FAQ in a Montessori School.
Here are some questions we often hear from parents who visit our schools:
Won’t my three year old be overwhelmed by the five year olds in her class? (Or, my first grader by the third graders?)
Please come and observe the mixed age classroom. Our children treat each other with care and respect. It is common to see younger children pour water for their older peers, older children ensure that a little one is able to carry materials. They are not mini-adults, but they are children who participate in their environment and follow the expectations of courtesy and grace.
If you have up to 20 students with one teacher, how is my child benefiting?
Small class size has become synonymous with positive educational outcomes. This is true in a traditional setting in which the teacher is required to lead a whole group of students through lessons and activities on a set schedule. In order to address the needs of a whole group, and have time to do so, the teacher greatly benefits from a small class, resulting in better comparative outcomes for the students.
However, small class size limits the great opportunity for children to learn from each other. They are deeply interested in the activities of other children, feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when they reach a new lesson that they have seen another child complete, and develop considerable skill and confidence through demonstrating and sharing their work with peers.
In Montessori education, our teachers are always teaching individual and small group lessons that are specifically targeted to those children. This means that our children get the best of both worlds - a large and actively collaborative peer group and close individual attention to academic and social development.
(There is one exception to the individual/small group instruction: the presentations of the Great Lessons to the elementary students are typically provided to the class as a whole, as a starting point for individual and small group exploration. The annual repetition of the Great Lessons means that all children have the opportunity to learn and understand new aspects each year.)
Do you give tests?
Yes! Everyday. However they aren’t the end of the week, unit review tests on paper that you might be expecting. Our children are assessed daily through careful observation of their engagement in their work. They are evaluated with respect to understanding concepts, applying concepts, and explaining concepts. It is crucial to the Montessori method to be able to understand what the child knows in order to effectively provide the next step in his or her education. We require that the child exhibit understanding of the concepts before moving on, because moving on too soon leads to frustration, confusion, and avoidance. Because we don’t move on from one lesson to the next in response to the calendar, but in response to the child’s understanding of the material, we ensure that their learning is based on comprehension not memorization. In doing so, we minimize discouragement and frustration, and we are able to adapt in response to the child’s needs. As teachers, we are responsible for keeping a child on track and moving forward. We do so, not by setting a timeline on the calendar, but by frequent presentation of lessons, presentation of increasingly challenging work, the ability to present the same concepts in multiple ways, and always following the child’s innate desire to explore, understand, and grow.
How do you know how my child compares to traditional grade level?
Because we are trained experts. Just like the teachers in other schools. We are well aware of the academic curriculum set by the Ontario Board of Education and our curriculum is designed to cover the content and skills expected by the Ministry.
The benefit of the three year cycle is that your child has time to develop at his or her own pace and is expected to exhibit variation in that development. For example, your son might be more skilled in reading than in math for a portion of the year. He then may become more interested and engaged in math and his skill will jump rapidly.
If a child is struggling to progress in developing her skills we will talk with you about it.
How is technology used in the classrooms?
In general, we strive to set a balance regarding the use of technology in our classrooms. We believe as educators and parents that children’s access to technology is so pervasive in society that children are simultaneously required to be familiar with technology and also limited in their use of technology.
To emphasize and support crucial aspects of brain development, social skill development, and emotional well being we do not provide unlimited access to computers in our classrooms. Our educational focus on exploration, the experience of hands on discovery, and collaborative problem solving reduces the necessity and excitement of the internet as a resource. In the classroom, our children are talking to each other and using materials to explore concepts rather than watching videos explaining concepts.
However in recognition that children must know how to use technology safely, responsibly, and effectively, computers and the internet are used in our schools as specific tools for research and at times report writing (at the upper elementary level).
There are many elementary and middle schools who have started providing (or insisting upon) laptop computers for each student. When exploring schools, it is important that you discuss how technology is used, how it benefits the curriculum, and which developmental needs are being met though that use and which are being limited.
We do have Smart Board technology in our Accelerated French program, which is used to support active visual learning in that program.
How is this education actually different from what my child would receive in a traditional program?
Linked here is a chart that summarizes the main differences in methodology between Montessori education and traditional programs. It is important to note that even in schools that emphasize “child centred learning”, “discovery based learning”, and other approaches, what remains unique in Montessori is the role and activity of the teacher - not as an expert who provides content to a group, but as guide who understands the individual children and provides direction accordingly.
Is there research that identifies the benefits of a Montessori education?
The CCMA has done a beautiful job of gathering the most recent research about Montessori. We highly recommend reading the articles and watching any or all of the videos on this page.