The foundations of the Montessori methodology

Myth #1: Montessori is for gifted kids.

Montessori is for all children. To the casual observer, Montessori students may appear advanced for their age, leading to the assumption that the schools cater to gifted children. In reality, Montessori schooling helps each child develop individuality in a way that accentuates his or her innate intelligence. Montessori gives the child the opportunity to gain mastery at a pace that allows each child to be successful. Montessori takes full advantage of the young child's intense desire to learn while respecting his individuality. The teacher takes her cues from the child's interests, and learning is organised to make the most of those interests.

Myth #2: Montessori classrooms are chaotic.

Although this may appear true to the untrained eye, anyone who observes a Montessori classroom for several hours will see something very different than chaos. The Montessori system at its best is all about allowing children the opportunity to do things for themselves. We encourage self-discipline even in the very young child, and always aim for a minimum of interference from the adults in the environment. The “teacher” is really more of a “guide” – he enables the child to educate himself using the materials that have been designed for that purpose. Children are not moved about the classroom in groups and asked to all do the same activity at the same time. Rather, a wide range of self-correcting (auto-didactic) materials are made available to the child. After the initial demonstration of a material by an experienced adult or an older child, the child in a Montessori classroom is free to choose whatever activity is interesting to him. The student is left alone to experiment and practice with the material, teaching himself and developing concentration, coordination, and independence in an orderly world that does not require the interference of any authority. Montessorians believe that the normal state of any child is to be relaxed, peaceful and absorbed in activity. In the classroom, disputes between children are almost always settled by the children themselves. They absorb conflict management skills from the teachers, who are trained to be deeply respectful of themselves, others and the world around them. The role of the adult (teacher) in the classroom is observer of activity and facilitator of self-discipline as opposed to director of activity and enforcer of rules.

Myth #3: Montessori classrooms are too structured.

On the contrary, in the Montessori classroom, children are allowed to move freely about to access all the learning materials they need. Additionally, for children, play and “work” are often the same thing. In other words, when children engage with the Montessori learning materials, they are indeed learning but it feels like play to them. For example, think of how your own child can joyfully while away the hours manipulating and arranging objects like toys or blocks. The two experiences are similar, but in the Montessori environment, the student is actually working toward mastery of skills and subjects. Montessori students are allowed to work with specific learning materials for as long as they desire, and the fact that they will until they feel they have mastered it is testimony to the power of the method. Children in Montessori choose to work toward mastery and are internally motivated by a natural love of learning.

Myth #4: Montessori is an outdated method that peaked in the Sixties.

An education based on the observation of children, and on your child in particular, is hard to outdate. Everyone knows the approximate ages children begin to walk, to talk, to lose teeth, even to learn to read. Fads in education come and go because they are not based on observation of children. Often they’re not even based on child development. The Montessori Method, on the other hand, represents a solid body of observation of child development that has been successfully employed internationally for over a hundred years. Montessori methodology is closer to a true scientific method of instruction than any other educational program in the world today. Myth #5: The Montessori method is really just some special materials. Montessori materials are specifically designed to develop the child's powers and means of observation through the senses. The development of the senses precedes intellectual activity, and Montessori educators understand how to use the materials to facilitate this development. When the senses are finely developed, the child teaches himself. Experience has shown that the child will discard the materials and work without them when the senses are adequately developed.

Myth #6: Montessori does not permit social development.

The respect the teacher shows each child is a model for children to follow in learning to respect each other. Young children interact with each other and with the adults, gradually becoming more giving and more sensitive to others. The two to three year age span within each class causes the learning of younger children from older ones to be a natural occurrence. Montessori respects the child and the child.s need, from time to time, for privacy. Areas and activities in the classroom provide for solitude, as well as, interaction with peers. Older children often tutor and assist the younger children and children may work together or by themselves as they choose.

Myth #7: Montessori teachers are strict and overly concerned with academics

At its core, the Montessori philosophy is based on respect. Respect for the planet, for ourselves and for each other. What Montessori teachers are actually being with the children is: respectful. To some, this might at first appear as emotional distance or hard-heartedness. It’s not! Respect for the child runs deep and means, among other things, that we don’t invade their personal space without being invited. They try not to define children by their appearance, so we don’t make a habit of remarking on their outfits: as a matter of fact, they feel that it’s more important that the child dress him or herself than that their socks match! As teachers, the love for your children runs very, very deep indeed. You’ll find, as the children do, that it is a firm, fair, steady type of affection without hysteria and not conditioned upon “good” behaviour. We strive to avoid patronizing the child; our voices when speaking with them are our normal voices, not high-pitched or saccharine sweet. We cherish children, and when your child needs that extra helping of compassion, hugs and kisses, the child will find it.