Why Montessori?

When parents first contact us, they have often heard of Montessori education, but don’t really know much about it.

What, really, is Montessori? Are all Montessori schools alike, or are there differences? Why do children have so much freedom in your classrooms?  How come they are so focused—and not as wild and loud as children at other schools?

We love it when parents have these and many other similar questions: it’s our opportunity to show you just how different and wonderful Montessori, when done right, is for children!

Continue reading to discover the four attributes of a high-quality, authentic Montessori program. You’ll learn what to look for in a Montessori school, and why finding a good Montessori school can, quite literally, change your child’s life for the better.

Montessori History and Overview

  • Montessori is a method for educating children from infancy through high school, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori (Aug. 31, 1870-May 6, 1952) the first female physician in Italy.
  • The first Casa dei Bambini for children ages 3-6, opened in the slums of Rome in 1907. As Dr. Montessori’s slum children outperformed their middle-class peers on school entrance exams, the method quickly drew attention in Italy and abroad. Montessori schools soon opened across Europe and America, where the approach spread quickly after Dr. Montessori made it visible by operating a “glass classroom” at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco.
  • Dr. Montessori was a scientist, who developed her method over 50 years, observing thousands of children on three continents, and fine-tuning her approach based on how children reacted to the pedagogy and curriculum offered to them.
  • An estimated 4,500 schools in the US practice some form of Montessori, and possibly as many as 20,000 world-wide.

It’s important for parents to know that Montessori isn’t a trademarked term and Montessori schools vary widely in the quality of programs they offer, with some offering a fully-implemented, high-fidelity Montessori programs, while others may just include a few Montessori materials in an otherwise non-Montessori classroom. As a parent, if you want the full benefits of a Montessori education for your child, you’ll need to educate yourself on what to look for in a Montessori school—for example, by reading this article, or by exploring further with the books we recommend below.

What the research says about high-quality Montessori programs

“Children in Classic Montessori programs, as compared with children in Supplemented Montessori and Conventional programs, showed significantly greater school year gains on outcome measures of executive function, reading, math, vocabulary, and social problem solving, suggesting that high fidelity Montessori implementation is associated with better outcomes than lower fidelity Montessori programs or conventional programs.”
—Angeline S. Lillard, Journal of School Psychology 50 (2012) (View the research article)

Good books on Montessori for further reading:

 

When my daughter was 18 months, I started looking for preschools. I didn’t know much about Montessori, toured three schools, and chose one. Then I discovered LePort—and was blown away by how different this Montessori program was from the others I had seen. I discovered that Montessori isn’t trademarked, that just the name Montessori doesn’t say that much about a school. I pulled my daughter from her first school, and enrolled her in a more fully implemented Montessori program. Witnessing her development, seeing who she is now at age eight as she and her younger brother attend our LePort Montessori elementary program—a confident, capable young girl, a strong reader who devours books, in love with learning, articulate, empathetic, joyful—fuels my desire to help other parents find a similar, high-quality Montessori experience for their children.

Heike Larson
Montessori mom and Senior Vice President of Marketing and Admissions at LePort Montessori Schools

  • Mixed-Age, Family-Like Communities

    Fostering Trust, Autonomy and Social Skills

Mixed-Age, Family-Like Communities

Fostering Trust, Autonomy and Social Skills

In most daycare centers and schools (including many that bear the Montessori name), children are grouped by narrow age ranges: there’s the two’s class, the three’s class, the pre-k class and so on. Every new school year, each teacher starts over with a whole new group of children in her class. She has to get to know all the children and establish a classroom culture from scratch, which can take a while as all the children are coming into a brand-new environment at once.

That’s not so in an authentic Montessori school.

In Montessori, children stay with their teachers for 18 months (infants, toddlers) to three years (preschool/kindergarten and elementary). This has many benefits: these mixed-age, family-like communities make individualized, self-motivated learning possible, and support the development of mature, pro-social skills.

