Montessori schools strive to develop individual thinkers interested in the practical work involved in their worlds. With multi-age classrooms and an emphasis on tactile Montessori materials to learn through hands-on methods, students direct their own learning through their interests and explorations.

What is Montessori?

The Montessori philosophy centers on the belief that children are absorbent and learn through their own curiosity about their world.

Maria Montessori was a physician who became interested in early childhood education through her observation of children. The Montessori philosophy centers on the belief that children are absorbent and learn through their own curiosity about their world. Students have access to a range of Montessori materials that foster learning through questioning and practical application, such as working with three-dimensional math materials.

The Montessori teacher

In a Montessori classroom, the teacher plays the role of guide and facilitator. Teachers will present short lessons or demonstrations to small groups of children, but their main role in the classroom is to maintain an environment of curiosity, calmness and the appropriate resources for students to explore and learn on their own.

A Montessori classroom

Montessori classrooms are multi-aged, with children in a 2- to 3-year age span. A student will be in the same classroom for 3 years. With only a third of the class changing each year, students and the teacher enjoy stability and familiarity — maximizing the opportunity for teachers to work individually with each child and for children to play different roles in the classroom as their learning advances.

Accountability and testing

The Montessori program itself does not assign grades or percentage scores.

Progress in Montessori schools is based on observation, self-evaluation and teacher evaluations. Students self-evaluate, explain what they've learned and what they've found stimulating and challenging, and they work with their teachers to choose work for their student portfolios. Twice a year teachers provide narrative reports for the students and parents that discuss growth and progress in fundamental skills. Older students may take state standardized tests, but the Montessori program itself does not assign grades or percentage scores.

After Montessori

Montessori schools begin instruction at 3 years of age, and many parents keep their children in the Montessori system until sixth grade. When transitioning to a traditional classroom, students may initially find the teacher-directed style slightly restrictive, especially in terms of the rigidity of the day's schedule and small things like asking for bathroom passes. Parents can help with this transition by preparing them for the differences in the classroom set-up.

Choosing Montessori

Parents considering a Montessori education should visit the school, observe the classroom and speak with the program director about the philosophy and the procedures. What may seem unstructured to unfamiliar eyes is actually a very structured, child-centered approach to education designed to help children learn skills while retaining their innate joy in learning itself.

For more information about Montessori learning, please explore The Montessori Foundation.

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