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Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Montessori Education?
    Many of our prospective parents have heard of Montessori schools, and heard that they are especially good at developing curious, independent, high-achieving students. Some have seen the research that shows that Montessori students outperform their peers on those metrics. And some have seen the news that Montessori schools are being championed by Silicon Valley leaders such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. But many parents aren’t sure exactly what makes a Montessori school different from traditional schools. Montessori programs use an educational system, materials, and techniques first developed by Maria Montessori, a brilliant scientist who was one of the first female doctors in Italy. She is now recognized as one of the earliest cognitive scientists. As a physician practicing in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Maria Montessori observed that many of the theories of learning and teaching of that time appeared to be flawed. She began to work with children and adults with special needs and learning differences, intending to help them improve their quality of life through activities that are now considered occupational therapy. Her results were so astounding that she began to teach academic content as well, and her students began to outperform the students in traditional local schools. Through her observation of and work with children, she began to experiment with different teaching materials and educational methods. Fascinated by her results, she pursued her interest in education by studying teaching techniques and continuing to conduct academic research with children. In 1906, she founded a children’s school in Rome (the Casa dei Bambini, or “Children’s House”) and her students again surpassed their peers by astonishing margins. She was asked to open additional schools, publish academic works about her research, train Montessori teachers, and continue to develop her work throughout her life. The education system she developed has evolved throughout the world and continued to grow and improve.
  • What is Unique about Montessori Programs?
    In the Montessori classroom, the child is systematically introduced to dozens of carefully designed materials (called “lessons”) that are intended to teach a specific skill or set of information. Once the teacher has introduced the child to a lesson and ensured that the child is working with it appropriately, the student is free to work with it when she wants, and for as long as she wants during the work cycle. When the teacher observes that she is ready, the teacher will then introduce the next lesson in the learning sequence. In this way, each student progresses individually at his own rate. Modern research about child development confirms that young children are concrete learners, and most do not develop significant ability for abstract thought until later elementary school. The materials in a Montessori classroom are tangible objects, perfectly suited for concrete learners. Allowing the child to touch, explore, and create with materials promotes true conceptual understanding. The role of the Montessori teacher is to act as a “facilitator,” allowing for self-exploration and promoting the child’s natural desire to learn. Independence, self-reliance, curiosity, growth mindset, and positive self-esteem are all attributes of this learning environment.
  • What if my Child Doesn’t want to Learn?
    This question arises frequently, because at first glance, an educational system that relies on self-motivation may seem to be a bad fit for some students. However, these concerns generally arise from a misconception about free choice in the Montessori classroom. It is true that Montessori students have a great deal of independence and freedom to choose their work. However, that doesn’t mean they can choose to coast along without learning new material! In our role as facilitators, MCH teachers observe and track student progress closely. If students are avoiding work in certain areas, or choosing work that isn’t helping them progress, the teacher will choose appropriate work for the child, and typically do it together until the child becomes engaged by the material. Since the lesson materials are intentionally designed to be interesting for young children, this is achievable even for kids who aren't academically motivated yet.
  • Is it True that Montessori Schools Don’t Have Any Rules?
    Not even close! Our students are introduced into the classroom with a closely supervised orientation period, during which they learn all of the class rules, norms, and expectations for behavior that you would find in any classroom. In fact, our program has more rules than many traditional programs, because we challenge our students to be more independent, and require them to take very careful care of their class and its materials. Starting in Preschool, Montessori students are responsible for their own belongings (changing shoes, zipping jackets, remembering and carrying own lunchbox, etc.), serving their own snacks and lunch, cleaning up all of their own messes, and putting away all lesson materials independently. In addition, Montessori has always championed positive behavior reinforcement and logical consequences for classroom behavior management.
  • What if my Child Needs More Structure?
    Most early childhood education programs rely on strict age groups and a very tightly scheduled day (a common approach is 15 and 30 minute rotations through learning centers). This is a great way to keep students busy and expose them to a lot of different information and skills development. Many students do well in these programs. However, compared to a Montessori program, we think it has several major drawbacks: Traditional approaches may work in the short-term, but at the expense of long-term success characteristics like curiosity, perseverance, and enjoyment of learning. Students who are ahead or behind their age group may suffer or become very frustrated in a strictly teacher-controlled program. A tightly scripted schedule makes it very hard for teachers to adapt to students' interest in a topic. Frequent rotations by group may mean that a lot of time is wasted organizing the transitions between centers and activities (finishing work, cleaning up, lining up, getting started in the next area, etc). Too much structure in learning also makes the child dependent on the teacher to control his interest in learning and attention span. By contrast, Montessori programs make better use of students’ and teachers’ time, and allow more flexibility and personalized learning. These features add up to happy, productive students.
  • Is Montessori Play-Based?
    There is a very wide variety in what is considered a play-based preschool program, and how students spend their time in such a program. Since they are so different, it's hard to draw general comparisons. However, Montessori programs are sometimes considered play-based programs, because the students are guided about how to use the lesson materials, and are also allowed to play creatively with the materials as they choose (as long as they treat the materials carefully and follow class behavior rules). In addition to their opportunities to play creatively during the work cycle, MCH students have multiple daily opportunities for free play with their classmates. We also make plenty of time for fun, with silly songs, dance parties, class games, holiday celebrations, pajama days, etc.
  • Where can I Learn More About Montessori Education?
    There are several major Montessori associations and organizations with extensive information about Montessori education. For basic information about Montessori, we recommend: Association Montessori International (founded in 1929 by Maria Montessori) American Montessori Society For the latest scientific research on Montessori education outcomes, we recommend: The National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector, especially this summary of evidence-based research on Montessori advantages American Montessori Society research summary.
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