How a Montessori Education Will Shape Your Child

Montessori classroom
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What do Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Julia Child, Thomas Edison, Princes William and Harry, and Anne Frank have in common? They were all educated in a Montessori-based school.

When deciding what type of program to send your child to, there are many factors to consider. There are daycare programs, home-based schools, and preschools. The educational approach and philosophy used by the school should be part of your decision.

There are many different styles of teaching: Montessori schools are known for fostering independence, Waldorf schools for their creativity, the High/Scope method sets personal goals for kids, Bank Street focuses on child-centered education, and the Reggio Emilia approach follows a child's natural development. As the parent of a child who has received a Montessori education, I'm amazed by his growth and the way he has been shaped by his experiences.

How Did Montessori Education Develop?

Montessori education was developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori. Montessori developed many of her ideas while working with mentally challenged children. Her first school, Casa dei Bambini, was opened to working class children in a poor neighborhood in Rome. The Montessori approach is characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child's natural psychological, social development.

What Is the Montessori Approach?

Montessori is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning, and collaborative play. In Montessori classrooms, children make creative choices in their learning, while the classroom and the teacher offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process.

Children work in groups as well as individually to discover and explore knowledge of the world and to develop their maximum potential.

The model is based on two basic principles. First, children and developing adults engage in psychological self-construction by means of interaction with their environments. Second, children, especially under the age of six, have an innate path of psychological development. Maria Montessori believed that children best develop when they are allowed to make decisions and act freely within an environment that emphasizes the following qualities:

  • An arrangement that facilitates movement and activity
  • Beauty and harmony, cleanliness of environment
  • Construction in proportion to the child and her/his needs
  • Limitation of materials, so that only material that supports the child's development is included
  • Order
  • Nature in the classroom and outside of the classroom

What Is the Differences in a Montessori School?

Some schools follow strict Montessori rules while others simply follow Montessori guidelines. The main difference in a Montessori classroom is that your child is part of a group of 3-to-5 or 6-year-olds, and stays with the same teachers for more than one year. The aim is to form family-like community in which children choose activities at their own pace, and older kids gain confidence by helping teach younger kids.

 Montessori learning is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning, and collaborative play. In Montessori classrooms, children choose what materials they want to work with, and the teacher guides the process by offering age-appropriate activities. Children may work in groups or individually while they discover and explore.

What Does a Montessori Classroom Look Like?

Although schools differ on how strict they follow the methods, most Montessori preschool classrooms are clean, well-organized, and uncluttered spaces. This inviting space helps children feel focused and calm. There are spaces for group activities as well as rugs and couches where a child can sit and relax.

Every item in the classroom is easily accessible to the children so as to promote independence.

The room has well-defined areas for different parts of the curriculum, including:

  • Practical Life, which helps build everyday living skills
  • Sensorial, which helps develop sensory skills
  • Math
  • Language
  • Culture, which includes music, art, geography, and science.

Our place within the natural world is also a central theme in Montessori education, with many Montessori classrooms maintaining some kind of nature aspect such as flowers or other live plants, a rock garden, or seashells.

Is Montessori a Good Fit for Your Child?

Deciding what educational approach fits best with your child's personality and needs is a personal decision. Knowing your child is the first and most important step to figuring out if a Montessori school will be your best match. Because there is self-directed learning, some may think Montessori won't work well for a more rambunctious child, but the order and calmness may actually impose some stability for a kid who otherwise has trouble slowing down.

Special Needs

Kids with special needs, such as learning or physical disabilities, often thrive in a Montessori setting. Materials used in Montessori settings engage all the senses. Students are free to move about the classroom, which is an advantage for those children who require a a lot of physical activity. Each child learns at their own pace and there is no pressure to meet formal standards by a predetermined time.

What to Look for on a Tour?

On any school tour, it is important to notice the atmosphere of the classroom and how the teachers and students are behaving toward each other. Do the students seem engaged? Do the teachers look bored? Ask if there is an outdoor area and take a look at it. Montessori play areas should allow for large motor movements such as running, throwing, climbing, and balancing.

Transitioning to a Traditional School

Many children spend only their preschool years in a Montessori classroom, while others continue on for elementary school and/or middle school. There will be some differences between your child's Montessori education and their traditional education. These differences may include: choosing his own work versus learning what is on the teacher’s lesson plan; moving freely around the classroom versus sitting in an assigned seat; and learning in a mixed-aged classroom versus learning with students his own age. But don't worry, kids are adaptable. Kids with a Montessori education often learn to be self-reliant and calm, with the knowledge of how to work as part of a classroom community. Because of this, students who transition from Montessori typically adjust quite easily and quickly to a more traditional approach.

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