Frequently Asked Questions

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From birth until the age of six, Montessori emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just through listening, watching or reading. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own, individual pace and according to their own choice of activities from hundreds of possibilities. They are not required to sit and listen to a teacher talk to them as a group, but are engaged in individual or group activities of their own, with materials that have been introduced to them one on one by the teacher, who knows what each child is ready to do. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading concentration, motivation, self-discipline and a love of learning. Above age six, children learn to do independent research, arrange field trips to gather information, interview specialists, create group presentations, dramas, art exhibits, musical productions, science projects and so forth. There is no limit to what they create in this kind of intelligently guided freedom. There is great respect for the children’s choices, but they easily keep up with or surpass what they would be doing in a more traditional setting. There is no wasted time, and children enjoy their work and study. The children ask each other for lessons, and much of the learning comes from sharing and inspiring each other instead of competing with each other.
Dr. Maria Montessori was the first woman physician to graduate from the University of Rome. She first became involved with education when she treated children who had been labeled as slow and on whom society had given up. Then, in 1907, she was invited to open a child care center for the children of desperately poor families in the San Lorenzo slums of Rome. She called it a casa dei bambini , or “children’s house,” and based the program on her observations that young children learn best in a homelike setting, filled with developmentally appropriate materials that provide experiences that contribute to the growth of self-motivated, independent learners.

Montessori’s dynamic theories included such revolutionary premises as:

  • Children are to be respected as different from adults and as individuals who are different from one another.
  • Children create themselves through purposeful activity.
  • The most important years for learning are from birth to age six.
  • Children possess unusual sensitivity and mental powers for absorbing and learning from their environment, which includes people as well as materials.

Montessori began carrying her message throughout the world, including in the United States, as early as 1912, and now, more than a century after her first casa dei bambini in Rome, Montessori education is found all over the globe, spanning ages from birth to adolescence.

Dr. Maria Montessori, the creator of “The Montessori Method of Education,” based her system of education on her scientific observations of young children’s behavior. Her methods of teaching evolved from her observations of the children in her care. She observed that the child absorbs from the environment she is in, and, using specially designed materials, she was able to call on the child’s inner desire to learn. She designed a “prepared environment” in which children could freely choose from a number of developmentally appropriate activities. These materials are presented in small groups, frequently on the floor, encouraging individual hands-on participation and peer problem-solving dialogue. The child is allowed certain freedoms to be independent within the highly sequenced structure of the Montessori Method. Control of error is built into manipulative materials and charts, encouraging self-confidence and independence.

Primarily, the purpose of the Montessori Method is to provide an environment where the innate abilities of the child can unfold spontaneously, encouraging the development of the person within, allowing the child to achieve his greatest potential. Maria Montessori stated, “The child is the father of the man.” As the child develops his inner self, a love of life and learning follows naturally.

Montessori children are unusually adaptable. They have learned to work independently and in groups. Since they’ve been encouraged to make decisions from an early age, these children are problem-solvers who can make choices and manage their time well. They have also been encouraged to exchange ideas and to discuss their work freely with others, and good communication skills ease the way in new settings. Research has shown that the best predictor of future success is a sense of self-esteem. Montessori programs, based on self-directed, non-competitive activities, help children develop good self-images and the confidence to face challenges and change with optimism. The child begins the transition with the implementation of traditional tasks such as homework, textbooks and standardized testing in early elementary school. If the child is transitioning from preschool to a traditional elementary school, the child will be equipped with a sense of schedule and the ability to complete tasks in an orderly fashion. The practical life skills taught also help to assure the child has the confidence to accept and conquer challenges, both socially and academically. The individualized learning helps with targeting the specific needs of the child and provides the opportunity for the teacher and child to address any “problem” areas, thus easing the transition into traditional school, as well.
Montessori was herself amazed at the abilities of young children aged two and three years old. In her environments, she discovered that they were able to absorb concrete materials using all their senses simultaneously, a unique ability soon lost. She called these times of special absorption “Sensitive Periods” and developed specific materials for that time. As the child grows, these periods change, yet the continuum is set in motion for the rest of the child’s life. Therefore, the early years are the most important yet most neglected in many societies. Starting a child at two and a half or three in a good Montessori environment with well-trained teachers can have results that will remain with the child all her life. The toddler program (beginning at 18 months) is a one-year head start to help the child grasp the concepts of the Montessori classroom so the child will enter into the preschool understanding the ground rules and the work cycle. The Montessori program that starts in preschool is a three-year program. The child will receive the greatest benefit if all three years are completed beginning at the age of three and finishing with Kindergarten or age six. The elementary (both lower and upper) are also three-year programs, and, once again, the maximum benefit is achieved by completing the three-year cycle.
Each child is observed by the teacher, who creates a plan for the child, giving specific consideration to the child’s strengths and weaknesses, both academically and socially. For example, if the child is gifted in math but struggles in reading, the child’s educational plan would reflect more challenging work in math, while encouraging continued development in reading. This allows the child  the time necessary to master the more challenging topic. This approach helps to keep the child excited about learning and moving forward at all times to the best of her abilities. It also helps to keep the child focused on her work, rather than being bored and distracted by tasks that are mundane and already mastered. Social considerations are made are possible because of the more intimate setting, with lower student-to-teacher ratios, and the personal knowledge the teacher has about each of the students as they progress. An example of social consideration might be on the placement of the child in one classroom over another, giving consideration to how the child’s personality and style of learning mesh with the flow of the room and the teacher’s personality and teaching style.

