- What is the difference between a Montessori school and a regular school?
There are many differences between a Montessori school and a regular school. First, the Montessori school has mixed ages in the same classroom. That is, our 2.5-6 year olds are all in the same classroom together. They do different activities, but they interact with one another and learn from one another. A second big difference is that in a Montessori classroom the children move through the curriculum at their own pace. That is, there is a curriculum with learning materials to bring the children towards certain academic goals (e.g. reading) but children work through that curriculum according to their own learning pace and interest. All of our Kindergarten aged children do end up being able to read but they are not taught the same lessons at the same times. The third main difference between a Montessori school and a regular school is that lessons in a Montessori school are given to individuals or small groups rather than the whole class at the same time. This aspect of the classroom maximizes children’s interest in the lessons (the guides give the lesson at the time when the child is interested in the subject matter) thus maximizing the learning outcome of the lesson. This aspect of the classroom also allows children to take more time to learn something if they need it, ensuring full comprehension of one exercise before the child moves on to the next exercise.
- Isn’t 2.5 too young for a child to attend preschool?
In most cases, children are ready for the challenges which a Montessori classroom presents to them by the age of 2.5. At this age, children want (and need) the daily socialization with other children. They are also ready to be a little bit independent from their parents. It is a healthy step in their development for them to start to do some things for themselves (like toileting, dressing themselves, feeding themselves, putting things away when they are finished with them, choosing their own activities etc). In the classroom the staff members clearly and slowly break down each one of these skills into “baby steps” so that the children can achieve them. Since there is a different relationship between the staff and the children than between parents and children, children are often much more willing to try things for themselves in a classroom setting than at home (especially when it comes to cleaning up!). The classroom is set up for young children with low furniture (including a very small toilet) and age appropriate materials (such as gluing, colouring, beading large beads onto a string, water play etc.). We ensure that the young children especially get lots of time to sing songs, listen to music, listen to stories read aloud, have snack, chat with friends, observe other children etc. It is not all structured activity for the full 3 hours of class time.
- Isn’t 5 days a week too much for a 2.5 year old child?
No. The Montessori curriculum is designed to be a 5 day a week program even for 2.5 year old children. The program is designed to be appealing and fun for young children. It doesn’t tire them out or cause them to feel like it’s too much work. They generally love school. We ensure that the children have lots of things to engage them but that they also have the opportunity to relax and listen to music or have a story read to them etc. Furthermore, children thrive on routine and when they come to school 5 days a week they get into that routine quickly and easily without a fight to get in the car for school or at drop off time.
- Is Montessori right for my child?
Montessori offers a range of learning materials so that all children can find something appealing and engaging in the classroom. The materials are also designed to be multi-sensorial. That is, they are tactile, visual, auditory, and in some cases even gustatory and olfactory! Thus children with different learning styles can all benefit from the materials. The staff members also take the time to get to know each child’s individual temperament and learning style. Because the guides give lessons to individuals or to small groups, they are able to adjust their lessons based on those temperaments and learning styles. The only children who sometimes have a difficult time adjusting to a Montessori environment are children who have had a lot of screen time. That is, children who watch a lot of TV, DVDs, or play computer games for hours every day. These children can have difficulty with the slower pace of a Montessori environment and often expect more instant gratification than occurs in a Montessori classroom.
- Is Montessori too strict and structured for preschoolers?
No. The Montessori system has a good balance of freedom and structure which meets the needs of 2.5-6 year olds very well. The children have a lot of freedom in that they choose their own age appropriate activities but they also have structure in that there are classroom rules. Children are expected to walk and to use a reasonable tone of voice in the classroom. They are also expected to clean up after themselves and put things away when they are finished using them. They are also expected to treat each other as well as the materials gently and with respect. All of these classroom guidelines take time for the children to learn but parents who come in for an observation are always impressed by how orderly the children conduct themselves and yet how content and engaged they are with the learning materials. This orderliness and peacefulness are hallmarks of a good Montessori classroom. They show the correct balance of freedom and structure that children 2.5-6 need.
- Are there opportunities for my child to be creative in a Montessori classroom?
Yes. The children in a Montessori classroom are constantly engaged in creative problem solving as they try to figure out how to use the materials. The guide will show each child how to use the material so that the child has an idea of what to do with it. Then, the child is free to use that material whenever he likes and as many times as he needs in order to master the skill or the concept behind each material. It often takes a child many attempts before he is able to have success with a material and he has to use his creative problem solving in order to achieve this success. For example, we have a material called “The Roman Arch” which is a series of wooden blocks which, when built correctly, form a wall with an arch in it. The children have to use creative thinking in order to figure out how the pieces fit together – otherwise the wall falls down. Our classroom also has more open ended creative opportunities such as colouring, gluing collages, watercolours, design work using geometrical shapes, and composition of simple songs on the bells. Furthermore, the children are free to be creative in how they use their reading and math skills. Children write the words which they choose to write and compose/ illustrate stories of their choosing. They also sometimes choose to do things with the math materials which go much beyond what the guide showed them. For example, one child was very excited about learning addition and he did so many addition equations that he decided to tape them all together in a chain. Then he wondered how long the chain was which led to a spontaneous measuring lesson. Another child started writing fictional hockey scores in order to practice his numbers. Another child decided to make the flags of all his favourite soccer teams. As long as they children are not damaging the materials, they are always free to use them in creative ways rather than only in the way the guide showed.
- Does my child need to be potty trained to attend your school?
Yes. Although we understand that accidents do occur occasionally, children need to come to school wearing underpants, not diapers or pull-ups, without having an accident every day. Children should be able to express when they need to use the WC and be on their way towards being able to do so independently. Certainly the staff members do not mind helping to undress or dress or wipe for the children for the first few weeks of school. But the goal is for them to be able to do these things for themselves. Parents often comment that their child makes huge progress in toileting independence after starting school. Parents also notice how willing their child is to use the toilet at school even if they are still not so willing to do so at home. This is because the children see the other children doing it so they want to too. But before they start school they do need to be aware of when they need to go, to be able to go successfully most of the time, and to ask for help if they need it.