When should parents begin looking for a preschool? How early is “too” early?
It’s never too early to look. When your child starts showing an interest in experiences beyond the home and with other children — when you feel your child needs something more — is when you need to be making a decision on where and when. There is a whole area in our classroom (the sensorial) that has a very small window for optimal learning — from 2½ to 4. Parents who call us when their child is 4 or older are incredulous when we tell them that their child may be too old for our program. When materials are designed to appeal to the developmental needs of children 2½ and 3, it’s not going to work the same way with a 4 or 5-year old. Occasionally we take older children, but we have to skip over a lot of material because it no longer engages them and those gaps are sometimes hard to fill.
What separates Montessori from other approaches?
Montessori education is driven by a child’s interest and his developmental needs. These vary from child to child and moment to moment. When a child is allowed to choose his own activities and pursue them until he is satisfied, he often becomes so fully engaged that he loses the sense of time and place. This is something more than education. Montessori classrooms are designed so children can experience concentration or “flow” as a means of personal growth and integration. This leads to the ability to self regulate, possibly the most important skill in creating one’s own success in life. Studies show that this ability is best achieved during the age range of a primary classroom such as ours.
What is a typical day like in your classroom?
As the children arrive in the morning, they greet the teachers and then choose whatever activity they want to do. We generally have a short group time at the beginning of the day during which we do a variety of activities – singing, sharing true stories or reading books or poems, presenting grace and courtesy lessons, learn something interesting about the culture we are studying, and many other common circle activities. The children are free to come or not. After group, they go back to their activities or choose another. Outdoor activities are available throughout the morning as well as snack. Sometime during the morning we may do some movement activities as a group – again, it is a choice to participate. Around 11:45 we gather for a final group before the morning children depart at noon. The older children then have lunch and go back to their own activities.
During the morning period, one teacher observes and oversees all the children, taking notes on what each child has chosen to do and assisting children who need help while the head teacher spends the morning giving individual lessons. A third teacher is available to go outside with children who choose to do outdoor activities.
Don’t the children in a Montessori classroom miss out on social development?
Actually, they are in a more meaningful social situation than they are likely to find elsewhere. In going about their daily activities in the classroom, they meet and talk with one another, discuss common problems, correct each other’s mistakes, answer questions, borrow and lend, and help each other in many ways. Moreover, they often spontaneously form into groups to carry out a task together. And the oldest children are usually eager to help out their less developed friends.
Don’t the children have too much freedom (no discipline)?
The children are free to move around and choose the activities that interest them (provided the child has been presented a lesson on the material). They are then free to use the materials as long as they wish and then return it to the shelf when they are done. Three basic rules guide the child’s "freedom" in a Montessori classroom:
1. The child may not disturb other children.
2. The child must treat the materials with respect.
3. The child may only take materials from the shelf, not from another child.
Does the child need to do the activity the way he was shown?
It depends. Often times when a child is misusing the material – for example, using the number rods as swords – it is because the activity is too hard, too easy or inappropriate. If the child is doing something productive with the material and is concentrating, an observant teacher will respect what is going on and let him continue uninterrupted. If she observes that he is misusing the activity because it is too difficult or too easy, she can give the lesson again to provide help or more clarity or offer a different lesson that is more appropriate for his level and his interests.
What makes a Montessori classroom noncompetitive?
Each child is working on different activities or working together as partners. There are no tests and no grades – only observations and reevaluations by teachers of what worked, what didn’t work and what to present next.
I have heard that children often repeat the same activity over and over again. Why?
Children enjoy repetition because it answers one of the basic inner needs of humans: the desire to gain mastery over their movements, to refine and perfect them.
Won’t my child have difficulty adjusting to another setting after attending a Montessori school?
Generally speaking, when a child has developed all aspects of her personality she should have far less problems than a child without a Montessori background. From our experience (and those of other Montessori schools), most children adapt well. There is, of course, always a brief period of transition — as there is with any new experience.