Many pedagogical questions are answered in detail on our program pages. We encourage you to read them, as they provide a great insight into our programs.

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 preschool child engages in pretend play at home, parents should support the child’s choice. But in the preschool environment, we’ve found that children themselves prefer to be engaged in meaningful work—and find it fun!

How do you foster creativity? The preschool 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. You can read more about social skills development in a Montessori preschool classroom in this blog post.

Why is Kindergarten included with preschool?

Our program, like all authentic, high-quality Montessori preschools and elementary schools, has multi-age classrooms. Children ages 3-6 are in one class called Primary (which combines preschool and kindergarten) 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 final year of the primary program, the “kindergarten year”, is critical: in the kindergarten year, primary students cash in on all the preparatory work they have done up until that point in the Montessori program; by the kindergarten 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 preschool 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 in your preschool/kindergarten program?

Yes, typically children learn to write and read by the time they graduate from our Primary program (at age six, at the end of the final, kindergarten year of the three-year program). 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 phonetically-controlled children’s books and write multi-sentence compositions, often in neat cursive handwriting. Of course, each child is different—and some children (e.g., those with dyslexia and other learning disabilities) may need additional support and may not meet these typical milestones by the end of kindergarten.

Why do Montessori preschool 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 preschool 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 preschool 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 during the week 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.

Montessori Elementary (1st–6th grade) and Middle School (7th and 8th grade)

What is your approach to standardized testing and student assessments?

At LePort, we try to always remember that tests are a tool to measure knowledge and performance. Tests are not an end in themselves. Actionable, applied knowledge is the goal, not merely a score on a test. With that in mind, our students in 3rd through 8th grade complete the MAP Growth test twice a year, once in fall (to set a baseline, diagnostic—this pre-test is not shared with parents), and once in the spring (to track growth over the year; results of this test are shared with parents). The MAP Growth test is an online, adaptive test, used by many Montessori and traditional schools (both public and private). In contrast to some other tests, which provide only an assessment of mastery vs. the child’s actual grade level, this adaptive test allows us to identify the grade level a child works at (e.g., a 4th grader advance in math may test at a 5th grade level). This type of standardized tests provide us as educators, and you as parents, with statistical data comparing your child’s performance in Reading, Language, and Mathematics with other children’s across the nation.

Our strategy at LePort is to instill, through exciting academic content and engaging motivated teaching, a true joy of learning, rather than to teach to the test. We measure our success by whether our students are able to grasp the crucial knowledge needed, and to develop in themselves the effective thinking skills and strong character that will aid in their enjoying life to the fullest. We believe the result of our strategy and goal—in conjunction with our invaluable partnership with caring, active parents—is knowledgeable children who can think clearly, who can write confidently, and who tackle new challenges with excitement. In other words, although on average our students score high on standardized tests, we do not feel that such tests are a very effective measurement tool for academic success. Specifically, they do not do a good enough job of testing true understanding of material or logical reasoning. Mostly what they test is short-term memory. For this reason, we do not make standardized tests a big focus at LePort. Instead, in each subject, we regularly measure our students’ knowledge and understanding with a range of tools, from presentations to essays, from oral quizzing to written assessments. But these assessments are never multiple choice, and often they require students to use their knowledge to solve unique problems and to offer explanations in their own words, thus ensuring they truly know what they know.

How much homework do children have in your elementary school and middle school programs?

Montessori students in elementary and middle school have ample time during the school day to practice what they learn. Because practice time is built into the school day, teacher-assigned homework in the traditional sense (e.g., worksheets, repetitive practice at home of skills learned at school, extensive research projects) is both limited and individualized.

A typical lower elementary child (1st–3rd grade) may bring home between no homework at all and three hours worth of work per week. This work is typically individualized by the student’s needs and can include spelling or math practice, reading for literature circle, or research for a report. By middle school, we gradually expect students to do more practice as well as longer-term projects at home to prepare them for the expectations of high school. A typical middle school student who works hard during class periods may have between 6–8 hours worth of homework in a typical week. Often Montessori students choose to independently pursue academic study at home spurred by passion for a topic or ambitious academic goals. Beyond assigned homework, if a student does not complete classwork efficiently, that work will be assigned as homework. In all cases, communication between teachers, students, and parents is key to monitoring each student’s work and learning, as well as levels of stress and life balance.

Much research The Homework Myth – Alfie Kohn and Research Trends: Why Homework Should Be Balanced | Edutopia shows that there is no correlation between the amount of homework assigned in the elementary years and academic success. As Montessori educators, we believe that children are eager learners, that they learn best in a supportive environment at school, and that parents and children need non-academic family time together in the afternoons and evenings. Here are some ideas:

  • Allow for free play and self-directed expression in the arts and music. Children need and want time to reflect, imagine, play, and rest.
  • Encourage outdoor play. Nature is critically important for children’s health and wellness.
  • Offer work at home, instead of homework. Age-appropriate contributions to the running of the household are good opportunities to learn life skills. Younger students can take care of pets, help in the garden, make their own lunches, fold laundry, and clean their own rooms. Older students can help with a wider range of chores, from grocery shopping to babysitting to cooking meals.
  • Explore together. Museum visits and excursions are great opportunities for learning together as a family. Your child may also appreciate if you help him further explore topics he may have studied at school by visiting an architecturally relevant building, or a historic site, or hiking in a biome he or she studied at school.
  • Make reading a family habit. Children who read have a huge leg up academically, all the way into college testing. Reading as a family is one important way you can support your child’s academic success—by reading aloud (even to elementary children who read well on their own), and by ensuring children have time to read books they enjoy at home.

Do you offer field trips? Overnight trips?