  • A trusting, long-term relationship between teacher, parents and child. Our teachers have the time to get to know your child, and to get to know you! They become invested in the longer-term flourishing of your child and family: they can help you think through challenging parenting moments (think toddler tantrums or aggressive behavior), and guide your child based on her unique interests and temperament.
  • The ability for every child to be the younger, middle and older sibling. Many Montessori parents report how siblings in their families have fewer rivalry issues than siblings in other families. The Montessori mixed-age environments are at least part of the reason: each child, whether singleton, oldest or youngest, gets to take on each role. He starts as the three-year-old newbie, in awe of the competence of the six-year-olds in his class. He imitates them, aspires to be like them. Then, in two years, he is just like them—and he gets to experience how the younger ones look up to him in turn!
  • The opportunity for each child to be optimally challenged, no matter where she falls on the ability scale. Cognitive, social, and emotional development vary tremendously from child to child. Some four-year-olds are strong readers—but may struggle with social skills. Others are totally psyched to learn about rocks, plants, and animals—and may not yet be fascinated by literacy skills. As our primary teachers are trained for ages two and a half to about seven, and as classrooms have materials for all these ages, every child can work in her own “zone of proximate development” (that magical spot when a task is difficult enough to stretch, but not so hard that it frustrates the learner), all the time!
  • Mentoring and mentorship between children: peer learning. Children often learn better from each other than from adults. For a four-year-old who is not yet reading, it’s much more motivating to see a slightly older peer (who didn’t read a little while ago!) reading to him, than it is to watch an adult do the same. In Montessori, younger children often intently observe older ones at work, and learn a lot through these observations. Older children may also act as teachers, if they choose to help younger ones with activities. Both children benefit: the young one has a mentor, the older one, by teaching the younger one, solidifies his own understanding, and acquires leadership skills and confidence.
  • The Luxury of Uninterrupted Work Time

    Children Are Empowered to Acquire Executive Function Skills and “Go Deep” in Learning

The Luxury of Uninterrupted Time

Children Are Empowered to Acquire Executive Function Skills and “Go Deep” in Learning

When do you do your best, most creative, most engaged work? Is it when you have 30 minutes right before your next appointment—or when you have the luxury of a few uninterrupted hours to immerse yourself in whatever challenge you’re tackling?

In most preschool settings, children get shuttled by adults from one scheduled activity to the next, in short time bursts: art time, followed by activity centers, followed by read-aloud, circle, snack, etc. This never allows children to truly immerse themselves in any one activity, to forget about everything else and just live in the moment, for the pure enjoyment of doing whatever they are doing. Even more than adults, children need time—time to decide what to do, and to do it themselves, at their own pace, slowly, on their own terms, without the constant threat of being told to stop before they are all done, and to move on to the next thing.

180 minutes

A three-hour, uninterrupted work period

This luxury of uninterrupted time to explore is what authentic Montessori offers—and it’s a main reason why children love coming to school at LePort!

Take an art project. In most preschools, there’s a set art time. The teacher prepares an art activity, and the children come together as a group. After some demonstrations by the teacher, all the children do their own art. Maybe 30-45 minutes later, it’s time to move on to the next activity—and the teacher cleans up, while the children may head outside to play.

In Montessori, in contrast, art is something that is always available to each child. When a Montessori child decides she wants to paint, she sets up her easel with paper, paints, water and brushes. She dons the apron, and goes to work. She keeps at it until she thinks she is done, then carefully places her painting on the drying rack, puts paints away, cleans brushes and apron, and scrubs the easel with a little sponge dipped into a bucket, ensuring that the art activity is ready to use for the next child.

What happens here? Why is this child-initiated, self-directed approach better than the adult-led, group approach? Here’s why:

  • Autonomy fosters engagement, and ignites the spark within. Research shows that all humans—adult and children alike—learn best and work best when they have autonomy. This is especially important for children: too many youngsters today grow up without knowing who they are, and what they want to do with their lives. Just ask any college professor! By giving young children meaningful, frequent choices (instead of having them follow adult directions all the time), we help them discover who they are, what the like, and pave the way for purposeful, joyful living, rather than duty-bound learning.
  • Freedom and responsibility encourage the development of critical executive function skills. ADHD is the curse of today’s children: 12% of boys are diagnosed at some time between the ages of three and seventeen. Middle school teachers note that many children can’t persist in difficult tasks for extended periods. College students drift, unable to set goals and accomplish them. Researchers assert that many of these challenges can be traced to poorly developed executive functions skills—such as the ability to self-regulate, to control impulses, to acquire a strong working memory, and to practice cognitive flexibility. Montessori is the perfect environment for children to practice these essential skills daily! An infant is allowed to persist in pulling up on a bar as long as she wants—instead of being interrupted to join a group snack time. A toddler would love to have the material another child has—but learns to wait for his turn, standing patiently with hands-behind-back, while observing, instead of impulsively snatching the material away, or demanding that the other child “share.” A preschooler comes to school wanting to build the pink tower—but a friend is using it, and she needs to move on to her second choice.
  • Real learning and doing things yourself is fun—but it takes time and doesn’t conform to adult-imposed schedules. Independence and deep engagement takes time, and can’t be fit into 30-minute increments of adult-led group activities. (Just imagine 20 preschoolers setting up, drawing and taking down easel art, all at the same time, in a 45 or 50 minute art class: it won’t be pretty!) Children in our Montessori programs just love having the time to do things for themselves, to get into a flow state, to do their thing at their own pace, on their terms. Just come and observe a class and see for yourself!
  • Scientifically-Designed Montessori Learning Materials

    The Montessori Materials Allow Us to “Follow The Child” and at the Same Time to Deliver a Structured, Sequential, Challenging Curriculum

Scientifically-Designed Montessori Learning Materials

The Montessori Materials Allow Us to “Follow The Child” and at the Same Time to Deliver a Structured, Sequential, Challenging Curriculum

If you had to choose,
which would you choose for your child:

A fun experience at school that fosters confidence and soft skills?

