explain how it affects other children. These constant and gentle reminders begin to place a seed of understanding in the child at an early age. If after lessons, reminders and opportunities to practice the behavior, the child is still not able to function and they are affecting other children in the class, they will be removed from the class for a time, to allow the child to process how they can best function in the class. There will be discussion with the parents during this process to ensure that the child’s home and school environment’s are as consistent as possible.

Elementary

From 6-12 years, the child begins to develop a reasoning mind and how they fit in their classroom community and the larger communities outside of the school. With this development, the child starts to solve problems themselves within their existing relationships. By teaching negotiation skills and being a part of their classroom culture, including helping to make rules, the child feels that they have a voice and are therefore more willing to come to a solution. This approach works optimally if the child’s home environment also incorporates this solution-oriented philosophy.

Why is homework not part of a Montessori education?

Homework is traditionally given for three reasons: 1) to teach the child how to work independently and schedule his own time, 2) to inspire the child to feel responsible for his own work and 3) to get more work done. In a Montessori class the child organizes his own work, sets his own goals, and schedules his time to complete work. The child becomes very aware of time and how it is used and how they are accountable for it. The Montessori child practices these skills all day every day, not just for an hour in the evening. In addition to doing his own chosen work, the Montessori child is also responsible for meeting all the requirements of the Alberta Government curriculum.

When the Montessori child moves into another school system, his ability to schedule his time, his sense of responsibility to complete required work and his strong work ethic, transfer with him. Doing homework is not a problem.

Are Montessori children successful in life?

Research has shown, time and again, that Montessori children do very well in later life academically, socially and emotionally, but they are leaders in many fields; including technology (Founders of Google – Montessori children). In fact, it has become the fastest growing form of “non-traditional” education in the U.S.

In addition to scoring well on standard tests, Montessori children are consistently ranked above average on criteria that requires them to follow directions, listening attentively, showing responsibility, critical thinking, solving problems, able to adapt to new situations, showing responsibility and the ability to work with people.

How is character addressed?

The education of the child’s character is as important in a Montessori environment as academic education. This includes the child learning to take care of themselves, their environment and each other, including cooking, cleaning, building, gardening, movement, grace and courtesy and being involved in their local and international communities.

How is Physical Education handled in a Montessori framework?

Movement is one of Montessori’s core principles and the philosophy stresses the importance of movement for muscle growth, muscle memory and mental development. By the time the child is six years old they are physically dextrous both in fine and gross motor skills. Add to this the robust characteristics of the Elementary child and you have a recipe for success through activities that build confidence, focus and character.

In a Montessori environment physical activity is woven into the student’s daily classroom experience through their freedom of mobility in the classroom, as well as an extensive program aimed to nurture healthy and active lifestyle.  For the Elementary student, we deliver a holistic approach to physical education, that combines physical, outdoor and wellness (POW) education.  POW reflects the Montessori philosophy of individual liberty, grace and courtesy, and the recognition of interconnectedness across subject disciplines.   Student’s interest and curiosity about the broader world and oneself is inspired through nature outings, and mindfulness lessons that connect students to their bodies and their attitudes, and their planet.   Independence and an attitude of sportsmanship is cultivated through exposure to a wide variety of sporting skills and activities over a three year cycle.

Annual activities include, but are not limited to, nature outings, Terry Fox Run, Yoga, Jump Rope for Heart, weekly Run Club, and an introduction to a variety of individual and team sports (such as basketball, soccer, softball, road hockey, gymnastics, dance, track & field) and seasonal activities both on and off-site.  Each year several unique sporting and outdoor a opportunities are introduced to the student’s lives.  Possibilities of these include diving, curling, skating, fencing, orienteering, skating, water polo, kayaking, sailing, synchronized swimming, cross country skiing, snowboarding and downhill skiing, rock climbing, lane swimming, archery and more.  Over a three year cycle they have had exposure to a wide variety of physical activities, and each year they have some new activities they can look forward to.  Older elementary students enjoy a growing leadership role, and all students have opportunity to bring their own sporting experience and creativity to the student community.  Within the school year students are given ample time to practice their skills in their areas of interest, and within each unit, students have opportunity for more personalized lessons which reflect their interests and skill level, allowing for continual growth in a certain skill or sport.

In sum, POW is a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to physical education which enriches the student’s love of nature, fosters innate curiosity about the world, and nurtures deeper meaning and understandings of broad subject areas.  Students learn to recognize interconnectedness between all things – a key principle in Montessori education.  Furthermore, students develop an appreciation for active and healthy living, they build character, sportsmanship and mindfulness, all the while they become stronger, more agile and self-aware.

Barriers to Discovery – how can I help my child in the “discovery” process?

As adults we all need to be aware that “helping” the child is often a barrier to learning, especially if we give “tips” or “tricks” to “speed up” the learning process. Children need to struggle and figure things out themselves. Many times when a child is on the verge of discovery or of finally understanding something, they will discuss or practice the work at home. Remember to allow your child the time to continue their journey of discovery by not showing them short cuts but rather by encouraging the intellectual process of thinking and figuring. Mental activity will create awareness and understanding

How does the Montessori School of Calgary program address the Alberta Education curriculum requirements?

In the Elementary program, the Alberta Curriculum is posted in the class by subject matter in terms the children can understand. It is discussed in lessons and is used as a point of reference to guide the children’s work. They are brought to an understanding that they are responsible to work on these items. Through lessons and individual bi-weekly meetings with the Elementary Guides, the child uses both the Alberta Curriculum and their own interests to create a variety of work that they explore, which creates deeper understandings for them.

The Montessori School of Calgary (MSofC) works with Alberta Education to create a Combined 3-year Education Plan and Annual Education Results Report (AERR) for School Authorities.

Click here to view the pdf.

Education demands, then, only this; the utilization of the inner powers of the child for his own instruction.
– Dr. Maria Montessori