Below, some of the questions which are frequently asked by parents inquiring about the Montessori pedagogy for the first time.
These answers have been put together by Grazia Honegger Fresco and Mario Valle.
What happens after primary school?
The passage to the middle school is different, especially if children have the background of the Montessori Nursery and Primary School, where they have been trained from the beginning to make free and responsible choices. They are therefore stronger and more self-aware. Children have already achieved self control and have developed responsible ways of working and interacting with other children.
In fact, in the last year of the Primary Montessori School they are encouraged to face and be confronted with all the differences of the system that awaits them: tests, grades, competition, and above all the inability to make their own choices.
To achieve this, the Montessori School considers it a must to fortify the character of children by letting them grow in an anxiety free, judgment free and non-competitive environment, at least during their early years.
Is it true that in the Montessori School children are free to do whatever they want?
As a Montessori child once said: “Here we don’t do whatever we want, but we want what it is that we are doing!”
The will of a child to be active and to be intensely engaged is therefore strictly dependent on the capability of making free choices amongst the numberless opportunities available in his/her environment. The adult is only responsible for setting up this environment, it is similar to setting out a nice buffet where each child chooses what he wants.
Furthermore, together with the freedom of choice the child also takes on the responsibility implied in his choice of tools and materials. These must not be damaged, must be used properly and must be put back in their place when he/she is finished with them. (It is not appropriate to use an orange to play a ball game, nor would you use a spoon to dig a hole in the ground). This acquired sense of responsibility is not compatible with “doing whatever I want” in the usual wilful sense of the phrase.
If a child likes to read or draw, is that all he/she will do?
Is the child who works individually too detached from others? Isn’t it a way of curtailing the relationship amongst classmates?
In practice, independence means not relying on an adult or on a more experienced classmate to do things which could be done by oneself, like personal hygiene, eating, dressing, undressing, etc. Having said that, in a Montessori school there is all the interaction a child can desire but working with materials for these few hours a day is so appealing that children prefer to master the challenges that these materials offer them.
This way they become happier and kinder, this is the basis of real socialization, if the child chooses to work on his own because he is really interested in it and does not want to be disturbed in what he’s doing… This is the way the child reaches the maximum concentration. During the day there are also moments during which the child is attracted by smaller or bigger groups, which might be proposed by the teachers like “the circle”, offering an opportunity to share with others different things like singing, telling stories and other collective activities.
Silence is one of the distinctive features of a Montessori class. How come?
Is the Montessori school appropriate for all children?
When they first attend a Montessori school, many children are not able to accept this rule, either because they are too shy and uncertain to choose an object, or because they are used to having “everything and now” and are unwilling to wait for their classmate to have finished using it. It will be sufficient not to impose rigid obedience and offer many interesting tools and activities to choose from but be firm in the requirement to wait until something is free to be used. Children must come to understand that playing tricks, teasing and picking on others will not be allowed, and they will slowly discover the pleasure of accepting the rules of the community as a whole, and of being part of and loved by it.
In a Montessori school the teachers do not shout, do not punish, do not draw attention and shame children for their mistakes. As a result, within this quiet and peaceful environment, children will not judge or denigrate the classmate who makes mistakes or is unable to do something, on the contrary they will spontaneously be inclined to help him or her. A child who is undisciplined and aggressive – and therefore unhappy – will gradually adapt and improve his behaviour and will become more at ease with himself and others. The younger the child is, the easier and quicker will be the transformation.
According to the Montessori philosophy, freedom cannot be “given”, it must be earned and constructed step by step from the earliest years, by exercising individual choice and self-correcting one’s behaviour, by becoming self-aware and conscious of the trust that is placed in him to monitor his own behaviour. To choose, to play with, and to return objects to their proper place from a very young age, as happens in Montessori nurseries, is the first step to allow the child to build his own awareness and sense of responsibility towards others and toward his environment.
If there is only one of each object and teaching tool, what happens when a child wants to use it but it’s already taken?
While a child plays with a game, what do the others do?
The available teaching materials and objects do not seem to encourage creativity
The materials seems to be old and do not evolve
Having a tablet in the classroom doesn't make a school digital. A Smartboard in the classroom doesn't make a school modern when it is being used for a classic frontal lesson. Even top developers of the most modern smartphone applications still rely on non-technological common physical items such as sticky tabs and post its.
It is not technology which makes a school modern, but rather the ideas and principals that the school embodies makes a school modern.
In Montessori schools many of the materials are still used by children with the same interest and enthusiasm as 1907. These materials continue to be used in the classroom, after repeated observations that show they fulfill the developmental needs of children and are therefore very functional.
For example, the grammar and logic analysis are rendered interesting and fun because they are related to the child's common language, his pleasure for reading and experimenting. Other materials – as those related to science or history – are more likely to be subject to innovations and change which result from recent research and discoveries. An example of materials changing are the timelines of the first human beings or the Montessori Strip of Life that have been recently updated according to a Darwinist approach by Telmo Pievani.
The most important motto in the Montessori education is: "Follow the child". We avoid any verbal judgment which would humiliate the child, we consider his/her individual needs, we consider the needs of each individual as well as the group as a whole, and we keep in mind that the positive climate of the class depends on the quality of the activities offered to the children. Therefore, there is nothing old, boring or useless in the Montessori materials: in this case, the children would refuse them or not use them.
Why are there no grades in elementary school?
Why are Montessori classrooms multi-age classrooms, where children of different ages work together?
Why are children taught to clean up their things at school, and at home they don't do it?
Will my child be able to pass the end of year exams of the new school?
Do Montessori schools create "different" children? Are they able to live in the real world?
A Brandon Kuczuma's comment on youtube about the mining of reality, can very well explain the common thought: "traditional school is the real world". This is one of the most ignorant things I have ever heard in fact it is real only if you are going to work in a cubicle the rest of your life.
I think children need competitiveness and frustration as they are going to find them in the future life.
They experiment with independence and self-confidence, making things without any need of competition and predictable defeat.
They turn to each other with attention and respect because they appreciate each other’s works and are satisfied about their own work.
Children who come to Montessori after a period in regular school based on competition, often take a little time to adjust to the calm environment, but slowly they learn to relate to others in a more quiet and correct way.