Going beyond the classroom walls to integrate knowledge with real-world experiences is a core element of Montessori for the elementary and middle school years. We offer different types of experiences, ranging from all-class field trips (organized by the school), to going outs (initiated and organized by the students), to shorter and longer overnight trips, ranging from stays at local nature preserves, to long-distance trips (e.g., to the Washington, D.C. area for our California middle school students). You can read more about our elementary excursions here, and our middle school trips here.

How do you support student’s interests in extracurricular activities—from arts and music to sports and volunteer activities?

One of the great aspects of Montessori elementary and middle school is how we incorporate art, music, and other student interests into the curriculum. You can read about art and music enrichment in our Montessori Elementary School program here.  

As a small school, we do not have competitive sports teams for our school. We do, however, incorporate active recess (with engaging physical games), into every school day, to ensure our students engage in the daily physical activity they need to learn well. During active recess, students and teachers play traditional playground games (such as dodgeball or four square), and teachers use these as an opportunity to coach students on sportsmanship and teamwork. At some of our schools that extend into elementary and middle school, we also have a more structured physical education component integrated into the week.

In addition to enrichment activities incorporated into the core school day, each of our elementary schools also offers after-school programs, ranging from academic (e.g., chess) to physical (e.g., boot camp or golf), to artistic and musical as well as STEM (e.g., JAVA programming and LEGO engineering). Programs vary by school and season, and are tailored to the community’s interests; ask your local school team for the latest After-School Program sign-up sheet for details.

Many of our students have active interests outside of school as well: they participate in club sports, are high-achieving musicians, or participate in volunteer community service projects. Because LePort Montessori students have much more limited homework than their peers at many traditional schools, they are able to pursue their passions beyond the school walls—without sacrificing important unstructured free time, family time or sleep.

Can my child do accelerated work in subjects he/she excels at (e.g. in math)?

Individualization is one of the core strengths of the Montessori Elementary School and Middle School program. When a child joins our program, their teachers will assess them, and place them in ability-based groups, so they are always challenged at just their level. For example, a 4th grader who is strong at math, may be joining a group of other accelerated 4th as well as some 5th graders in math. Our goal in Montessori is to enable each child to reach their maximum potential—and that definitely includes giving children with the ability to do accelerated work the opportunity for it. In mathematics, it is not uncommon for students with an affinity for the subject to tackle algebra and geometry in middle school.

What is your school’s approach to religion and politics in education?

LePort Montessori is a diverse community, with a wide variety of faiths and political beliefs represented among our community of staff, parents, and students. As a secular, non-political school, we welcome students, families and staff from every possible background.

As a secular school, we focus on academic content, including background  knowledge of various religions where it arises in the Fundamental Human Needs framework or in the chronology of history study. We believe that current  politics does not have any place in an education through 8th grade. We are very careful to remain neutral on anything that bears on any particular controversial political issue or religious belief. Our individual staff members hold a variety of religious and political beliefs, but all take very great care not to disclose their personal views to their students. Our goal is to develop in our students the ability to think through issues for themselves, and to clearly articulate their own ideas, without indoctrinating them in any particular religions or political viewpoint. We focus on cultivating those skills—in essence, on the ability to form one’s own judgment and act accordingly—without teaching any particular political position or religious belief.

What is your school’s approach to sex education?

As our students enter puberty, they naturally become interested in their changing bodies. LePort Montessori does not offer sex education as a formal or mandatory part of its curriculum. We do teach biology, including the reproductive systems and comparisons  among different species. Sometimes, depending on parent demand, we may offer a voluntary sex education class to students. In these cases, we will advise parents of the class, and allow them to choose whether or not their child will participate.

What is your school’s approach to interpersonal conflict?

Because LePort Montessori maintains such a small and intimate environment, and because our teachers are trained to be extremely proactive with regard to any issues of any kind that may arise with individual students (including interpersonal issues), it is extremely rare that an interaction among our students would rise to the level of what we would call bullying. We take a positive approach to discipline and relationships, teaching and modeling communication skills, which allow students to express their individual needs and opinions in an emotionally safe and tolerant environment.

Observation is a cornerstone of our Montessori teacher training and the belief in being proactive to support our students. The second our teachers notice an interpersonal issue between students that they aren’t able to solve themselves, we support them in brainstorming solutions and resolving their differences First, they act to gather all available information and  may solve the issue among the students involved or when needed bring the issue up in a staff meeting, to determine whether other teachers have noticed anything similar. They will pool information and have a discussion about what they think is underlying the interaction that they have noticed. They will then strategize about how to address it with the students, discuss their conclusions with parents and revise accordingly and, as a team, adopt a certain course of action. Depending on the issue, the teachers may choose to respond in a variety of ways. Possibly it may be a case where the teacher will pull one or both students aside and talk to them one on one. If so, the teacher is not lecturing to the student or doling out punishments, but trying to understand why he has behaved in the way he did, and help him to see the consequences of his actions. If the issue becomes more serious, or even if it doesn’t, it is likely that one or more teachers will actively communicate with the parents of both students, to keep them in the loop about the issue and let them know how we will be handling it in school. While our top priority is the safety and well-being of the child hurt, it’s important to remember that all children involved need just as much support and coaching to improve their communication and relationship skills so that patterns don’t become entrenched. We focus on all  students involved in any issue. We try to help  our students see that they will have healthier and more fulfilling friendships when they treat others with respect. We also try to develop in our students  a healthy sense of respect and confidence, as we strategize together about how to most effectively respond and stand up for themselves. The regular class meetings in each Upper School class is an important time for discussing these issues and building a sense of community where all students feel supported.

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