If you’ve got a child in a Montessori school, or are thinking about putting your child in a Montessori school, you’ll probably have loads of people showing disapproval of your decision. This is because many people don’t understand the Montessori approach, how the classrooms work and the unbelievable benefits of this type of education. Here we take a look at some of the myths surrounding Montessori schools and help you to understand the principles behind the Montessori teaching methods and in fact how it can help your child achieve great success.
Myth #1 – Montessori is just for Gifted Kids
No, in fact this couldn’t be further from the truth. Montessori is for all children, no matter what level they’re at. To the casual observer, Montessori students often appear advanced for their age, leading to the assumption that the schools only cater to gifted children. In reality, Montessori schooling helps each child develop their own individuality in a way that puts emphasis on their inborn intelligence and what they’re good at. Montessori gives the child the opportunity to gain mastery at a pace that allows them to be successful. They take full advantage of a child’s intense desire to learn while respecting their individuality. The teacher takes her cues from the child’s interests, and they organise the learning to make the most of these interests.
Myth #2 – Montessori Classrooms are Chaos
If you observe a Montessori classroom for a couple of hours, you will see that it is actually far from chaotic. The system at its very best allows children to do things for themselves. They place a great deal of emphasis on teaching independence. They encourage self-discipline, even in very young kids, and don’t encourage interference from adults in the environment. The teacher acts more like a guide and allows the child to learn by himself, using the materials that have been specifically designed for this exact purpose.
They aren’t moved around the classroom in groups and asked to all do the same activities at the same time. Instead they are exposed to a wide range of self-correcting materials. First the teacher will demonstrate the material, sometimes you might even find an older child demonstrating the material, and they are then free to choose whatever activity is interesting to them. They are left alone to experiment and practice with the material, helping them to teach themselves to concentrate, building co-ordination skills and independence in an orderly way that doesn’t require adult supervision. Montessori believes that each child should be relaxed, peaceful and absorbed in activities. When there are arguments between children, they are left alone to sort it out themselves. They do gain conflict management skills from teachers though, which helps them to sort out problems. The role of the teacher in the classroom is to observe activities, facilitate self-discipline rather than directing activities and being an enforcer of rules. You may be surprised at how quickly Montessori kids teach themselves these important life skills.
Myth #3 – The Montessori Method is just about Special Materials
Montessori materials are specifically designed to develop the child’s powers and observation through their senses. The development of the senses comes before intellectual activity, and Montessori educators understand how to use the materials to assist them in developing this skill. When the senses are fully developed this is when the child is able to teach themselves. It has been proven that when a child stops working with particular materials, they have developed their senses effectively.
Myth #4 – Montessori doesn’t allow for Social Development
The respect the teacher shows each child is a model for children to respect each other. Young children interact with each other and with the adults, as they gradually become more giving and more sensitive to others. The two to three year age span within each class causes the learning of younger children from older ones, which occurs naturally. Montessori respects the child and their need for privacy on occasions. Areas and activities in the classroom cater to the need to be alone as well as allowing them to interact with their classmates. Older children often tutor and assist the younger children and children may work together or by themselves as they choose.
Myth #5 – Montessori Teachers are very strict and just Focus on Academics
This couldn’t be further than the truth. The whole Montessori ethos is about respect. Respect for ourselves, each other and the planet. Teachers are extremely respectful of kids. To some this might appear as emotional distance. But this is absolutely not the case. That respect runs deep and at the core really means that they don’t invade children’s personal space without being invited. They don’t define kids by appearance. In fact all they care about is that the child is able to dress themselves, regardless of what they choose to wear themselves. When studying a class it is obvious to the eye that these teachers love for children run very, very deep indeed. It is a firm, steady affection that is fair and not just based on good behaviour. They will never patronise children – they speak to them in a normal tone of voice. They cherish children and when they need extra hugs and kisses this is given in abundance.
Myth #6 – Montessori Is Not Academically Rigorous
Parents worry that Montessori won’t prepare their kids for the next level of education. Again, this couldn’t be further than the truth.
The Montessori system understands that very young children can understand complex concepts if they are introduced in a concrete manner. As an example, if they’ve learnt about multiplication tables by doing the ‘100’s Board’ they will have a much greater grasp of multiplication when it progresses to abstract symbols. As they grow older, they teach skills such as reading, writing as well as research through the exploration of other subjects in the curriculum like cultural studies and science. Skills are not just taught for the sake of it. This encourages learners to progress more rapidly as they are often studying areas that are of great interest to them.
