What is Montessori?

It is a comprehensive educational approach from birth to adulthood based on the observation of children’s needs and natural learning tendencies specific to their age and plane of development.  It is individual learning in a collaborative environment. The children are guided by teachers who are specifically trained to observe and put the child in touch with exactly what he or she needs at that very moment to learn.  The Montessori education cultivates concentration, motivation, self-discipline, a love of learning and innate creativity.

Montessori children learn at their own pace, under the careful guidance of a teacher who knows each child very well, as children remain in the same classroom with the same teachers throughout each program (toddler, preschool, and elementary). This familiarity allows the student and the teacher to collaborate in the learning process, giving the child a sense of empowerment and self-reliance that he or she will carry into further education and into life.

What does a typical day look like in a Toddler classroom?

The Toddler program daily schedule is both simple and predictable, in keeping with the way children at this age experience the passing of time.  The children come to rely on the order of the day and develop an internal awareness of what comes next.  Just as in other Montessori classrooms, the schedule includes the arrival, a two-hour work period, snack or lunch, followed by the departure.  This consistent schedule is why the toddler community will seldom have off-site outings other than into the garden and schoolyard.

What is the curriculum?

The Toddler environment is divided into several areas, including gross motor movement, fine motor development, and language skills. The exercises of practical life include care of the environment (both indoor and outdoor), care of self, and refinement of grace and courtesy. All activities are designed to develop coordination and independence, and encourage contributing to the group, which leads to increased self-esteem.

Both Dr. Montessori’s observations and today’s brain imaging show that the young child’s brain has enormous potential and promise. Within their first six years, children develop from having no verbal language to fluency in their native language.  The toddler environment supports this tremendous growth through the use of language nomenclature cards, books and spoken vocabulary enrichment exercises.

What is the advantage of a mixed-age classroom?

As is experienced in every Montessori classroom, mixed ages allows the children to work with others who are older and younger than themselves. The older students serve as role models and tutors for the younger students, and in the process they gain confidence in their own abilities and self-esteem regarding their skill level and expertise.

This format allows all older children to be the leaders of the classroom community – even those children who may be shy or quiet. The younger ones watch the older ones, and in the process they gain a clear vision of what’s expected of them, and have the benefit of working with and learning from their peers as well as the teacher. The classroom community is a direct preparation for life in the family and in the workplace. Communicating and working well with others are important life skills.

What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?

For children six and under, 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. They are not required to sit and listen to a teacher talk to them as a group, but are engaged in individual or group activities of their own, with materials that have been introduced to them 1:1 by the teacher who knows what each child is ready to do. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning.

Above age six, children learn to do independent research; arrange field trips to gather information; interview specialists; create group presentation, dramas, art exhibits, musical productions, science projects, and so forth. There is no limit to what they can create in this environment of intelligently guided freedom of choice. There is great respect for the choices of the children, but they easily keep up with or surpass what they would be doing in a more traditional setting. There is no wasted time and children enjoy their work and study. After the teacher connects them with a lesson, much of the learning that follows comes from sharing and inspiring each other instead of competing with each other.

Montessori classrooms don’t look like regular classrooms. Where are the rows of desks? Where is the teacher’s desk?

The different arrangement of a Montessori classroom mirrors the Montessori Method’s differences from traditional education. Rather than putting the teacher at the focal point of the class, with children dependent on her for information and activity, the classroom design showcases the child-centered approach. Children work at tables or on floor mats where they can spread out their materials, and the teacher circulates about the room, giving lessons or resolving issues as they arise. The teacher’s “desk” is shaped as a semi-circle. This configuration allows for small groups of students to learn at the teacher’s desk.