Montessori Toddler and Preschool (ages 18 months-6 years, including Kindergarten)
I observed Montessori classrooms and there doesn’t seem to be an opportunity for pretend play. Is this true?
Starting in her first “Children’s House” in 1907, Dr. Montessori found that children did not choose pretend play, when given the opportunity to do actual, meaningful work instead. Her first classrooms contained dollhouses, for instance, where children could pretend to serve tea to dolls—and real, child-sized tea sets, where children could prepare real tea and serve it to each other. Invariably, the children would choose to do real work with real utensils, which is why we enable our children to do the same in all of our classrooms.This is not to say that pretend play should be eliminated from a child’s experience. If a child engages in pretend play at home, parents should support the child’s choice. But in the school environment, we’ve found that children themselves prefer to be engaged in meaningful work—and find it fun!
How do you foster creativity? The children seem to work in a structured way, always doing the same things with the materials.
Dr. Montessori believed, and we agree, that real creativity is built on a foundation of skills. Just as a creative jazz piano player is one who has mastered playing to the point of automaticity first, at which point his mind is free to improvise beautiful melodies and rhythms. In the same way, we prepare your child with the skills he needs to be truly creative. For example, we teach him how to control a pencil to create the “art of the inset”, and he thereby acquires the foundational skills needed to paint creative pictures later on. Click here to read our blog post about Montessori and Creativity for more information.
When I observe a Montessori preschool class, most kids work by themselves. Will my child still learn social skills?
Montessori classrooms have a strong focus on developing mature social skills. Our teachers constantly support each child’s social development: they provide students with words to express their emotions, model grace and courtesy in social interactions, and guide them as they learn to control their impulses in order to interact maturely with their peers. Dr. Montessori has found that most preschoolers, when left to their own devices, prefer to work alone—and we respect that choice. Thus, the children are free to work individually during designated periods of the day, and they participate in group activities at other times (such as for certain lessons and group sing-alongs). Our goal is to enable each individual child to benefit from social interactions, and to develop a fundamental benevolent attitude towards other people.
Why is Kindergarten included with preschool?
Our program, like most Montessori programs, has multi-age classrooms. Children aged 3-6 are in one class called “Primary” because of the pedagogical benefits of such an environment. Dr. Montessori found that children in this age range follow a similar developmental pattern—and so she tailored the materials in the classroom specifically to their needs. Indeed, the third year of the program, the “kindergarten year”, is critical: in the 3rd year, primary students cash in on all the preparatory work they have done up until that point in the Montessori program; by the 3rd year, they are fast becoming proficient writers and readers, and are mastering the basics of arithmetic. The kindergarten year also serves a psychological purpose. Students benefit from being the oldest children in class, as they mentor their younger peers and deepen their own skills by showing them to the younger students. They develop a sense of accomplishment and confidence that makes them yearn for, rather than fear, the challenges ahead. Children graduate to the elementary class when they are ready, generally sometime in the year after their 6th birthday.
Will my child learn to read and write?
Yes. Children who join our program at or before age 3 typically learn to write by age 4 ½ – 5, and are reading shortly thereafter. Our 6 year olds regularly read a wide range of children’s books and write multi-sentence compositions in neat cursive handwriting.
Why do Montessori children learn cursive before print?
It seems counter-intuitive, but it is actually more natural for a child to begin with the flowing lines of cursive than it is to engage in the stop-and-start motions required in printed text. In many traditional programs, children are taught to print first, based on the assumption that cursive is too difficult for a young hand to learn. Cursive is then taught in 3rd grade—at which point the child must unlearn the print method, and learn a new way to write. This process is unnecessarily cumbersome: with Montessori materials, our children easily learn neat cursive handwriting at ages 4 ½ or 5, thereby skipping the intermediary step of print letters—while at the same time practicing to read print letters, of course. Cursive is the faster, more efficient way of handwriting, and it helps a child develop a sense of personal style.
I saw a child upset in the classroom, and the teacher didn’t immediately comfort him. Why not?
Our teachers observe children carefully and provide targeted support, such as a kind word, a short hug, and by being present near the child to reassure him, rather than holding him for extended periods. This is particularly true in the case of children new to the class, who tend to quickly develop a sense of comfort in the classroom setting. In a case where such an approach is not working, a teacher will offer a child continued support. However, there is sometimes an initial period where a teacher will observe a student in order to give him a chance to calm down on his own, and so the teacher can assess how best way to help him; during this time, a crying child may not be immediately comforted. We understand that young children can have strong emotions and need support in coping with them, especially as they transition into a new environment. Our teachers are trained to do so with utmost care: they focus on enabling the child to recognize his emotions, and guiding him as he slowly learns to become more emotionally independent—all while ensuring that each child knows that his teachers care deeply about him. In general, we believe that children develop greater self-esteem and independence if they discover that they are not entirely dependent on adults for handling emotional situations. We have found that with proper nurturing and support, our students grow to be better prepared to thrive in the less controlled environments of elementary school and beyond.
Will my toddler cry when he first joins the class? What if he has separation anxiety?
We understand that many young children—especially toddlers and young 3 year olds—may experience separation anxiety when they first enter a new environment. Our goal is to make the transition a smooth experience, and to enable your child to learn that it is okay to be with new, caring people away from parents or other long-term caregivers. We take your family’s and your child’s individual context into account as we manage this important transition, and most of our students adapt to our school quite smoothly. We have learned that a few principles generally help make this a positive experience:
- An individualized approach—including shortened days during the first week, where needed. We invite parents to discuss their concerns with us, before the transitions starts. The more we know about your child, the better we can help make her comfortable with the change from her home environment to school. On occasion, when children have a particularly tough adjustment, we do ask a parent to be available for an early pick-up (and we appreciate your cooperation). After a week to ten days of slowly lengthening mornings, most children will have gained the confidence to join the full program.
- Parents in the classrooms during the transition period. We invite you to come and visit the school and to see the classroom with your child before his start date. We also invite your child to join us for an hour or two of play time the Friday before he starts school. Some campuses invite parents to linger outside, in the play area, while the children arrive. Once classes start, however, we suggest that you take a warm, brief goodbye from your child. You are always welcome to observe your child anytime, but we have found that when parents come in the classroom, it prolongs the anxiety, as the child comes to expect the parent to stay, and leads children who have already separated from their parents to regress.
- Extra personal support and attention in the classroom, by peers and teachers. To support those children who have separation issues, we build in extra time for emotional support: our toddler rooms have a low child-teacher ratio. With rolling enrollments, we ensure that we never have a full class of new children at once. Our mixed-age primary rooms rarely have more than 3-4 new children joining at a time (many of our kids move up from the toddler program; others enroll mid-year). Our group of floating teachers and the Head of School provide extra assistance in difficult separation periods. We may also assign new students an older “mentor”—a child who has been with us for at least 18 months and who enjoys being a one-on-one guide to his new little friend.
- A belief in children’s resilience & emotional growth. Through years of experience, we have found that it is rare for children (even young children) to be emotionally upset while they have this level of support and personal attention—especially when they see their peers enjoy the many wonderful activities our schools offer. We are, however, comfortable to let our young charges struggle just a bit as they adjust: while we will never let a child cry for an extended period of time, we will occasionally give a child the opportunity to calm down on his own for a little while, with a teacher nearby to offer a kind word and hug now and then. We find that this builds self-confidence, as the child slowly learns to better deal with challenging emotions, without relying entirely on an adult to sooth him.