As cited in Angeline Lillard’s renowned study that was published in the journal, Science, in 2006, “Montessori students proved to be significantly better prepared for elementary school in reading and maths skills than the non-Montessori children.”
“They also tested better on “executive function,” the ability to adapt to changing and more complex problems, an indicator of future school and life success.”
According to neuroscientist, Dr. Steven Hughes, “If we decided that the purpose of education should be to help every child’s brain reach its highest developmental potential…Montessori education presents a radically different – and radically effective – educational approach that may be the best method we’ve got to ensure the optimal cognitive, social, and emotional development of every child.”
Myth #7 – The Older children will Intimidate Younger Kids
Montessori kids are organised into classes with children of 2 to 3 years difference in age. Many parents worry that older kids will intimidate, or pick on, younger kids.
However, the social community of mixed-age children gives experienced students an opportunity to serve as role models and help others. This promotes self-worth. At each level the children are expected to carry through with age-appropriate responsibilities which include caring for personal possessions, the classroom and the total community.
With the range of ages in the classes, competition is minimised as a motivator. The students comfortably share knowledge with each other in a respectful manner. They learn to work as a team and to value each member’s contribution in any situation. Having tools for solving conflicts builds tolerance for other points of view and prepares children to be compassionate adults.
Myth #8 – Montessori Is Too Structured
Some believe that Montessori is chaotic and unstructured, which we covered earlier, while others believe it is too structured. They believe that kids sit and work all day and aren’t allowed to move around.
In a Montessori classroom, kids actually have the freedom of walking around the classroom, completing work in the order that they choose. There are no time constraints in the classroom. What this actually means is that within a 3 hour work cycle, kids can visit the sound table, or the sensory materials, practical life and then move onto Maths. Another great thing is that when they’re interacting with the materials, ‘work’ feels more like ‘play’ which engages them even more.
Myth #9 – In Montessori Classrooms Kids can do whatever they want
The environment is actually very carefully prepared and rich with developmentally appropriate learning materials that pique their curiosity and interests, which leads the way they learn. They can explore their interests. If children are taught independence from an early age, which a large amount of emphasis is put on then they are much more likely to be motivated to learn. Teachers move about the classroom, guide and encourage children to challenge themselves in areas they are exploring as well as new areas. Teachers are trained observers and help children to grow intellectually as they master skills and content. In fact, in the lower grades, children learn to create their own work plans for the day which include the basic areas such as maths, reading, cultural, science and more. This self-management lays a crucial foundation as they move into higher grades.
Myth #10 – The Montessori Programme won’t keep Pace with the Curriculum in non-Montessori Schools
This myth is often talked about and is definitely not the case. In fact Montessori kids often advance well beyond levels achieved in public schools. This has been proven by their results. There are often comments that Montessori kids are very bright and beyond their years academically when they are put into public schools. This also is proven as they move into high school.
Myth #11 – Montessori only Works for Certain Children
Again, this is a myth. It works for all children. It addresses all three models of learning which are visual, auditory and kinetic, so that every learner can experience success. Teachers are skilled observers, as we’ve mentioned before, so they know the strengths and challenges of every single learner in their classroom. They deliver a lesson to a small group, which means they are tuned into every single child to make sure they understand the concept before they move onto related independent work.
As there’s multi-age classrooms this really allows for the additional time and support for each learner while at the same time allows more advanced children to move ahead at the levels that will keep them challenged and interested. Success in the classroom definitely requires a level of self-management and the ability to focus. The only type of learner that may not benefit from the system is one who needs constant one-on-one time with step-by-step teacher support in order to progress.
Myth #12 – Montessori doesn’t offer Opportunities for Free Play or the Development of Creativity
There is plenty of time for free play at break times, while often you’ll find that additional activities are offered like art, music, drama, additional languages and physical education. These classes are considered to be very important for the overall development of children. Creativity is also nurtured and encouraged in the classroom environment by supporting a child’s curiosity and interests. You’ll be surprised by the number of innovators in high technology and the arts have all received their educational foundation in Montessori schools.
Montessori at first glance may give rise to all these myths, but in reality it is an extremely enriching programme that develops the whole child and leads them onto great success. By placing your child in a Montessori environment you will definitely be giving them a head-start in life and helping them to achieve great success.
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Thank you for an absolutely wonderfully written article dispelling Montessori myths.