Montessori 101

What Is Montessori Education?

montessori education

Montessori is a scientifically founded method of child education, pioneered by Dr. Maria Montessori, a three-time Nobel-Prize nominee Italian doctor. Unlike some of the more traditional educational settings, Montessori schools take the approach of developing all aspects of a child: social, emotional, physical and academic. Why? Because we recognize every child contains the innate skills, abilities and qualities to achieve their highest potential. Even from a young age, children hold an amazing capacity for independence and to grow their physical, intellectual, emotional and innate faculties to their fullest expression.

Besides embracing a "whole-child" approach to teaching, Montessori emphasizes a learning environment tailored to each child's specific ability and needs. That takes place through the work of highly skilled and dedicated teachers who take time to plan activities and lessons that account for each child's interests and skills, as well as incorporate the use of our specialized Montessori materials.

If you're reading this, you're likely trying to find answers. Maybe you're just starting to look for a preschool for your child, and a friend suggested Montessori. Perhaps you already enrolled your child somewhere else, but they don't seem to be thriving. Whatever has brought you to our page, we're thrilled you're here. And we're excited to share with you all the information you might need to understand Montessori and how it can benefit your child.

What Is the Montessori Method?

what is the montessori method

The Montessori Method of teaching takes a child-centered approach to learning. In other words, each lesson and activity in our classrooms revolves around each student's unique interests and abilities. That is because we believe each child, regardless of age, has a natural curiosity we should nurture to maximize their learning potential. That is a hallmark of any true Montessori program. We've seen outstanding results with this methodology. Experts estimate there are around 4,500 Montessori schools in the U.S., and more than 20,000 worldwide.

What are the principles of a Montessori education? If you look inside any Montessori program, you'll find three basic tenets guiding each classroom.

Basic Components of a Montessori Education

  1. Multi-Age Groupings of Children
    Multi-age groupings of children are a unique classroom component of the Montessori program. The reason for multi-age groupings within the classroom is twofold: Younger students naturally learn more from their older peers, and older students tend to retain more information when they teach it to younger ones. Besides that, having children of different ages and stages together in the classroom mimics the real world, teaching students how to get along with people of different ages and interests.
  2. Student Choice of Activity
    Montessori teachers set up their classroom to promote safe, independent exploration and learning, often through hands-on activities and lessons. Learning in a space that encourages their natural curiosity, children will feel the freedom to explore and learn about the world around them. Typically, a teacher will give students a choice among a set of hands-on activities to fill their day. These activities introduce or reinforce concepts and skills a teacher selects based on the students' ages and needs.
  3. Uninterrupted Blocks of Time to Engage in Activities
    We love giving our students time to engage in the learning process. Whether they're 3 or 13, our goal is to give each child the time they need to explore and understand the world around them.

Speaking of age, parents often ask us, "What's the best time to start my child in a Montessori program?" While there is no age limit, we find somewhere between 18 and 36 months is the ideal time to introduce Montessori principles to a child. In the early years of Montessori education, children spend much time on sensory activities, designed to develop their senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, touch and taste.

As they move into their elementary school years, Montessori students will move into more abstract topics, applying what they are learning to real-world situations. This effort to help them organize their thoughts will benefit them as they continue to grow. In the adolescent years, the Montessori program relies on this foundation to prepare students to combine reason and emotion to understand the broader concepts of equity, justice and freedom.

What Are the Principles of the Montessori Education?

What is a Montessori curriculum all about? The following core principles inform the Montessori Method of learning.

  1. Respect for the Child
    Montessori's emphasis on allowing children “freedom with limits” exemplifies this principle. In other words, the setup of Montessori classrooms encourages children to explore, discover and express their interests. We do so by creating a safe classroom environment in which things are not off-limits to the children. Each day, the children receive some choice of activity, and their teachers encourage them to spend a good chunk of time on the activity they have chosen.
    In a Montessori classroom, you aren't likely to find the whole group learning the same thing at the same time. Instead, you're more likely to see small groups of children working on several different activities simultaneously. And, rather than standing up in front of the room directing the class, you're more likely to find the teacher going from group to group of students, answering their questions and helping them along in their exploration. In this manner and without stifling the child through a forceful approach, Montessori guides children toward independence, self-confidence and a love for learning.
  2. The Absorbent Mind
    A young child is naturally an eager, highly capable learner who can absorb a significant amount from their environment. In the first six years of their life, children have the highest capacity for retaining the most information. That is why their preschool and early elementary years are such a critical time to expose them to as many experiences, concepts and lessons as possible.
  3. Sensitive Periods for Learning
    Many parents don't realize their child’s growth takes place across four scientifically based stages, or planes, of development, and each of these stages has different needs within the learning cycle. So, rather than adapting a subject to "fit" a certain age or stage, the Montessori theory says the educational approach itself is what should change to suit each stage. Montessori teachers receive special training to recognize and nurture these sensitive periods, maximizing the opportunity to help children learn at the time when they can receive it most effectively.
  4. A Prepared Environment
    In a Montessori school, you'll find we carefully design a class environment to make learning an experience. We do not believe learning comes from memorizing facts — instead, we use a wide array of specialized materials that allow the child to learn with increasing levels of abstraction. These materials impart complex concepts, while the child enjoys their use and manipulation, through the guidance of a certified teacher.
  5. Independence and Discovery
    Montessori also recognizes each child is different, and therefore their interests and educational needs will vary, as well. We emphasize an individual approach that allows teachers to figure out and develop activities and learning experiences that follow each child’s specific needs and readiness. Over time, these principles foster self-esteem, independence, exploration and creativity — the keys to ultimately promoting a joy and a love of learning.