Progressive schools with project-based or child-centered educational approaches emphasize joyful learning, give the children a say in what they study, and can, at their best, foster strong soft skills. Yet they often lack a clear, structured, rigorous curriculum, and (unless you happen to get one of the very rare teachers that can pull this educational style off well!) leave children without a coherent base of integrated, deep, rich knowledge about the world.

or

A rigorous, academically rich education?

Traditional schools, on the other hand, offer (the appearance of) academic rigor, often evidenced by an avid focus on (standardized) tests and grades. Unfortunately, learning in a traditional setting is often extrinsically motivated (those tests again, or the ice cream party that awaits a well-behaved class), and teacher-directed to such a degree that children neither love learning, nor develop critical soft skills.

Often that’s the choice parents face,
but what if there was another option?

Montessori education is the third way that combines joyful, autonomous learning, with a structured, sequential, challenging curriculum. The Montessori materials, along with careful guidance by great teachers, are the keys that make this possible.

Source: Dr. Steven Hughes, Igniting the Flame Within

In Montessori, learning happens largely between the children and the materials. The materials embody the lessons, and allow children to acquire knowledge directly by working with them.

How does that work?

Here’s a math example. Other areas of the curriculum use similar principles!

A short lesson, given at just the right moment.

One of the most important skills of a Montessori guide (teacher) is observing her students, and matching the lessons she gives carefully to the abilities and interests of a child. The materials progress in a thoughtfully structured sequence, and most materials have several different levels of difficulty.

Take the Golden Beads, the material that introduces preschool children to place value and arithmetic to 10,000. The guide first introduces the concepts of a “unit,” “ten bar,” “hundred square” and “thousand cube,” usually around the age of four. Over time, the child progresses to building numbers to 9,999 with the beads and corresponding number cards. She may team up with a friend, and put two of her numbers together: there is addition!

At some point, the combinations of units may exceed ten—which is a perfect time for the teacher to introduce the concept of exchanging ten units for a ten bar, ten ten bars for a hundred square, and ten hundred squares for a thousand cube. The teacher gives the children a short lesson, and the children physically carry the ten units to the shelf (or the “bank”), to exchange them for a single ten bar. In this hands-on, concrete way, with movement and social interactions built into the lesson, the concept of carrying in addition, which often confuses even 2nd or 3rd graders, enters into these four- or five-year-old’s minds naturally, and stays there, for life.

Unlimited time to practice with the material, to achieve mastery.

Once our four- or five-year-olds have been shown how to make big numbers with the Golden Beads, how to combine them, how to exchange ten of one quantity for one of the next higher level up, they are off to the races! Four- and five-year-olds love working with these materials, building big numbers, getting together with one or two friends, collaborating in figuring out the sums they’ve made. To them, it’s a game, one they joyfully repeat over and over again—yet without knowing it, they internalize otherwise challenging math concepts, such as multi-digit addition or subtraction with carrying or borrowing.

  • Highly-Trained, Nurturing Montessori Teachers

    Our Teachers Are Masters at Motivating and Individualizing As They Guide and Nurture Students

Highly-Trained, Nurturing Montessori Teachers

Our Teachers Are Masters at Motivating and Individualizing as they Guide and Nurture Students

The people your child interacts with daily during her early years have a tremendous influence on who she will become. As Peg Tyre, author of the book The Good School, puts it:

Your child’s first teacher is going to be one of those highly tolerant and relentlessly positive people who can be kind to your child on days when it is sunny and your child is laughing and ready to learn, and on stormy days, too, when your young scholar is upset, overtired or cranky.

The best preschool teachers turn out to be the ones who are very smart from the start.

Early childhood workers vary widely in their qualifications. In most states, the legal requirements are minimal: In California, for example, 12 Early Childhood Units from a community college are all that’s needed to teach preschool. Along with minimal qualifications often comes low pay and poor working conditions, which lead to a detrimentally high staff turnover at many childcare centers.

Montessori teachers generally have at least some additional training. But even within Montessori, training can vary significantly. As Montessori is not a copyrighted term, anyone can offer “Montessori teacher training”—whether or not they actually know anything about Montessori!

