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Frequently Asked Questions
The Montessori system has been used successfully with children from all socio-economic levels, representing those in regular classes as well as the gifted, children with developmental delays, and children with emotional and physical disabilities.
There is no one school that is right for all children, and certainly there are children who may do better in a smaller classroom setting with a more teacher directed programme that offers fewer choices and more consistent external structure.
Children who are easily over stimulated, or those who tend to be overly aggressive, may be examples of children who might not adapt as easily to a Montessori programme. Each situation is different, and it is best to work with the schools in your area to see if it appears that a particular child and school would be a good match.
At first, Montessori may look unstructured to some people, but it is actually quite structured at every level. Just because the Montessori programme is highly individualised does not mean that students can do whatever they want. Like all children, Montessori students live within a cultural context that involves the mastery of skills and knowledge that are considered essential.
Montessori teaches all of the 'basics,' and gives students the opportunity to investigate and learn subjects that are of particular interest. It also allows them the ability to set their own schedule to a large degree, during class time.
At the early childhood level, external structure is limited to clear cut ground rules and correct procedures that provide guidelines and structure for 3-and-4 year olds. By age 5, most schools introduce some sort of formal system to help students keep track of what they have accomplished and what they still need to complete.
All children play! That is how they learn! They explore new things playfully. They watch something of interest with a fresh open mind. They enjoy the company of treasured adults and other children. They make up stories.
They dream. They imagine. This impression stems from adults who don't know what to make of the incredible concentration, order, and self-discipline that we commonly see among Montessori children.
Montessori students also tend to take the things they do in school quite seriously. It is common for them to respond, 'This is my work,' when adults ask what they are doing. They work hard and expect their adults to treat them and their work with respect. But it is joyful, playful, and anything but drudgery.
Children touch and manipulate everything in their environment. In a sense, the human mind is handmade, because through movement and touch, children explore, manipulate, and build a storehouse of impressions about the physical world around them. Children learn best by doing, and this requires movement and spontaneous investigation.
Montessori children are free to move about, working alone or with others at will. They may select any appropriate activity and work with it as long as they wish, so long as they do not disturb anyone or damage anything, and as long as they put it back where it belongs when they are finished.
Many exercises, especially at the early childhood level, are designed to draw children's attention to the sensory properties of objects within their environment: size, shape, colour, texture, weight, smell, sound, etc. Gradually, they learn to pay attention, seeing more clearly small details in the things around them. They have begun to observe and appreciate their environment. This is a key in helping children discover how to learn.
Freedom is a second critical issue as children begin to explore. Our goal is less to teach them facts and concepts, but rather to help them to fall in love with the process of focusing their complete attention on something and mastering its challenge with enthusiasm. Work assigned by adults rarely results in such enthusiasm and interest as does work that children freely choose for themselves.
The prepared environment of the Montessori class is a learning laboratory in which children explore, discover, and select their own work. The independence that the children gain is not only empowering on a social and emotional level, but it is also intrinsically involved with helping them become comfortable and confident in their ability to master the environment, ask questions, puzzle out the answer, and learn without needing to be 'spoon fed' by an adult.
By grouping the children in a three year bracket (2½ to 6 years), all sense of competition amongst the children is removed as each child works at his or her own pace. Slow learners are never left behind and so are not left feeling isolated from the rest of the class.
The children learn to communicate and socialise with other children of all ages at all levels. The younger child easily learns from the older more capable child in the environment, whilst the older child in so doing becomes more responsible and develops tolerance and nurturing for the younger child. There are many things, which no teacher can convey to a child of 3, but a child of 5 can do so with ease!
While Montessori students are allowed considerable latitude to pursue topics that interest them, this freedom is not absolute. Within every society there are cultural norms; expectations for what a student should know and be able to do by a certain age.
Experienced Montessori teachers are conscious of these standards and provide as much structure and support as is necessary to ensure that students live up to them. If for some reason it appears that a child needs time and support until he or she is developmentally ready, Montessori teachers provide it without judgement.
By the end of age 5, Montessori children are normally curious, self-confident learners who look forward to going to school. They are normally engaged, enthusiastic learners who honestly want to learn and who ask excellent questions.
Montessori children by age 6 have spent three or four years in a school where they were treated with honesty and respect. While there were clear expectations and ground rules, within that framework, their opinions and questions were taken quite seriously. Unfortunately, there are still some teachers and schools where children who ask questions are seen as challenging authority.
It is not hard to imagine an independent Montessori child asking his or her new teacher, "But why do I have to ask each time I need to use the bathroom?" or, "Why do I have to stop my work right now?" We also have to remember that children are different. One child may be very sensitive or have special needs that might not be met well in a teacher-centred, traditional classroom – other children can succeed in any type of school.
There is nothing inherent in Montessori that causes children to have a hard time if they are transferred to traditional schools. Some will be bored. Others may not understand why everyone in the class has to do the same thing at the same time. But most adapt to their new setting fairly quickly, making new friends, and succeeding within the definition of success understood in their new school.
There will naturally be trade-offs if a Montessori child transfers to a traditional school. The curriculum in Montessori schools is often more enriched than that taught in traditional schools. The values and attitudes of the children and teachers may also be quite different. Learning will often be focused more on adult assigned tasks done more by rote than with enthusiasm and understanding. There is an old saying that if something is working, don't try to fix it. This leads many families to continue their children in Montessori. As more Montessori High Schools are opened it is likely that this trend will continue.
*Source: The Montessori Foundation, Copyright 1999