What Is the Role of the Teacher in Montessori?

montessori teacher role

In a traditional classroom, you'll most likely find a group of students sitting in desks listening to a teacher standing at the front of the room. Their teachers motivate them to learn facts and figures through memorization, with an emphasis on extrinsic rewards, such as stickers and candy when they're younger, and grades as they grow. The problem with this approach is that it doesn't do anything to engage a child's natural love of learning. Instead, it turns learning into a chore. And, over time, children become less interested in learning about the world around them.

The Montessori approach recognizes children learn best when teachers encourage them to use their natural creativity and intelligence to gather information and make discoveries. Their reward is the feeling of pride they get when they master a new concept.

In a Montessori curriculum, you'll find teachers generally present learning topics through specially designed activities, primarily ones that encourage hands-on learning and discovery. A hallmark of Montessori classrooms is specially designed materials that provide a visual representation of whatever skill the child is trying to master — wooden shapes, letters, numbers, etc.

And, besides traditional school subjects, such as reading, math and science, the Montessori curriculum places a huge emphasis on teaching children life skills, especially in their earlier years. For example, on a particular day, a preschool-aged child may work on the dressing frame, a Montessori learning tool designed to help young students learn to fasten buttons or tie bows on their clothes. Teachers will demonstrate other concepts through learning materials such as number or letter blocks. While objects can consist of many different materials, such as fabric, metal or wicker, smooth wood is a Montessori favorite. Montessori classrooms also encourage students to study items from nature, such as seashells, leaves and plants.

A lot of times, younger students feel more like they're playing games with their friends, not even realizing they're slowly learning concepts and ideas that will stick with them for years to come. That includes stewardship of the environment around them. One big emphasis in the Montessori curriculum is treating your space with respect. Students learn how to pick up after themselves and keep their classroom neat and tidy, while caring for the living things around them, such as plants and classroom pets.

When parents who are new to Montessori come to observe a classroom, one of the first things they notice is our instructors don't stand in front of the class and lecture. In fact, sometimes parents don't even see the instructor right away because they are on the other side of the room, working with a small group of students.

One way to understand the role of a teacher in the Montessori classroom is to think of them as a "guide" to the students. Rather than presenting a bunch of facts for them to memorize and repeat later, a Montessori teacher is more likely to be demonstrating a concept or watching supportively while their students experiment and explore. For example, in a preschool classroom, you're likely to find the teacher on the floor with a student as they attempt to pile up all the green blocks or learn to identify the numbers one through five by using a set of wooden numbers. Meanwhile, a teacher of older students may be observing a science experiment.

The Montessori Method expects teachers to spend a good portion of their time as observers of their students. By watching their students, Montessori teachers learn what subjects interest them, how they learn best and even when sensitive periods are in their development. Armed with this valuable information, Montessori teachers can, and do, intentionally plan activities that will best support learning in each of their students.

Perhaps most importantly of all, a Montessori teacher's role is to be an example of kindness to their students. By modeling kindness, compassion and respect, their students, in turn, learn to treat each other that way.

Advantages of Montessori Education

montessori advantages

There are many advantages to Montessori. It really does tend to bring out the best in children, which is a huge draw for many of our parents. However, some of the biggest additional advantages include the following.

Advantages of Montessori

  1. Enthusiastic, self-motivated learners: Children learn how to learn and teach themselves ... and they enjoy doing it!
  2. Improved social and problem-solving skills: Children who study under a Montessori program typically interact better with their peers and are better able to resolve their differences with their peers peacefully.
  3. Advanced understanding of abstract mathematical concepts and outstanding reading abilities: Montessori kids love to read! As children grow, we put an increasing emphasis on literacy, meaning our students are accomplished readers. Their math skills are also second to none.
  4. Compassion, high self-esteem and good manners: After spending time in a Montessori program, children consistently place higher values on themselves and others. Not only are they more self-confident, but they also demonstrate more kindness and compassion toward their peers. This also translates into their home and school environments. Montessori students quickly learn how to keep their spaces clean and organized, as well as to perform increasingly tricky household tasks, including cleaning and basic maintenance.

Myths About Montessori

montessori myths

A lot of people mistakenly think that Montessori is a brand, a franchise, a religious affiliation, the name of an organization or group, a new trend or a new-age concept. But, when they start to understand what we're about, they quickly realize a Montessori school is none of those things. In fact, depending on how a certain school applies the principles Dr. Montessori established, you're sure to find some variation among each Montessori school. That's why it's important to make sure you understand what a true Montessori curriculum looks like and the foundations behind its methods. Knowing the basics will prepare you for selecting the best environment for your child, regardless of their age.

As we mentioned earlier, we strongly believe children between the ages of 18 and 36 months stand to receive the most benefit from the Montessori program. That is what drives the program at Sapientia Montessori School. Housed within a network of some of the oldest Montessori programs in Greater North Austin, we have received official recognition from the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and its U.S. affiliate, AMI-USA. Our outstanding teachers boast an impressive slew of advanced degrees and years of experience in child development and education. But, perhaps most importantly, we have chosen instructors who hold the highest regard for children and their unique capacity for exploration and learning.

We look forward to starting the Montessori journey with you. If you are interested in learning more about how a Montessori preschool education may benefit your child, we encourage you to contact us today.