Of all the non-traditional school environments available to choose from, Montessori is consistently the most popular choice and has been for many years. For people looking for something different than a traditional public school setting, what is the allure of Montessori?
In reality, of all the alternative choices, Montessori is the least alternative in many ways – it is consistent and methodical. If your child is enrolled in a Montessori school in Denver, and then moves to Durango, you will observe similar environments, materials and philosophy.
Montessori teacher-training programs are accredited and overseen to ensure that they all teach the Montessori methods and purpose. Montessori instructional materials are the same, no matter what state or country you are in. That being said, Montessori is not a trademarked name, so anyone can open a school and call it a Montessori school. So, what are the qualities of an authentic Montessori school?
Maria Montessori designed materials that were intended to entice children to be immersed in learning. In fact, she so cleverly created teaching materials for the classroom that break down concepts in such a distinct way, many educational companies have adopted Montessori methods in their own products.
All Montessori schools will have a multitude of Montessori materials that are used by children to learn. Demonstrations and explanations from qualified Montessori teachers are provided to children, and then children are encouraged to use the materials to practice their developing skills.
Montessori schools provide children with extended periods of work time in which they explore their classroom and make choices for what they will practice, based on guided instruction from one of their Montessori teachers.
As they move into their elementary years, children refer to a work plan that includes guidance on what they can choose to practice during work time.
Montessori is highly individualized, which leads to instruction frequently being delivered in small groups. Children are in mixed-age groups so that they can nimbly move from lessons that will challenge them in areas in which they excel, to those that will provide extra support in areas where it is needed. This means, for example, that a 6-year-old child may be attending math instruction with an 8-year-old student, but that same child may also attend reading instruction with peers his or her own age. A child’s grade is not the emphasis; their ability is, along with assuring that the child’s needs are met by meeting them where they are, not trying to force the child to be someone they are not prepared to be quite yet.
In order to realize all of these intentions, Montessori has a low student-teacher ratio. A lead teacher in the classroom provides the majority of the lessons, with an assistant to support students during work time.
Lead teachers are highly qualified to be in a Montessori classroom. In order to become an elementary-level Montessori teacher, one must attend a certified accreditation program with coursework specific to the age range that the instructor wishes to teach. The training is broken down into various specialty groupings: preschool, lower elementary, upper elementary, middle school and high school, each of which requires separate practicums and coursework. That coursework typically takes a year, followed by another year of practicum work in the classroom alongside a professional Montessori teacher.
Montessori continues to evolve with the current educational needs of the 21st century. Montessori teachers are acutely aware of the national education standards, trends and research that affect how they create their own lessons and instructional methodology.
Despite being tried and true, Montessorians recognize that all great things can be critically adapted to become even better – Montessori does not rest on its laurels.
Are you wondering if Montessori is right for your child? Do you believe your child will thrive in an environment that is aware of the individual needs of your child? Does your child prefer a calm, organized, peace-oriented education environment? Then Montessori very well could be the right fit.
No method is ‘right’ for all children; for example, if a child is overly aggressive or easily overstimulated, Montessori may not be the best fit. If your child is inquisitive and willing to learn, Montessori can help keep the love of learning alive by teaching your child with a method that has stood the test of time.
Michelle Herringer is director of literacy and administration at Durango Montessori Elementary School. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.