Montessori classes place children in three-year-or-more age groups (3–6, 2.5–6, 6–12 and so on), forming communities in which the older children spontaneously share their knowledge with the younger ones. Montessori represents an entirely different approach to education. When a child enters the program in the three-year cycle, he will assume a role based on his age and social readiness. The first year, he is the youngest child, and then he proceeds through the cycle, eventually becoming a leader and demonstrating to the younger children how to conduct themselves and also engaging in some peer-to-peer teaching academically. Children naturally look to their peers for guidance, and when the interactions happen naturally by having multi-age children together in one environment, the benefit is realized by all involved.
Basic subjects such as language, math, history, geography, biology, chemistry, geometry, music, physical education and art are introduced in Montessori classes first in the 3–6 programs. Elementary students, by nature, want more answers to life’s questions. The “how, where, what, when” questions are expanded in the context of their environment and beyond. They want to classify, group and get control of their world. So the elementary curriculum developed by Maria Montessori, and, later, by her son and grandson, incorporate that explosion into knowledge from questions with materials that name, classify and redefine the child’s natural world. Montessori thought less of her method of teaching as having a curriculum as following the questions of the child to create individual and group lessons based on where the child is and where the group of children might go. That is not to say that her method is without curriculum, nor that the child does what she wants. Montessori teachers are arduously trained in methodically sequenced lessons, frequently broken into many passages for children who need that degree of gradual movement from concrete to abstract presentation. These sequences in each subject matter make up, but do not necessarily define, the curriculum. Each new group of students dictates which lessons will be given based on the needs of those individual and collective children.

Research studies show that Montessori children are well prepared for later life academically, socially and emotionally. In addition to scoring well on standardized tests, Montessori children are ranked above average on such criteria as following directions, turning in work on time, listening attentively, using basic skills, showing responsibility, asking provocative questions, showing enthusiasm for learning and adapting to new situations.
Montessori is designed to help all children reach their fullest potential at their own unique pace. A classroom whose children have varying abilities is a community in which everyone learns from one another and everyone contributes. Moreover, multi-age grouping allows each child to find his or her own pace without feeling “ahead” or “behind” in relation to peers.
There are many ways you can use Montessori principles of child development at home. Look at your home through your child’s eyes. Children need a sense of belonging, and they get it by participating fully in the routines of everyday life. “Help me do it by myself” is the life theme of the preschooler, school age child, teenager and young adult. Can you find ways for your child to participate in meal preparation, cleaning, gardening and caring for clothes, shoes and toys? Providing opportunities for independence is the surest way to build your child’s self-esteem and to build the skills needed for life-long learning. 
Positive discipline is implemented from the beginning in all the classrooms. Recent research tells us that children are “hardwired” from birth to connect with others, and that children who feel a sense of connection to their community, family and school are less likely to misbehave. To be successful, contributing members of their community, children must learn necessary social and life skills. Positive discipline is based on the understanding that discipline must be taught and that discipline teaches. The ground rules for each classroom are taught to each child in the toddler and preschool environments. In the elementary environments, the students actually take part in the process of developing the rules for their classroom. This sense of ownership and responsibility help encourage cooperation among the children.
The “whole child” approach: The primary goal of a Montessori program is to help each child reach full potential in all areas of life. Activities promote the development of social skills, emotional growth and physical coordination, as well as cognitive preparation. The holistic curriculum, under the direction of a specially prepared teacher, allows the child to experience the joy of learning and time to enjoy the process, ensures the development of self-esteem and provides the experiences from which children create their knowledge.

