Understanding the Montessori Method

Imagine a beautiful classroom filled with children who are fully absorbed in the activities that interest them most. The setting is inviting, independent and promotes a strong sense of community. Children of different ages help each other throughout the day with various pursuits. You’ve just described a typical Montessori day.

Who was Maria Montessori?

Italian-born Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was a woman who wore many hats: educator, physician and innovator, she is acclaimed for the educational method she developed that focuses on encouraging the way a child naturally learns.

Montessori opened her first school in Rome in 1907. She then traveled the world and extensively wrote and shared her message about her philosophy of education. Today there are over 22,000 Montessori schools in at least 110 countries, all concentrating on a child-centered approach to learning.

Hallmarks of the Montessori method

According to the American Montessori Society, there are several components that must be in place for a program to be considered a true Montessori setting:

  • Multiage groupings that foster peer learning
  • Uninterrupted blocks of work time
  • Guided choice of work activity
  • Specially designed learning materials
  • An aesthetically pleasing environment

The classroom is prepared in such a way that the child makes use of what the environment offers to develop himself, interacting with the teacher when he needs support or guidance. (Source: www.amshq.org)

What should I consider when looking at Montessori schools?

“It’s important that teachers be certified Montessori teachers, this goes a very long way,” says Karen Graham of the Alexandria Montessori School in Centerville. “Classrooms should have Montessori materials, curriculum and well-trained teachers dedicated to the Montessori philosophy. Parents need to be aware that a Montessori education emphasizes following the child, they are individuals. Teachers have the time to get to know your child and work with them to help them learn, grow and succeed.”

Gina Taliaferro Lofquist, Assistant Dean at Xavier University’s Montessori Institute and Lab School, describes the Montessori approach in this way: “Montessori allows children to explore their natural tendencies while guiding them in a variety of areas of study. Teachers spend a great deal of time studying child development, assessment and the materials in order to meet each child where they are in their development. It is a respectful way of teaching. Montessori fits a broad range of children, from the typically developing child to children with learning differences. Our goal as teachers is to teach to the whole child. “

What should I ask when interviewing Montessori programs?
Taliaferro Lofquist advises parents ask these questions when researching a Montessori school:

  • Are the teachers Montessori credentialed?
  • Does the classroom have a full three year age span, as well as all of the Montessori materials?
  • Is there a mission statement for the school?
  • How do teachers build community?
  • How do teachers track a child’s progress?
  • Will the parent have the ability to observe when they choose to?
  • How do teachers handle discipline?
  • How does the school educate parents to support Montessori in the home and to understand the classroom?

Finding the right educational setting for your child can mean the difference between tolerating school or truly thriving in it. If a Montessori school is something you’re interested in exploring for your son or daughter, research the philosophy behind the approach, talk with friends or neighbors who may have their children enrolled and visit various schools to ask your questions in person.

“Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world.” – Maria Montessori

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