Where did the term "Montessori" come from?
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 are quite capable of teaching themselves, Dr. Montessori designed a "prepared environment" in which children could freely choose from a number of developmentally appropriate activities. Now, a century after Maria Montessori's first casa de bambini ("home for children") in Rome, Montessori education is found all over the world, spanning the ages from birth through high school.
What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?
Montessori education emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just through listening, watching, or reading. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own, individual paces from activities they choose themselves from hundreds of possibilities. Montessori teachers keep detailed records on each child, so they know when the child is ready to be introduced to a new skill or concept. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, and self-discipline. Montessori classes place children in three-year age groups (e.g., 3 to 6, 6 to 9, 9 to 12), forming communities in which the older children spontaneously share their knowledge with the younger ones. Montessori represents an entirely different approach to education.
I recently observed a Montessori classroom for a day. I was very impressed, but I have three questions: (1) There doesn't seem to be any opportunity for pretend play, (2) the materials don't seem to allow children to be creative, and (3) the children don't seem to be interacting with each other very much. Can you explain?
(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, e.g., cooking instead of pretending to cook. It is still true. The traditional dolls, dress-up clothes, etc. are available in the classroom, but the children have those at home, so they do not choose them as often. (2) The materials teach specific things and then the creativity is incredible. It's 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 applies to 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. The confidence and satisfaction they gain carries over into their social development as well. Also, since concentration is carefully protected, children learn at an early age not to interrupt someone who is concentrating.
What ages does Montessori serve?
There are more Montessori programs for ages 3 to 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 to 12), adolescent (ages 12 to 15), and even a few Montessori high schools. The Montessori School of Huntsville serves children ages 18 months through 11 years.
How is Montessori children's progress tested, and are they successful when they leave the Montessori environment?
There are no "grades" assigned in a Montessori classroom. Assessment is by portfolio and the teacher's observation and record keeping. Each child's academic progress, happiness, maturity, and love of learning are carefully followed by the teacher and discussed with the parents. Research studies show that Montessori children are well prepared for later life--academically, socially, and emotionally. They typically adjust well when introduced to a traditional school environment. 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.
What about gifted children?
Montessori classrooms are designed to help all children (those who are "gifted" as well as those with learning disabilities) reach their full potential at their own pace. A classroom with children who 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.
What is the best way to choose a Montessori school for my child?
Ask if the school is affiliated with any Montessori organization. Ask what kind of training the teachers have. Visit the school, observe the classroom in action, and later ask the teacher or principal to explain the learning that comes from the activities you saw. Most of all, talk to your child's prospective teacher about his or her philosophy of child development and education to see if it is compatible with your own.
Who accredits or oversees Montessori schools?
Unfortunately, there is no way to limit the use of the name "Montessori." To choose a real Montessori school for their child, parents must do some careful research. There are several Montessori organizations to which schools can belong. The two major ones operating in the United States are the American Montessori Society (AMS) and the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI, with a U.S. branch office called AMI-USA). The Montessori School of Huntsville is an affiliate of AMS.
What special training do Montessori teachers have?
In addition to a bachelor's degree, teachers who have Montessori certification have completed training ranging from 200 to 600 class hours and a yearlong internship. The training covers principles of child development and Montessori philosophy as well as specific uses of the Montessori classroom materials. There are Montessori training centers in various locations around the United States and the world. In this country, most of these centers are affiliated with either AMS or AMI-USA.