The “prepared environment”: For self-directed learning to take place, the whole learning environment – room, materials and social climate – must be supportive of the learner. The teacher provides the necessary resources, including opportunities for children to function in a safe and positive climate. The teacher thus gains the children’s trust, which enables them to try new things and build self-confidence.

The teacher: Originally called a “directress,” the Montessori teacher functions as designer of the environment, resource person, role model, demonstrator, record-keeper and meticulous observer of each child’s behavior and growth.

The Montessori materials: Maria Montessori’s observations of the kinds of things children enjoy and go back to repeatedly led her to design a number of multi-sensory, sequential and self-correcting materials that facilitate the learning of skills and lead to learning of abstract ideas.

The most important discovery that Maria Montessori contributed to the field of child development and education is the fostering of the best in each child. She discovered that, in an environment where children are allowed to choose their work and to concentrate for as long as needed on that task, they come out of this period of concentration (or meditation or contemplation) refreshed and full of good will toward others. The teacher must know how to offer work, to link the child to the environment, which is the real teacher, and to protect this process. We know now that this natural goodness and compassion are inborn and do not need to be taught, but to be protected. This happens beginning in the toddler environment by providing the child with all things at his level and within the child’s scope of vision. The steps involved in completing the work cycle become more complex as the child advances through the program. With more ownership of completing the task, there also comes a greater sense of achievement.
Yes. We begin standardized testing in second grade with the SAT 10. In fourth grade, we begin with the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT), as well. Standardized test taking is a very important practical life skill.
Montessori is based on the principle of free choice of purposeful activity. If a child is being destructive or is using materials in an aimless way, the teacher will intervene and gently redirect the child either to more appropriate materials or to a more appropriate use of the material. In the elementary classroom, teachers keep a weekly log of each student’s progress and are able to redirect activities very easily in order to meet curriculum requirements.
Hilltop Montessori School does not have any religious affiliations. While some Montessori schools may associate themselves with a religion, the Montessori program itself does not. 
Maria Montessori said that the child learns by unconsciously taking in everything around him and actually constructs himself. Using his senses, he incarnates, or creates, himself by absorbing his environment through his very act of living. He does this easily and naturally, without thought or choice. Maria Montessori saw the absorbent mind in two phases. During the first phase, from birth to three years old, the young child unknowingly or unconsciously acquires his basic abilities. She called it the period of unconscious creation or the unconscious absorbent mind. The child’s work during this period is to become independent from the adult for his basic human functions. He learns to speak, to walk, to gain control of his hands and to master his bodily functions. Once these basic skills are incorporated into his toolbox, by about three years old, he moves into the next phase of the absorbent mind, which Montessori called the period of conscious work or the conscious absorbent mind. During this period, the child’s mathematical mind compels him to perfect in himself that which is now there. His fundamental task during this phase is freedom: freedom to move purposefully, freedom to choose and freedom to concentrate. His mantra is “Let Me Do It Myself!” 
In the Preschool (3–6) classroom, the child needs to be able to go to the bathroom independently. For the toddler classroom (18 months), diapering is part of the classroom, and the teacher works at preparing the child by potty training for the preschool classroom.
The Montessori teacher acts as a facilitator of learning. Extensive training – a minimum of a full year following the bachelor’s degree is required for a full AMS credential, including a year’s student teaching under supervision – is specialized for the age group with which a teacher will work, i.e., infant and toddler, three to six year olds, elementary or secondary level. The two major organizations offering Montessori training in the United States are the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI, with a U.S. branch office called AMI-USA) and the American Montessori Society (AMS). Look for a school that requires all lead teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and certification by one of these training organizations to be in the classroom.