What is a Montessori School?
As I mentioned recently, I’m currently on the search for a primary school for the little man. He starts next Sept and I’m trying to figure out which ones are most suitable in our area. It seems most schools vary in their vision, their ethos and their values. Last month I was over in the States and it was really interesting to hear about school life from my friends and colleagues. Most send their children to private schools for various reasons and it is completely normal to have an earthquake drill in California.
A Q&A about Montessori Schools
Today I’m going to share with you some of the questions I had for my friend who sends her girls to a Montessori school. I’ve seen this word used a lot online, especially Pinterest. I’m forever seeing Montessori style activities to try with toddlers or Top 10 Montessori nursery activities etc etc etc. But what does it mean exactly? I wasn’t overly sure to be honest. Yes I can google this stuff but since my colleague has first-hand experience of what Montessori really means, I thought I’d ask her 🙂 Her younger daughter attends the Casa di Mir Montessori School and for more info, you can find their page here.
If you google “What is Montessori?” you will get something along the lines of: Montessori is an educational philosophy based on the work by a woman named Maria Montessori. Learning is accomplished using a hands-on approach and children are left to explore and discover with their classmates. There are no tests.
This throws up a multitude of questions from my point of view and fortunately my colleague, Alex, was happy to answer them 🙂
Tell me a bit about your family and why you decided to choose this style of schooling:
For our two daughters, we wanted a place that would really foster a love of learning. We wanted them to look forward to going to school. We also considered it important to focus not only on academics, but also on developing their ability to cooperate with others, to be critical and to question constructively whether their environment can be improved.
Have your girls always gone to a Montessori style school?
Cassandra, our youngest, has been in Montessori all of her life. Sarah is now 15 and she went to our local public school for middle school, and is now attending Notre Dame High School, which is a catholic school in San Jose. She continues to enjoy learning and is a good student. If the middle school program had been available at the time, she would have attended Montessori middle school as well.
What challenges are there when moving from a Montessori school to a traditional school?
Some people worry about transitioning from a Montessori environment into a traditional school, but in my experience, not just with Sarah but with other friends, transitioning is quite easy. They come very well prepared academically and socially. They do miss the freedom of moving around, so the adjustment is mostly around getting used to passively sitting all day and listening to the teacher.
How do Montessori schools differ from traditional schools?
In the traditional method, children learn from a teacher who explains and provides information for them to remember. The teacher holds a position of power and has the authority to determine what is correct and what is wrong. In Montessori, children work with materials and in projects that allow them to discover knowledge on their own and at their own pace. Kids have very specific work plans that they follow to ensure that all academic objectives are met.
“Specific work plans”
The plan is yearly, and is divided by month and by week, so each child starts their Monday reviewing what projects they need to work on and/or finish by Friday. Teachers guide the children and ensure that the plans are fulfilled and revised if necessary. Kids also help each other – classrooms are mixed with kids from three different grades combined. The younger kids look up and learn from the older kids, and the older kids learn how to be role models and leaders, as part of the process of growing up within that environment.
What does a typical day look like at a Montessori school?
There are routines during the day like the morning circle which provide a sense of community. Then there are field trips and camping trips that provide access to learning resources outside of the classroom, as well as opportunities to build independence (overnight trips start in third grade with one night away only, and then in fourth to sixth grade they do four night camping/science trips).
What about exams and grades?
A big difference to traditional schools is that Montessori children are not graded. They don’t take tests except for once a year, after fourth grade which is the state mandatory evaluation to ensure that the school is doing a good job. Casa di Mir Montessori School scores significantly above average 🙂
How do teachers discipline or reward children?
There are no punishments or rewards. Children learn to self-regulate by what’s acceptable within the community. It’s interesting to watch because they help children who are acting up, behave. If a kid is completely out of control then yes, the teacher will intervene and will talk to the child to make him or her figure out why she/he is acting this way. They also have conflict resolution tools like the “peace table” where kids learn to solve their differences by talking, guided by teachers that are experts in a method called “non-violent communication”.
Is this type of schooling approach becoming more popular in your opinion?
Research is showing that Maria Montessori was clearly ahead of her time – some of the methods and ideas she proposed are found to be most effective for educating creative and independent children, and are being slowly adopted by the mainstream, which I think is wonderful for society: more hands-on, project based learning, more in-depth thinking versus memorizing formulas. Math is one good example where in Montessori , kids understand the concepts in a very tangible way thanks to the materials – when they see the formulas, they can see what’s behind them by recalling, for example, the physical representation of the trinomial cube.
You told me they don’t do any tests? How are children assessed for things like university and paid employment – how does this work?
Montessori kids in general come out very well prepared academically and score above average in standardized testing, which is necessary to enter university and often, high school. But during their regular Montessori schooling, they do not take tests and are not graded. Children are curious by nature, and enjoy learning just for the sake of acquiring knowledge. The idea behind not grading is to protect this love of learning. If a child is rewarded with a good grade for having learned something, his/her efforts will be guided by their desire to earn that high score, and not necessarily by their desire to understand a concept or by their curiosity. Worse even, if the motivator is not to get a low grade, learning can be seen as an undesirable requirement. It can also become a problem for kids who do earn low grades who can eventually believe that they themselves are “low grade children”, and become less confident. Grades reflect certain traits in a child, but never the whole person. A kid can be dyslexic or have concentration issues, yet be extremely capable in their own way, but if that child consistently gets low grades, he / she may end up believing that he/she isn’t as capable or deserving.
Why was it important to you to have your children attend this type of school?
I came into a Montessori classroom and loved what I saw there. It was silent; kids were engaged in their work. They didn’t have to be silent, but they were because they were immersed in their work, clearly enjoying it. I knew this was what I wanted for my children: to be happy in school and excited about knowledge. I also wanted them to learn discipline and social behaviour in a constructive, rational way, and not as a way to avoid punishment or to be rewarded by an external authority. I truly wish that more schools could do this for the children: grow their own intrinsic love of learning, cultivate their capacity for self-regulation and discipline. I truly believe that our society would benefit.
Thank you Alex for taking the time to tell me more about what a Montessori School is and what it really means! This isn’t a concept I am very familiar of in the UK so it has been super interesting to listen to your experience of this type of schooling.
Have you heard of Montessori before? What are your thoughts? Should we adopt similar approaches in British classrooms? When I did a quick Google search, it seems there are a few Montessori schools in London and the South East but few elsewhere.