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Frequently Asked Questions

Table of Contents

  1. Who was Montessori?
  2. What is the Montessori Method?
  3. How did the Montessori method begin?
  4. When was Montessori education introduced in the United states?
  5. Why is the classroom called an environment?
  6. Is the Montessori method suitable only for young children and/or certain categories of children?
  7. How expensive is Montessori education?
  8. Is it oriented to a particular religion?
  9. What is the basic difference between the Montessori environment and the traditional classroom?
  10. How does it work?
  11. Does the Montessori method restrict the child's creativity?
  12. How much freedom is allowed in the Montessori classroom?
  13. What does the teacher do?
  14. What does it do for the child?
  15. Do Montessori teachers ever have discipline problems?
  16. Do children have trouble adjusting to public school after Montessori school?
  17. How can a "Real" Montessori classroom be identified?

Who was Montessori?

Dr. Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870 at Chiaravalle, a small province of Ancona. Her father's name was Alessandro and mother's name was Renilde. In 1882, her parents moved to Rome. As a child she showed great ability in mathematics and originally wanted to become an engineer. She was the first woman ever granted a medical degree by an Italian University. After her graduation from medical school she interned in the psychiatric clinic of the University of Rome, and her work here with the mentally deficient led to many of her discoveries and ideas.

The first Casa dei Bambini, or "Children's House", was established in the slums of Rome in 1907. Dr. Montessori used materials previously used to teach older, deficient children. In 1909, as a result of the great interest in the Casa dei Bambini, Montessori published her scientific pedagogy as applied to child education in 'Children's House'. Gradually, the Montessori movement sprang up in many European countries and in different parts of the world. In 1915 Maria Montessori was enthusiastically welcomed to America. During the war years she established the Montessori movement in India, where she stayed until 1946. She continued to develop her philosophy and materials gaining from such philosophers and educators as Gandhi and Piaget. In 1946, she returned to Europe and settled in Holland. She died in Holland in 1952 at the age of eighty-one. [return to table of contents]

What is the Montessori Method?

The basic principle of the Montessori philosophy of education is that all children carry within themselves the person they will become. In order to develop the physical, intellectual, and spiritual potential to the fullest, the child must have freedom - a freedom achieved through order and self-discipline. The primary goal of a Montessori program is to help each child reach the fullest potential in all areas of life and to create a secure, loving and joyful environment in which the child can learn, grow, and become independent. It strives to educate each child to acquire self-esteem and a positive attitude towards learning.

The program includes individualized teaching, self-corrective materials, as well as a stimulating and non-pressured environment. The lessons are individual and brief. Another characteristic of the lesson is its simplicity. The third quality is objectivity.

Dr. Montessori developed what she called a "prepared environment" that is controlled by the teacher, while children make decisions controlled within the Environment. The teacher is often called the directress or guide, who prepares this environment, directs the activities, functions as the authority, and offers stimulation to the child; but it is the child who learns and is motivated through the work and his desire to learn. All these activities help the child develop an "inner discipline" which is the core concept of the Montessori philosophy. [return to table of contents]

How did the Montessori method begin?

Dr. Maria Montessori was the creator of "The Montessori Method of Education", which is based on her scientific observations of young children's behavior. Dr. Maria Montessori, Italy's first woman medical doctor, became interested in the education as a doctor treating mentally challenged children. She returned to the University for further study, and in 1907, was invited to organize a school in the reconstructed slum area of San Lorenzo, Italy. She established a method of education that became universally effective. International interest in her approach led to Montessori schools in many countries. [return to table of contents]

When was Montessori education introduced in the United states?

Montessori education was formally introduced in the United States in 1919, with one of the early schools being established by Alexander Graham in his own home. After an initial enthusiastic reception, interest in the Montessori approach soon waned in the US as the dominant emphasis of education shifted from the development of intellectual skills to life adjustment, and from the need for limits in the classroom to permissiveness. This was, however, not typical of the response to Montessori education in other parts of the world where it continued to flourish. The Montessori approach was reintroduced in the US by Nancy McCromick Rambusch in 1958, and principally because of the changes in the psychological and educational climate, there has followed a tremendous resurgence of interest in this system of teaching. There are now 5,000 Montessori schools in this country and the number is growing. [return to table of contents]

Why is the classroom called an environment?

Everything in a Montessori classroom is geared to the child, creating a child-sized world. The furniture in the classroom is properly sized for the child. The materials are proportionate, fitting easily to the child's hand. They are also proportionate to his abilities, not overly simple, challenging but never presenting an impossible goal.

The teacher carefully prepares this environment to give the child a safe place in which to explore, experiment, and learn. The tailored environment allows the child to proceed at his/her own pace from simple activities to more complex ones. The child's natural curiosity is satisfied as he/she continues to experience the joy of discovering the world around him/ her. [return to table of contents]

Is the Montessori method suitable only for young children and/or certain categories of children?

No. Although Dr. Maria Montessori did much of her work with 3 to 6 year old children, the Montessori approach to education has been used successfully with children from age two-and-a-half to eighteen from all socio-economic levels. It has benefited children who are normal, gifted, learning-disabled, mentally challenged, emotionally disturbed, and physically handicapped. Addressing the education of the whole child, this approach allows children to actively participate in their own development. It is also appropriate for classes in which the student-teacher ratio is high because children learn at an early age to work independently. Today, most child psychologists agree that an holistic educational environment best serves children during their most formative years. [return to table of contents]

How expensive is Montessori education?

