Montessori FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions)
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 adolescence.
Q. Where can I find a good, brief introduction to Montessori from birth through the school years?
A. At the Michael Olaf Montessori site, which contains articles, reprints of lectures, and two Montessori overviews that are also catalogues of books and materials for children. The actual pages are available to view as PDF files, or one might say E-books of Montessori philosophy and practice: Montessori overview.
Q. What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?
A. At the under age six level, 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 one-on-one 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 presentations, dramas, art exhibits, musical productions, science projects, and so forth. There is no limit to what they create in this kind of intelligently guided freedom. There no text books or adult-directed group lessons and daily schedule. 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. The children ask each other for lessons and much of the learning comes from sharing and inspiring each other instead of competing with each other.
Montessori classes place children in three-year-or-more age groups (3-6, 2.5-6, 6-12, 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, school-age child, teenager, and young adult.
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 and build the skills needed for lifelong learning.
Many homeschooling and other parents use the Montessori philosophy of following the child's interest and not interrupting concentration to educate their children. There is an interesting Montessori homeschooling store here: Homeschooling.
In school, only a trained Montessori teacher can properly implement Montessori education with the specialized learning equipment taught during teacher training, but there are many ideas that can be used in the home with families whose children are in school full-time or in families where the adults are in charge of the totality of the child's 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, multi-age 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 one 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 questions:
(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.
Q. How do I find Montessori schools in my area?
A. There are thousands of Montessori schools in the world, but your must realize that the word "Montessori" is not legally protected and can be used by anyone. This has tarnished the name here in the USA. For information on finding a good Montessori school, go to: www.montessori.edu/refs.html. If this doesn't help you, look in your phone book, get the literature of local schools, observe, and compare what you learn with what you read on this site.
Q. Who accredits or oversees Montessori schools?
A. Unfortunately no one body can accredit the Montessori element of schools, but there are state requirements for schools in general. There are several Montessori organizations to which schools can belong. The two major ones operating in the United States are the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI, with a U.S. branch office called AMI-USA) and the American Montessori Society (AMS). Parents considering placing a child in a Montessori school should ask about the school's affiliation(s).
Parents must carefully research and observe a classroom in operation in order to choose a real Montessori school for their child.
Q. How much does Montessori cost?
A. Because Montessori schools are operated independently of one another, tuition varies widely. The tuition is usually tied to the salaries of the staff, the size of the school, the state regulations for ratio of staff to children, the cost of living, and many other factors. The tuition for a Montessori school is figured on costs to run the school and is no different than any other private school.
Sometimes the Montessori program is part of the public school system, and so there is no tuition. However, although there are some very good public Montessori schools, many just use the materials, or the name, and are not operated as true Montessori classes.
Ages 3-6, 3-hour day: $3,500-$5,000
Ages 3-6, 4-hour day: $3,500-$6,000
Ages 3-6, 6-hour day: $4,300-$7,000
Ages 6-12: $4,700-$12,000
Ages 12-15: $5,440-$14,000
Q. How many Montessori schools are there?
A. There are at least 4,000 certified Montessori schools in the United States and about 7,000 worldwide.
Q. Are Montessori schools religious?
A. Some are, but most are not. Some Montessori schools, just like other schools, operate under the auspices of a church, synagogue, or diocese, but most are independent of any religious affiliation.
Q. Are all Montessori schools private?
A. No. Approximately 200 public schools in the U.S. and Canada offer Montessori programs, and this number is growing every year.
Q. What does it take to start a Montessori school?
A. The most important element of any Montessori school is the fully-trained Montessori teacher. Materials come second. A good starting point is a group of parents who want Montessori for their children. The next step is to look into state and local requirements for schools, such as teacher training, facilities, class size, etc. Selecting a site and making sure it meets applicable building codes is also an early part of the process. Montessori materials and furniture must be purchased, and, unless one of the founders has taken Montessori training, a teacher must be hired.
Q. What special training do Montessori teachers have?
A. As with the choice of a Montessori school for children, an adult must also exercise wisdom in choosing a teacher training course. Anyone can legally use the name "Montessori" in describing their teacher training organization. One must be sure the certification earned is recognized by the school where one desires to teach.
The two major organizations offering Montessori training in the United States are the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI, with a U.S. branch office called AMI-USA) and the American Montessori Society (AMS). Most training centers require a bachelor's degree for admission.
There are courses, such as "distance learning" or "correspondence courses", which can help one better understand Montessori theory or which can train adults to work in certain schools. Sometimes these are the only possibility, but they do not fully prepare one for the intensive and fulfilling work with a classroom of children. When choosing a training course, it is important to balance the amount of time and money one can spend with the teaching opportunities desired, and to find out ahead of time if one's certification earned will allow one to teach in a school one is considering.
Q. What is the Montessori Training of the author of the Michael Olaf publications?
A. Susan earned a BA with a major in philosophy. Her first Montessori training was the AMI training center in London, England (MMI Website: http://www.mariamontessori.org, email: email@example.com) This was a year long, intensive full-time course which certified her to teach children from age 2.5 years to 6. Later, she earned an AMI certificate for ages 6-12 at the Washington Montessori Institute, another full-year course, and a Master's degree from Loyola at Baltimore (www.loyola.edu/education/Montessori/wmi.html) and then the AMI certificate for birth to three in Denver (TMI, www.tmidenver.com) and Rome. Finally,7 she studied with Howard Gardner at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (www.gse.harvard.edu) to learn more about his theory of Multiple Intelligences on which she had based a masters paper.
Susan considers the most valuable elements of her training to be:
(1) The quality of the teacher-trainers who have undergone rigorous preparation, including the AMI diploma, five years of teaching, and five more years of teacher training.
(2) The many hours of hands-on practicals, or work at the training center, practicing with the materials with other adult students under the guidance of the trainers instead of "practicing on children."
(3) The production of one's own albums. Here is the system: lecture on the pieces of material, the description, many stages of use, purpose, and indirect preparation followed by hours of practice and discussion, a detailed write-up with a hand-drawn illustration of each piece of materials by memory, producing one's own personal "teaching albums". After all, in this world, the lessons are automatic in one's hands, and the teacher is free to do all of the other work in the class with the certainty of knowing exactly what to present to each child and when.
(4) Rigid oral and written exams on the needs of children and all elements of teaching in a Montessori class, overseen from an external examiner, often from another country. This makes sure that the training course, as well as the students, are maintaining the highest AMI standards.
Specific Details of the Montessori method as practiced in Montessori Schools
Protection of the "best" in each child through respect of choice and concentration
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, 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 that 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 protected.
The schedule - The three-hour work period
Under the age of six, there are one or two three-hour work periods each day not broken up by required group lessons. Older children schedule meetings or study groups with each other and 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 GB850.
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(s).
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 progress.
Areas of study
All subjects are interwoven, not taught in isolation, with 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, 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 this age.
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, and each other cooking, cleaning, building, gardening, moving gracefully, speaking politely, being considerate and helpful, doing social work in the community, etc.
These answers were provided by the Michael Olaf Montessori Company. For more information on the Montessori Method of Education in schools, the Montessori philosophy of raising children in the home, and toys, games, books, and other educational materials compatible with this system of supporting the best development of children, go to the home page: www.michaelolaf.net.
If you are interested in Montessori toys and educational materials that support Montessori ideas in the home or school for children from birth to age 12, go to this link: Montessori Shop.