Montessori is a unique educational approach that nurtures a child’s intrinsic desire to learn. Montessori focuses on the whole child—his cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development.
Montessori education is right for children of any age. Some Montessori schools provide all levels of learning, from infant/toddler though the secondary level. Others offer only certain education levels.
Introducing your child to Montessori as early as possible puts her on the right path to becoming a confident, self-motivated learner.
The Door to Learning
In a Montessori environment, children learn by exploring and manipulating specially designed materials. Each material teaches one concept or skill at a time, and lays a foundation from which students can comprehend increasingly abstract ideas.
Children work with materials at their own pace, repeating an exercise until it is mastered. The teacher may gently guide the process, but her goal is to inspire rather than instruct.
Throughout the classroom, beautifully prepared, inviting curriculum areas contain a sequential array of lessons to be learned. As students work through the sequence, they build and expand on materials and lessons already mastered. And all the while they are developing qualities with which they’ll approach every future challenge: autonomy, creative thinking, and satisfaction in a job well done.
Tracking Your Child’s Progress
Although most Montessori teachers do not assign grades, they closely observe each student’s progress and readiness to move on to new lessons. They may orally question a student about what she has learned, or ask her to teach the lesson to a fellow student. In some schools, students compile a portfolio of their work to demonstrate their competence in a variety of skills.
Most schools hold family conferences a few times a year so parents may see their child’s work and hear the teacher’s assessment. Teachers typically provide a written narrative that explains a student’s progress in relation to his own development and to developmental norms.
If your child attends a public Montessori school, you will probably be given information about her performance on standardized tests, which you can use to evaluate her progress against national norms. Some independent schools also administer standardized exams, particularly if they will be a requirement of schools into which their students will transition.
Some parents may wonder why Montessori doesn’t endorse grading, if only to motivate students to work hard. But grades, like other external rewards, have temporary effects at best. Instead, Montessori education nurtures a child’s intrinsic motivation to learn, create, and do satisfying work.
Montessori for Children with Special Needs
Children with special needs, such as learning differences or physical disabilities, often thrive in a Montessori setting.
Montessori teaching materials engage all the senses, important for students with distinct learning styles. Students learn by doing and are free to move about, an advantage for those who require a high level of physical activity. And each child has the latitude to learn at his own pace, without pressure to meet formal standards by a predetermined time.
Depending on a student’s needs, the school might refer him for additional resources such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and/or counseling.
Nonetheless, some students may need greater accessibility or more support services than a given school can provide. In each situation, the individual’s needs and the school’s resources should be carefully assessed to ensure a successful match.
Transitioning to a Traditional School
Many children spend only their preschool years in a Montessori classroom. Others complete the elementary grades before transferring to another—usually traditional—school. A smaller—but growing—group of students stay with Montessori through secondary school.
A child who transfers out of a Montessori school is likely to notice some differences. For example, instead of choosing his own work to investigate and master, he might have to learn what’s on the teacher’s lesson plan. Instead of moving freely around the classroom, there’s a chance she’ll sit in an assigned seat. Instead of learning in a classroom with a mixed-aged grouping, it’s probable that she’ll be placed just with students her own age.
Fortunately, children are adaptable. Poised, self-reliant, and used to working harmoniously as part of a classroom community, students who transition from Montessori typically adjust quickly to the ways of their new school.