Montessori FAQ

What is Montessori?

Montessori is a proven educational method based on scientific observation of the development of children pioneered by Dr. Maria Montessori over 100 years ago in Italy. Education within the Montessori environment provides children the opportunity to express themselves as individuals. The children explore and learn through discovery at their own pace under the guidance of specially trained teachers.

It is an individualized approach to education for children from Infancy/Toddlerhood through Elementary school that assists each child in reaching their full potential. It is a student-centered approach that fosters creativity, curiosity and encourages children to ask questions, explore and think critically as they acquire both academic and life skills.

The children work independently and in groups, exploring the materials with facilitation and guidance from the teachers. The Montessori environment nurtures independence and fosters the skills and confidence that children need to succeed in all aspects of their lives.

  • How does Montessori compare to traditional types of education?

    Montessori education emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just through listening, watching and reading. While traditional education is based on the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student and follows a set curriculum according to a timeframe that is the same for everyone, Montessori education is based on helping the natural development of the human being. Students learn at their own pace, following their own individual interests. Rather than being teacher directed, the Montessori teacher works in collaboration with the students and this working and learning is matched to the social development of the students. Montessori education emphasizes intrinsic motivation through physical exploration, self-direction and a process of discovery rather than motivation by a system of rewards and punishments.

  • What is the transition like when students go from a Montessori School to traditional, private or public school?

    As a parent, you may wonder what life after Montessori will be like for your child. The transition from Montessori schooling to traditional or public schools will indeed be a life change since Montessori has such a distinct approach to teaching and learning compared to other kinds of schooling environments. For instance, Montessori places a specific emphasis on children directing their own learning journey, whereas public schools require that they follow particular lesson plans. Parents often worry that children may struggle with such a substantial change. But in addition to capacity for self-directed, deeply focused work, the Montessori method also equips children with the resilience, grit, confidence, and clever problem solving skills they need to handle substantial life changes with grace.

    Academically, parents can rest assured that children who have attended Montessori programs tend to outperform those that have not when they enter secondary and postsecondary educational settings. Montessori alumni also demonstrate excellent soft skills and social aptitude thanks to the incredible benefits of mixed aged group classroom communities that cultivate practical life skills, mutual respect for others, diplomacy and conflict resolution.

  • Who makes a good Montessori student?

    With a core philosophy of following the child, all children can thrive within the Montessori environment. The easiest progression is through the introduction of the Montessori approach in the Infant/Toddler and Casa (preschool) programs.

  • What is an “integrated curriculum” and how does that work in a Montessori classroom?

    The integrated curriculum is one of the Montessori Method’s great strengths. The curriculum ties together studies of the physical universe, the natural world and human experience. Each lesson builds on the previous one in a spiral of learning, with the curriculum building carefully over time. This method differs from the traditional model of education which often has compartmentalized subject areas where topics are sometimes covered only once at specific grade levels.

    The Montessori Method allows for each subject area to complement one another and shows the child the interconnectedness of all things. For example, the children may have a lesson on the Ancient Civilization of Greece. From that lesson they may decide to research Greek Mythology and proceed to write their own Greek Myth in dramatic form, designing and preparing their own costumes and stage sets, composing musical accompaniment and sound effects, creating a program, selling tickets and finally presenting their play to an audience of peers, younger students and parents. This example illustrates how history, language, technology, math, commerce, art, music and drama integrate in one self-directed project.

    Montessori schools teach the same basic foundational academic skills as traditional schools and all of the components of a rigorous and stimulating academic program are covered. Most of the subject areas are familiar – such as math, science, history, geography, and language – but they are presented through an integrated approach that brings separate strands of the curriculum together, making learning far more relevant, meaningful and interesting.

    While studying a map of Africa, for example, students may explore the art, history, and inventions of several African nations. This may lead them to examine ancient Egypt, including hieroglyphs and their place in the history of writing. The study of the pyramids, of course, is a natural bridge to geometry.

