Is Montessori the right choice for my child? Here are the ten fundamental principles every parent should know:

1. Experiential learning

"The hands are the instruments of man's intelligence." - Maria Montessori

Connections in the brain are formed and strengthened with every experience a child has. As they grow, they move from a concrete mindset to one that can comprehend abstract ideas. To do this, Maria Montessori observed that children need to move and learn through experiences rather than sitting and listening to a teacher. A popular axiom states, "Tell me, and I'll forget; show me, and I'll remember; involve me, and I'll understand." Children in Montessori schools learn by working through a specially designed curriculum of hands-on materials that teach specific concepts. They are self-correcting, so the child can work independently and get immediate feedback. Maria Montessori said “Never give more to the mind than you give to the hand,” and we’ve seen that knowledge built this way is not easily forgotten. 

2. Prepared environment

"The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult." -Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood)

The "prepared environment" refers to Montessori classrooms and how their design is pivotal, giving everything the children need to explore and learn independently. Low shelves line the walls with eye-catching materials to entice children to want to learn and work. The curriculum activities range from simple to complex and from concrete to abstract, catering toward every child's age and ability. 

Rather than relying on the teacher for instruction, Montessori children are connected to their classroom environment and learn through daily interaction with educational materials. Montessori teachers observe the children and choose work to place on the shelves that will meet their interests and needs. A prepared environment gives every child the freedom to fully develop their unique potential through developmentally appropriate hands-on materials.

Montessori classrooms are also far more minimalist than traditional schools, particularly for young children. They are full of muted colors and natural light to foster concentration. Everything in the classroom has a specific spot on a shelf where it belongs, and the work itself is neat and tidy to help children develop a sense of order. 

3. Role of the teacher

"To stimulate life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself–that is the first duty of the educator."- Maria Montessori

A Montessori teacher's role is to observe the children interacting with their classroom environment and then support their learning through the timely introduction of academic materials. Maria Montessori viewed the teacher's role more as a guide, providing children with tools for learning. It is not considered adequate to teach content at the front of the room and expect a high recall rate. Preferably, the Montessori teacher has a more non-traditional role of moving throughout the classroom, working with children one-on-one or in small groups, giving a variety of lessons throughout the day.

4. Mixed-age classrooms

Maria Montessori observed that when groups of children of different ages are together, it enhances a classroom's academic and social diversity. Moreover, students greatly benefit from the rigor of exposure to a broader array of abilities. We know that learning is not linear and that learners have periods of significant growth, plateaus, and even the occasional regression. When there is a better chance of having a friend to work with, children don't feel left behind if they struggle with a concept, and they also don't feel bored by the repetition of something they have already mastered. Montessori classrooms are organized into three-year groups (e.g., 3-6-year-olds, 6-9-year-olds). Peer learning is encouraged as the little ones learn from observing their older friends. The older children solidify their knowledge and gain valuable leadership skills by giving lessons to younger children. 

Teachers who teach in multi-age classrooms typically have in-depth knowledge of a range of developmental milestones, leaving them well-equipped to differentiate instruction for each child.

5. Uninterrupted work period

"The first essential for the child's development is concentration. The child who concentrates is immensely happy." - Maria Montessori

All authentic Montessori schools have long, uninterrupted work periods (generally 2-3 hours depending on age) that allow children to work at their own pace. Students select an activity, perform it for as long it remains interesting, clean up and return it to the shelf, and then make another work choice. Rather than having 30 minutes for math and 30 minutes for language, where essential strides in learning get cut short, children have a long morning and afternoon work period in one classroom that includes all subjects. This extended work cycle allows children to engage with the materials deeply and reach intense concentration. A child's attention span will improve with daily practice. During these long periods, students also learn critical time management skills. Kindergarteners follow a basic morning work plan. Lower Elementary students  are accountable to a daily schedule. By the time students enter the Upper Elementary program, they are equipped with the self-discipline and time management skills to adhere to a weekly schedule. Middle School students hone executive functioning skills by navigating a six-week syllabus, which prepares students to navigate High School and beyond. This work cycle respects individual variations in the learning process, develops a sense of order, coordination, concentration, independence, while facilitating your child's assimilation of information.  