Costs vary widely. The cost of establishing a Montessori classroom is probably higher than a traditional one because of the precision and quality demanded in the manufacture of Montessori materials. Like everything else, these costs are affected by inflation. About a year of specialized training on both the undergraduate and graduate levels is required to teach in a Montessori school. The longer the school day and higher the grade level, the greater the cost. [return to table of contents]

Is it oriented to a particular religion?

No. A true Montessori school offers a religiously neutral environment, that is, it is not associated with any particular religious persuasion. However, it is important to stress that it does not have any conflict with any religion, either. In fact, schools have been sponsored by groups representing non-sectarian interests as well as by the Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu and other faiths. [return to table of contents]

What is the basic difference between the Montessori environment and the traditional classroom?

Traditional schools use predominately a group format: All the children are taught the same educational concept at the same time. Children of one age group spend most of their time sitting and watching an adult teach and reveal knowledge.

In a Montessori class, from toddler to high school, the children often have an age difference of three years. The class operates on the principle of freedom within limits. The children work directly with Montessori materials of their own, choosing individually or in small groups most of the time, rather than being dependent upon or demanded by a teacher's directions. [return to table of contents]

How does it work?

As stated earlier, each Montessori class operates on the principle of freedom within limits. Every program has its set of ground rules that differs from age to age, but is always based on the core Montessori beliefs, that is, respect for each other and for the environment. The Montessori material allows concrete manipulation of materials that are multi-sensory, sequential and self-correcting in nature, and hence facilitate the learning of skills as well as abstract ideas. The Montessori materials also have a built in "control of error" which provides the learner with information as to the accuracy of his response and enables him to correct himself. The teacher demonstrates the lesson initially, and is available, if needed. The child is free to work at his own pace with material that he has chosen, either alone or with others. The teacher's role is to act as a facilitator to encourage active, self-directed learning. [return to table of contents]

Does the Montessori method restrict the child's creativity?

No. In fact, the very foundation of the Montessori approach is based on the recognition of the child's creativity and his need for an environment that encourages rather than limits this creativity. Music, art, storytelling, movement and drama are part of every American Montessori program. But there are also other things specific to the Montessori environment that encourage creative development and the opportunity for both verbal and non-verbal modes of learning. [return to table of contents]

How much freedom is allowed in the Montessori classroom?

"Freedom within limits". A number of ground rules help preserve the order of the classroom as the students move about. For example, the child is free to move around the classroom at will, to talk to other children, to work with any material he understands. He is allowed to choose where he would like to work and for how long, or to ask the teacher to introduce new material to him. However, a child is not allowed to interfere with other children at work or to mistreat the material that is so important to the child's development. [return to table of contents]

What does the teacher do?

The Montessori teacher or directress as she is often called, gives individual and group lessons, providing guidance where needed. The teacher spends much of her time observing each child, preparing the environment according to their needs and protecting their self-development. The method of teaching is indirect in that it neither imposes upon the child as in direct teaching, nor abandons the child as in non-directive, permissive approaches. Rather, the teacher is constantly alert to the direction in which the child has indicated he wishes to go, and actively works to help the child achieve his goals. [return to table of contents]

What does it do for the child?

Observers of the Montessori children have described them as having developed self-discipline, self-knowledge, and independence, as well as enthusiasm for learning, an organized approach to problem-solving, and academic skills. These children tend to be well-rounded individuals who understand their importance within their community and relate in positive ways to their natural surrounding. [return to table of contents]

Do Montessori teachers ever have discipline problems?

Certainly, and these problems are handled by the teacher in a positive way. A Montessori teacher does not believe in rewards or punishments. She approaches the situation swiftly, yet calmly, addresses the child at eye level and tries to recognize his feelings, thoughts and action. She gives the child the required attention and offers him suggestions of alternative pieces of material in the classroom.

In situations of conflict between two children, the teacher tries to use the peer problem-solving method. She does not intervene or stop the argument, but she let the children work it out on their own under observation. The teacher then asks them if there is any solution, and most of the time the children come up with a solution! The children learn to solve their problems through conversation by holding each other's hands, which allows them time to express their feelings. Thus, the Montessori method takes advantage of the natural urge of children to make friends.

Children who are extremely hyperactive, insecure, or disturbed may need additional evaluation by a physician or psychologist. This is initiated by parent-teacher conferences. [return to table of contents]

Do children have trouble adjusting to public school after Montessori school?

The Montessori children are able to cope with conditions they encounter when transferring to the public-school classroom. Most likely this is because they have developed a high degree of self-motivation and independence in the Montessori environment along with their innate ability to adapt to new situations. The strong foundation created by parental role-modeling helps reinforce an early transition into another learning environment. In general, they adjust to the new classroom well but do best in those classes which encourage discovery and individual rates of learning. [return to table of contents]

How can a "Real" Montessori classroom be identified?

Since the term "Montessori" is in the public domain, many non-Montessori schools use it to capitalize on public interest in Montessori. But an authentic Montessori classroom must have the following basic characteristics at all levels: (a) A classroom atmosphere which encourages social interaction for cooperative learning, peer teaching and emotional development. (b) Teachers educated in the Montessori philosophy and methodology for the age level they are teaching. (c) Multi-aged students, and a diverse set of Montessori materials, activities and experiences which are designed to foster physical, intellectual, creative and social independence.

It is very important to check the credentials of the teachers and the school before enrolling your child. You can write to: The American Montessori Society, 281 Park Avenue South, 6th floor, New York, NY 10010-6102 [return to table of contents]