Understanding the Montessori Method

You’ve probably heard of the Montessori method of education, but you might not know what it is exactly. A Montessori education can differ from what is commonly found in a traditional classroom with a student-led approach to learning that creates an environment where students can thrive. Here are some basic facts about this child-centered way of learning. 

How is the Montessori Method different?

When you enter a Montessori classroom, you will immediately notice the difference. Instead of having desks in a row and a teacher standing at the front of the classroom lecturing, you will see students working either independently or in groups, with specifically designed learning materials. Montessori classrooms are usually designed to have lots of natural light and space with various stations that offer sensory-based materials for learning and play. 

You also may notice the children don’t all seem to be the same age. This is because the Montessori Method allows for multi-age classrooms where the younger children can learn from the older and the older children can develop leadership and mentoring skills as they help the younger students. Montessori schooling begins at the early childhood level (ages 2.5 to 6) and progresses to include elementary, middle and high school. There are also some programs for infants and toddlers. 

According to the American Montessori Society, Montessori education is student-led and self-paced but guided, assessed,and enriched by knowledgeable and caring teachers, the leadership of their peers, and a nurturing environment. Within the community of a multi-age classroom — designed to create natural opportunities for independence, citizenship, and accountability — children embrace multi-sensory learning and passionate inquiry. 

Individual students follow their own curiosity at their own pace, taking the time they need to fully understand each concept and meet individualized learning goals. Given the freedom and support to question, probe deeply, and make connections, Montessori students grow up to be confident, enthusiastic and self-directed learners and citizens, accountable to both themselves and their community. They think critically, work collaboratively, and act boldly and with integrity.

When did the Montessori Method begin? 

Montessori education was founded by an Italian physician and educator named Maria Montessori. She was acclaimed for her method of teaching that builds on the way children naturally learn. She opened the first Montessori school in Rome on January 6, 1907. 

How are students graded? 

Unlike the traditional approach to grading, Montessori schools do not use letter or number grades as an indicator of progress in school. Instead, children who attend Montessori schools receive progress reports with constructive feedback and criticism on those things they choose to work on in the day. Because they do not use a traditional grading scale, the students are able to work independently without the stress of an upcoming deadline needed for a grade. This can shift the focus from the negative to the positive, as the thought is not, “What did I do wrong?” Instead it is, “How can I improve?”

While students are working, their teacher will observe, guide and encourage the student to continually work and improve on what they have done. They also may encourage them to work as a team, which in turn will help them to develop team-based skills. 

According to Montessori for Today, “Another way that the teachers grade their students is by letting them give their own assessments. They give the children the responsibility to find their own best skills as well as the areas that they need improvement. By asking them how they think they are performing, it gives them the opportunity to reflect on their own standards of learning. It inspires them to reach further and learn more. 

The absence of letter grades also changes the way that parents think. Instead of focusing on the grade, the parents begin to focus more on how their child is preparing, what they are working on in school and the effort they are applying during the day, teacher feedback and ways to learn more and improve on those skills. 

Other important things to know about Montessori

The Montessori Method has a lot to offer children and may be the perfect fit for your child — especially if he or she is self-motivated and works well independently. Montessori schools have an emphasis on hands-on learning, offer enhanced social interaction, teach children how to work in team settings, develop independence while children learn to manage themselves and think independently and fosters a love of learning that can last a lifetime. Also, because of the way the classroom is structured, Montessori schools are wonderful for gifted children and inclusive of children with special needs. 

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