6. Freedom within limits

The activity in a Montessori school is child-directed, but teacher-guided. She tracks academic progress and stays attuned to their preferences and areas of interest to identify opportunities to build on some of their natural drives. The highly trained teacher gives daily lessons on Montessori materials to ensure core concepts and skills are mastered. But students learn to choose their daily work independently, complete the activity, restore it, and return it to the shelf ready for the next classmate. Learning to complete a "work cycle" is one of the first steps towards establishing strong work habits. Children also learn and practice the ground rules of the classroom which define the procedures, routines, and behavior expectations so the community can operate cooperatively and cohesively. The goal is for each child to be able to apply them independent of teacher prompts. This requires a great deal of self-regulation and inner discipline and is the foundation for freedom within limits.

7. Educating the whole child

Montessori focuses on educating the whole child, including physical, spiritual, social, mental, and emotional education. You might find a Montessori 3-year-old carefully walking on a line while carrying a glass of water and learning to control his body and movements. You might find a child meditating or doing yoga while you see another practicing subtraction nearby. Each of these components is considered equally important. Montessori classrooms include subject areas with materials that teach language, mathematics, handwriting (cursive begins in Lower Elementary), art, science, history and culture, and geography. There is also a sensorial area equipped with materials that refine the senses, thus sharpening the child's ability to interact with and interpret their world. Montessori classrooms also teach invaluable practical life skills, which are essential tasks of daily living. When they are young, it means learning to sweep a floor or sew a button; as they age, it looks like learning to knit, budgeting money, or running a business.  

8. Individualized curriculum

No two children learn the same. The teachers present lessons when the child is ready for them, not necessarily when a national curriculum dictates that she’s ready. While traditional schools teach the same curriculum and expect students to learn at the same pace, the Montessori approach honors each child's unique learning path.  If a Montessori class has 25 different students, each of those 25 will be at a different academic level observed and tracked by the teacher. They sequence lessons to prepare the child with the skills they need to understand the next concept. By intelligently designing a personalized learning plan for each child, the teacher supports them to reach their fullest potential. Students do not need to wait on their peers before progressing to the next lesson, but rather, they can learn at their pace. The teacher provides additional practice to students who could benefit from extra support. Students take all the time they need to master a skill. This flexibility is possible because the children often work independently, spending much of the day practicing and perfecting work they have already been given a lesson on. 

9. Mastery Learning

Learning is a process, not a product. Montessori students don't just memorize facts and figures. They also learn "how," "when," and "why," ensuring that learning takes place on a deep and fundamental level. Specially designed learning materials that use real objects and actions to translate abstract ideas into concrete form support them in this learning. The mastery learning method ensures that real growth and understanding take place. Each child must demonstrate mastery over the lessons presented before advancing to the next level. Traditional methods of assessment typically involve completing assignments and then later on receiving a grade and moving on. Montessori teachers give immediate feedback so students can quickly identify if they need to make revisions. This corrective feedback loop emphasizes the process of learning. The child sticks with it until they can demonstrate a firm grasp of the concept. It also teaches the idea of continuous self-improvement and that learning is a life skill. It encourages students to take full ownership of their learning process, so it is their motivation that drives mastery.


10. Peace education

Maria Montessori lived during a time of world wars and global upheaval. Perhaps, for this reason, she placed great emphasis on peace education, so much so that she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. She believed that the future of the world depended on us teaching our children the importance of peace, and this belief is still reflected in Montessori schools today. There is a great emphasis on becoming a responsible global citizen, and it starts with students caring for the classroom environment. Lessons on Grace and Courtesy teach manners, respect, and etiquette. Younger students start learning conflict resolution by identifying their feelings and communicating wants and needs. As students mature, they can identify the more complex causes of conflict and implement strategies for resolving it peacefully.