What is Montessori and hose did it begin?

Montessori is an approach to education with the fundamental belief that a child learns best within a social environment which supports and respects each individual’s unique development. Dr. Maria Montessori, the creator of the “The Montessori Method of Education”, based this approach on her scientific observations of young children’s behavior. As one of the first female physicians to graduate from the University of Rome, Montessori became involved with education as a doctor treating children labeled as mentally handicapped. Then in 1907, she was invited to open a child care center for the children of desperately poor families in the slums of Rome. She called it “Casa dei Bambine” and based the program on her observations that young children learn best in a homelike setting, filled with developmentally appropriate materials that provide experiences contributing to the growth of self-motivated, independent learners. She carried her message throughout the world, including the United States, as early as 1912.

How does Montessori work?

Each program, from our Stepping Stone to Upper Elementary operates on the principle of freedom with boundaries. Every program has its set of ground rules which differs from age to age, but is always based on core Montessori beliefs – respect for each other and for the environment. Children are free to work at their own pace with materials they have chosen, either alone or with others. The teacher relies on his or her observations of the children to determine which new activities and materials may be introduced to an individual child or to a small or large group. The aim is to encourage active, self-directed learning and to strike a balance of individual mastery within small group collaboration within the whole group community.

Are all Montessori schools alike?

No, Montessori is not a franchise. Since each school is independently owned and operated, the philosophy, method of education and staff will be unique to each school.

How can a “real” Montessori school be identified?

Since Montessori is not a franchise and is a word in the public domain, it is possible for any individual or institution to claim to be Montessori. An authentic Montessori school must have these basic characteristics at all levels:

  1. Teachers credentialed in Montessori philosophy and methodology;
  2. A partnership established with the student’s family;
  3. A multi-aged, multi-graded heterogeneous grouping of students, which includes at least a three year age range;
  4. A diverse set of Montessori materials, activities and experiences designed to foster physical, intellectual, creative and social independence;
  5. A schedule which allows large blocks of time to problem-solve, to see connections in knowledge and to create new ideas; and
  6. A classroom atmosphere which encourages social interaction for cooperative learning, peer teaching and emotional development.

How will my child transition out of Montessori into another type of school?

There is no cut and dried answer to this question. Each child is different. All children handle transition differently from another. Therefore, to some extent you are the best judge of how your child will transition into another environment. We are committed to have your child succeed in whatever environment he/she may be in. Therefore, once you have communicated to us what your child will be doing and what the expectations are of the next environment, we will be able to begin the transition prior to your child leaving. With regards to academics, your child will not suffer any setbacks simply because he/she was educated via the Montessori Method. Our curriculum was designed by incorporating the local and state core curriculums into our teaching, thereby creating grade standards which we follow as a basis for advancement. Our elementary students take standardized tests every year. On an average our children score approximately two grade levels above the national standards. We do not teach to the test, but do feel it is important to assure our parents that their children are working and learning on a par with other children their age.

What is the benefit of a multi-age classroom?

The multi-year span in each class provides a family-like grouping where learning can take place naturally. More experienced children share what they have learned while reinforcing their own learning. Because this peer group is intrinsic to Montessori, there is often more conversation – language experiences – in the Montessori classroom than in conventional early education settings. Multi-aged children enjoy many mutually beneficial relationships. Because there are varying age and ability levels in each classroom, children can be working at whatever level they are capable of without competition amongst them. They don’t tend to notice where each other is in terms of ability as so many children are working on so many levels. In addition, they tend to grasp concepts much more quickly because they are exposed to so much at a younger age than they are when we keep them grouped in age groups and only give them what we deem as age-appropriate lessons. Lastly, older children get an opportunity to reinforce many of their newly found skills by showing a younger child, experiencing leadership.

How can the teachers manage to look after so many children who are doing so many different things?

Each of our classrooms has two teachers or a teacher and an assistant. The way the Montessori Classroom successfully operates is by clearly defining the roles of each of the adults in the classroom. The Head Teacher is usually the “lesson giver”. The lesson giver’s role is to provide one-on-one or small group lessons to the children. These lessons are provided according to ability levels not according to age groupings. In order for the lesson giver to be able to give 100% of her attention to the lessons she is giving, the other adult in the room must be performing her role as the “tone keeper”. The tone keeper’s role in the classroom is to make sure that each child is actively engaged in appropriate work. If a child is not actively engaged in appropriate work, it is then the role of the tone keeper to redirect that child into work that is appropriate for their ability level and that interests the child. The lesson giver and the tone keeper are in constant communication with one another regarding lessons that are being given and ways to support each student’s individual growth and development.

Are your teachers certified?

Every classroom has at least one fully certified teacher. Many of our classes have two fully certified teachers and those that don’t may have an intern as the second teacher in the classroom. Montessori certification is not something easily attained; it is equal to about 2/3 completion of a Masters degree.

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