That’s why at LePort, we are very selective on who we hire. We actively recruit the best candidates from the pool of Montessori teachers, and most of our teachers hold an AMI Montessori credential. AMI stands for the Association Montessori International, the original Montessori organization founded in 1929 by Dr. Montessori herself. This training sets the standard in Montessori training, and our classrooms largely operate along AMI principles. When we on occasion hire teachers with a training other than AMI, we ensure that their qualifications live up to this standard:

  • A graduate-level course. Teacher candidates at a good Montessori training program like AMI generally need a Bachelor’s degree to be admitted to the program—making it more likely they have the general intelligence that is needed to be a strong teacher.
  • An in-person, year-long training program. While some Montessori programs are delivered exclusively online, and others are “quickie” 10-week summer courses, the AMI training and other high-quality programs are the equivalent of a full academic year program. Students attend classes in person, and interact with other students, with experienced trainers, with the materials, and with children.
  • An in-depth exploration of early childhood development and the full range of Montessori materials. An good Montessori training course doesn’t just provide a quick overview of Montessori. Instead, it is, as many AMI-trained teachers will confirm, “one of the most challenging years in my life.” Lectures cover a wide range of topics on early childhood development, including a deep-dive into the principles behind Montessori, as well as the specific use and lessons of every material in a Montessori classroom. Candidates don’t have textbooks to study from; instead, they make their own “albums” by taking lectures notes and then describing, in their own words, with their own, often hand-drawn, illustrations, the use and lessons for every single material.
  • Experienced master teachers as trainers. Becoming an good Montessori trainer is difficult. For example, candidates for the AMI “training of trainers” program must hold an AMI Montessori credential and have at least five years of Montessori teaching experience in an authentic Montessori setting. They then “apprentice” as a course assistant, before graduating to become a certified AMI trainer.
  • External written and oral exams to graduate. While many training programs give final exams in-house, AMI teacher candidates are examined by an outside trainers. This helps ensure quality, and makes it all but impossible for training centers to graduate teachers who have not mastered the skills required to become excellent teachers.

AMI training, to us, guarantees that a teacher has the intelligence and knowledge base to become a great teacher. We look for even more, though, when we interview candidates: We want our teachers to be happy, motivated people with great interpersonal skills and a willingness to work hard and grow.

This is not to say that there aren’t other outstanding Montessori teachers, and on occasion, we will hire teachers with American Montessori Society (AMS) or other credentials from good training programs, who bring a high level of skill or experience. This is more common when we integrate existing Montessori schools into our network, usually when a long-term owner retires and we step in to continue their legacy of delivering a good Montessori education. When that happens, our primary focus remains unchanged: to provide the most authentic Montessori experience to each of our students. In those instances, we take great care to get to know the current staff and culture of a school to identify areas where it excels, as well as instances where strong academic support and additional professional development are needed to help teachers deliver a Montessori experience that lives up to our high standards. In some cases, this can result in staffing changes, and we work hard to anticipate those changes with minimal disruption to the student’s experience.

As part of our commitment to developing our staff, we regularly sponsor our best assistant teachers for their AMI Montessori training, paying for their training through a refundable loan. To make it possible for them to do the training while working with our students, we have partnered with AMI training centers to create training programs with afternoon/evening and weekend schedules. The goal is to promote these newly-trained teachers as soon as possible to head teachers; usually, this happens once they complete their training, but sometimes, we will offer assistant teachers a head teacher position concurrent to completing their AMI training. In those cases, we ensure that our new Montessori teachers are well-supported by our regional and academic teams, so they deliver an authentic Montessori experience to the children and parents they serve from the beginning of their tenure as head teachers.

Teachers we hire right out of AMI training who haven’t worked as assistants at LePort often start out as “junior teachers,” and complete a six- to twelve-month paid “apprenticeship” under one of our “master teachers.” That’s how they learn the art of teaching, from classroom management to communications with parents.

We also support all of our teachers—floaters, assistant teachers and head teachers—with ongoing training opportunities, from bringing outstanding AMI-trained experts to our schools, to offering ongoing in-classroom coaching from our Montessori-trained, experienced Heads of Schools and our Montessori academics support team.

Because we hire highly-qualified teachers, and select them for “culture fit,” because we offer a great working environment, career growth opportunities, and ongoing support, because we pay well and offer a benefits package including paid time off and health insurance, we are able to attract great people to work with the children in our schools, and to help them make teaching into a long-term career.

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By providing us with your phone number, you consent to being contacted by LePort Montessori and/or its affiliated schools regarding their educational programs, whether such contact is by phone, autodialer, recorded message, or text. Please note: Your consent is not required as a condition of enrollment.