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 “text”site, which is actually an E-book of Montessori philosophy and practice: www.michaelolaf.net
Q. Is character education an important part of a day in the life of a Montessori child?
A. The education of character is considered equally with academic education, children learning to take care of themselves, their environment, each other – cooking, cleaning, building, gardening, moving gracefully, speaking politely, being considerate and helpful, doing social work in the community, etc.
Q. How is Montessori different from traditional schools?
A. Initial differences to the observer are probably physical. There are no desks in rows facing the teacher standing at the blackboard. Indeed, there may not be a blackboard. Groups of children ranging in ages are working on joint projects. Some are more engrossed in their work than others. Some are sitting at tables or desks grouped together, while others work on the floor with multi-colored materials that draw their attention like a game. The teacher’s voice is rarely heard above that of the children talking quietly to each other as they work. There is a steady hum of activity throughout the classroom.
Q. What is the purpose of the Montessori method?
A. Primarily, the purpose of the Montessori method is to provide an environment where the innate abilities of the child can unfold spontaneously, encouraging the development of the person within, allowing the child to achieve his greatest potential. Maria Montessori stated, “the child is the father of the man.” As the child develops his inner self, a love of life and learning follows naturally.
Q. Why should I send my child to a Montessori school?
A. Confidence and the love of learning are the two most important goals for the elementary child. Montessori developed a three-period lesson which fosters confidence. The first lesson is a gift, rather than a rhetorical guess. The second lesson is a choice, i.e. “which of the following is correct”, often using self-correcting materials. The third lesson is the direct question, “what is it?” With confidence and a sense of acquiring knowledge as an adventure in lifelong learning, children can reach a greater potential personally and as citizens of the world.
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. Training ranges from 200 to 600 pre-service contact hours and covers principles of child development and Montessori philosophy as well as specific uses of the Montessori classroom materials. Montessori training centers can be found across North America and around the world.
There are other courses which can help one better understand Montessori theory or which can train adults to work in certain schools. It is important to balance the amount of time and money one can spend with the teaching opportunities desired.
Q. What is the best way to choose a Montessori school for my child?
A. 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 theory behind 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.
Q. How many Montessori schools are there?
A. We estimate that 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 essential element of any Montessori school is the fully-trained Montessori teacher. 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 materials are used?
A. It is the philosophy and the knowledge of the teacher that is essential in the success of a Montessori class.
One must be wary of the use of the words “Montessori materials” as many people today use the words as a selling point for materials that have no use in the Montessori classroom and can be distracting and impede a child’s progress.
The “sensorial,” math, and some of the language and cultural materials (metal insets, sandpaper letters, puzzle maps, bells, for example) are professionally manufactured according to traditional standards that have been tested over many years. However even some of these are made by newer companies that do not fully understand the reason for certain details and so produce materials that are not as successful. There is a “materials committee” in Holland that oversees the quality of materials use in AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) school, for example.
Montessori, for very good reasons, make many of their own practical life and language material instead of buying them—as they learn to do in their training, depending on where in the world they live. They gather practical life materials piece by piece. This is an important process that gives a unique quality to each classroom that expresses the culture, and ideas of beauty in each community—instead of all classrooms looking alike with no personal touches.
Materials in the classroom, without being used correctly by a trained teacher, are usually worthless in creating a real Montessori class, but they can help in some ways in non-Montessori situations. For example the math materials have been used to teach a concept sensorially thus helping a child to make the abstraction. Educational materials in the Montessori method serve a very different purpose than in traditional education where the text books are ordered and the teacher learns how to use them. This difference is because in Montessori the child learns from the environment, and it is the teacher’s job to put the child in touch with the environment, not to “teach” the child. Thus the creation of the environment, and selection of materials is done mostly by the teacher and is very important.
In Montessori education having too many materials is often worse than not having enough. In this country (USA) there are many materials suppliers, unfortunately, who are not Montessori trained and do not understand the purpose of materials, and who sell items that scatter the child’s energy, or waste time, clutter the environment, etc. It is very important to choose carefully when selecting materials for using the Montessori method of education in school or in the home.