I’m sure you have heard of Montessori education, but have you wondered exactly what that means? With so many options available for education, it can be hard to keep it all straight. Montessori classrooms differ from what is commonly found in the traditional classroom and can help to build a foundation for lifelong learning. So what makes Montessori schools different?
“Montessori education has been a significant part of the international field of education for over 100 years,” says Tara Franke, primary teacher and head of school at Northside Montessori School in Indianapolis. “The curriculum and philosophy are based on the scientific findings of Maria Montessori. And in fact, very little has changed over the past 100 years. You can walk into a classroom and find the same incredible works that Maria created for her initial classroom.”
So what are those things? What makes the Montessori classroom different? And how do you know what will be the best fit for your child? These questions can be challenging for parents who are considering different approaches to education. For parents who are considering Montessori education, here are five things that separate it from the bunch.
Classrooms are multi-age.
One of the first things you may notice when you enter the classroom is that the children seem to be different ages. The Montessori classroom is a multi-age classroom that spans a three year cycle. In this environment, with older and younger children learning together, the older children are able to work on their leadership skills in the classroom, and help their younger friends, as they had once been helped themselves.
Hands-on, cooperative learning is encouraged.
Montessori education emphasizes learning through the five senses. Stations are set up around the classroom, according to subject, for children to explore. There is no limit to how long a child can stay at a station, or work on a particular subject. Curiosity and a desire to learn is the child’s guide.
Instead of standing in front of the class and instructing, or using worksheets, teachers set up the stations to encourage exploration. You may see stations for cooking, gardening, cleaning, art, music, library, caring for animals, science and more.
During the day, all subjects are being studied. Children learn to work both independently and cooperatively with their friends.
Students are free to follow their interests.
At Northside Montessori, there is a two and a half to three hour time span of free choice every morning. During this time, the children have an opportunity to take their time and concentrate on what interests them the most.
Free choice is an important part of the Montessori philosophy of education. Students are encouraged to work at their own pace and to explore what interests them. They are led by their curiosity and self motivation, with trained and certified Montessori teachers on hand to assist when needed.
Each child is met where they are.
“We observe and foster growth of the child’s physical development, social development, cognitive development and emotional development,” Franke says. “As a Montessori teacher, it is our job to meet each child where they are every single day. The child enters the classroom, which is prepared in a way to set each child up for success, and knows that they are entering an environment that is based on respect and kindness. They are also given the opportunity to learn at their own pace and learn about the things that interest them the most.”
Progress is not measured with grades.
According to the International Montessori Index, there are no grades, or other forms of reward or punishment in a Montessori education. Assessment is by portfolio and the teacher’s observation and record keeping. The test of whether or not the system is working lies in the accomplishment and behavior of the children, their happiness, maturity, kindness, and love of learning and level of work.
At a Montessori school, differences are respected and celebrated. Children are encouraged to work at their own pace, and are driven by their desire to learn, in an environment that fosters curiosity, wonder and exploration. As they work with their friends, and are nurtured and encouraged by their teachers, a lifelong love of learning will be developed — and this love of learning will hopefully last a lifetime.