    This approach to curriculum shows the interrelatedness of all things. It also allows students to become thoroughly immersed in a topic – and to give their curiosity full rein.

  • Why are the children’s activities in the Montessori classroom so often referred to as "work"?

    Dr. Montessori realized that children’s play is their work – their effort to master their own bodies and environment – and out of respect she used the term “work” to describe all their classroom activities. Montessori students work hard, but they don’t experience it as drudgery; rather, it’s an expression of their natural curiosity and desire to learn.

  • How do Montessori classrooms create such a perfect a balance between freedom and structure?

    Choice Theory is an internal psychology that assumes that all behaviour is purposeful, coercion leads to resistance and that connectedness leads to cooperation. Montessori teachers put this theory into practice to model and encourage effective communication and behaviour, to help students recognize and acknowledge their own needs and effectively meet them, to help students self-evaluate their behaviour and identify more effective choices for the future and to help students accept responsibility for their actions. Through the use of non-coercive means, the teacher strives to reach the goals of fostering a love of learning, independence, respect and providing children with the tools to become positive contributors to society.

    Children are always more motivated to learn when working on something of their own choosing. A Montessori student may choose their focus of learning on any given day, but his or her decision is limited by the materials and activities in each area of the curriculum that his teacher has prepared and presented to him.

    By the time they reach the Elementary level, students typically set learning goals and create personal work plans under their teacher’s guidance.

    The Montessori environment provides freedom in a structured environment. The children must follow certain guidelines and complete certain activities, although they may do so at their own pace. The children are also able to choose other activities to study outside the norm. Work is completed individually and in groups under the guidance of one or more teachers.

  • What is the purpose of the multi-age classrooms?

    The multi-age classrooms create an environment that allows learning to take place naturally. Children often learn and take criticism better from other children and learning is recognized as a social process. Varied ages allow older children to help younger ones and to solidify their own knowledge through the experience of teaching. Younger children learn through observation how to lead, while the others experience and learn leadership skills. Through these multi-aged interactions children learn the importance of cooperation, respect, collaboration, acceptance and trust. These experiences help to develop self-esteem, empathy, confidence and leadership skills.

  • Why don’t Montessori teachers give grades?

    Grades, like other external rewards, have little lasting effect on a child’s efforts or achievements. The Montessori approach nurtures the motivation that comes from within, kindling the child’s natural desire to learn.

    A self-motivated learner also learns to be self-sufficient, without needing reinforcement from outside. In the classroom, of course, the teacher is always available to provide students with guidance and support.

    Although most Montessori teachers don’t assign grades, they closely observe each student’s progress and readiness to advance to new lessons. Most schools hold family conferences a few times a year so parents may see their child’s work and hear the teacher’s “assessment” and perhaps even their child’s self-assessment.

  • In a self-directed environment, how is the Ontario Curriculum followed?

    Ontario’s Ministry of Education curriculum, taught in conjunction with and in addition to the Montessori curriculum, is used as a minimum guideline. Children complete Ministry curriculum material as a minimum standard, but at their own pace through self-directed studies as well as through direct instruction. Typically, Montessori students work far beyond the Ministry guidelines. The Montessori environment allows children to excel into higher grade levels within their social age group based on ability and interest, while simultaneously supporting that same child or others with extra time and attention in areas of difficulty. The structure of the Montessori program allows for more individualized attention for all students.

  • Can Montessori accommodate gifted children? What about children with other special learning needs?

    An advantage of the Montessori approach – including multi-age classrooms with students of varying abilities and interests – is that it allows each child to work at his or her own pace. Students whose strengths and interests propel them to higher levels of learning can find intellectual challenge without being separated from their peers. The same is true for students who may need extra guidance and support; each can progress through the curriculum at his or her own comfortable pace, without feeling pressure to “catch up”.

    We might note that from a Montessori perspective, every child is considered gifted, each in his or her own way. For every child has his own unique strengths – it is all a matter of degree.