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Contacts:
Mammolina Children's Home
Montessori Kindergarten
School location: Chaoyang District, Xiangjiang Beilu, Liyuan Xiaoqu A36
Postal Address: Jianguomen Guojiyouju 100600-6739
Beijing 100600
PR of CHINA
Tel. (8610) 84705128
Fax. (8610) 84705127

 

THE MONTESSORI APPROACH TO EDUCATION:
This page attempts to answer any questions you may have regarding Montessori philosophy or principles. For any questions regarding our school, please check the School FACTs page. If there are any questions which are not answered here, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Please click here to email us.

  

 

  THE MONTESSORI APPROACH
 
  What is Montessori?
  The name “Montessori” refers to a person (Dr. Maria Montessori) and the approach to Education which she founded.

Dr. Maria Montessori was Italy's first woman medical doctor. Through direct observation of children, and drawing on the work of other educators and researchers, she developed a s a unique approach to learning. Rather than "teaching" the child facts and concepts, a carefully prepared environment is designed to stimulate the child's interests and facilitate natural learning.

The “prepared environment” includes many features which differ from the traditional classroom. These include the special role of the adult (not a teacher, but a director) and a set of aesthetically pleasing and scientifically accurate didactic materials. These were to be used in a child-sized, child-centered environment.

Dr. Montessori revolutionized educational thought and practices, stressing respect for the child, freedom of expression, self-education, and training through use of movement and the senses. Montessori’s work influenced most modern early childhood educational theories and researchers, including Piaget. Although many Montessori principles have been absorbed by and integrated into other educational approaches, only an authentic Montessori school can provide the full benefit of this carefully planned and integrated program.

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  Can you outline the main differences between Montessori and the traditional methods or approaches to education?
  Please click on this link for a table comparing Montessori and traditional educational methods.

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  Why should I send my child to Montessori and not just day care or any other preschool?
  It is commonly agreed by most educators and psychologists today that the single most important period in the development of children occurs between birth and age six.

The child's mind, Dr. Maria Montessori observed, possesses at this age an "absorbent" quality that is later lost. The child's sensitivities, curiosity and capacity to learn all sorts of things are at a peak during these early years, when language is also effortlessly acquired. If properly nourished and stimulated the child's mind forms patterns for learning that will stay with her throughout life.

Montessori has proven, over the last more than 100 years, to be one of the most effective ways to meet the child's needs through these critical first six years of life. All of these findings have been confirmed by recent research.

In regular day-care children cared-for and entertained all day. Although most regular day-care programs include an “educational” component, these do not necessarily meet children's needs. Because Montessori schools provide an environment specially prepared to meet individual developmental needs, each child is able to develop his or her full potential. The Montessori apparatus is appealing to children which encourages the children to handle and explore the materials. In this way young children can learn even complex math concepts spontaneously.

The main objectives of Montessori preschool are to foster independence, self-esteem, cooperation rather than competition, and make sure that children's individual paths of learning are not hindered.

The training of Montessori staff enables them to respond appropriately to the child’s needs, rather than requiring that the child conform to the needs of the adult. Montessori said that children should love all that they learn. For children to love what they learn, they must be allowed to set their own pace, and chose their own work, not coerced into doing curriculum-dictated activities.

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  What is a Montessori classroom?
  A Montessori classroom, commonly referred to as a "prepared environment" is a child-size world. Furniture and tools are specially adapted so that even the smallest child can use them with ease.

Montessori teachers, or directresses, strive to present the broadest possible spectrum of wholesome learning opportunities to the child in a meaningful and integrated way.

In a Montessori classroom, the child is offered the Universe and the World in a way that she can -- literally -- touch it! Step-by-step, the directress sets up the environment so that children progress and explore life in ways they can comfortably handle. "Help me do it by myself" is a motto taken seriously in Montessori. All materials and exercises are designed to arouse the interest of each child, stimulate independent exploration, and, most importantly, to ensure success.

Children do not experience failure in Montessori, as directresses and assistants always make sure the child is presented with many different kinds and levels of work which can guarantee of success. Thus the child’s confidence grows progressively and her self-esteem is nurtured.

In this carefully prepared environment, children proceed at their own pace, from simple to more complex activities. Within the same activity there is a progression from basic to higher levels.
The basic materials, or didactic apparatus, are more or less standard, and all Montessori classrooms are equipped with these materials. These are supplemented with materials which the directresses develop themselves, in order to meet the individual needs of each and every child. Often, based on the directresses’ observations, variations and extensions are developed to meet the needs of one single child. No effort is spared!

The curriculum is traditionally centered around five basic areas: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Math and Culture. The content is very flexible in order to satisfy the child's curiosity. From Arts to Zoology, the Montessori environment can be said to cover all areas of interest and knowledge fro A to Z.

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  How do children interact in the environment?
  Children work in a different way to adults. They work for the sake of acquiring independence at all levels, and so repetition is not only common but natural and essential to their development.

As they experiment and gain confidence, their joy and well being starts to manifest itself in ways often thought to be impossible to achieve in children of such a young age. Montessori referred to this as a "New Child" because children spontaneously chose constructive and purposeful work.

They also develop a power of concentration and a spirit of respect, for others and the environment.

The love and cooperation among the children and towards adults that is characteristic of well-run Montessori schools is not often found in traditional environments.

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  What is the role of the Montessori teacher?
  Montessori spoke of the adult teacher as a guide and help to life. As such, in the Montessori prepared environment, the teacher is called "directress" because she directs the child, and guides the child, rather than teach.

The directress develops a power of observation that is essential for her to support the children in their explorations. The environment is carefully prepared in order to meet the children's needs.

As each child progresses from one activity to the next the directress and her assistants make sure the child finds what is essential to her development. Careful, accurate record keeping allows the directress to provide for each child on a one-on-one basis.

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  I heard that Montessori gives children too much freedom. Is this correct?
  In Montessori children are free to work and move about in a prepared environment. This environment sets subtle limits that guide children in an imperceptible way. This is why in Montessori we refer to "freedom within limits." This environment allows children to spontaneously develop three basic qualities that are the basic ground rules of the classroom: Respect for Self, Respect for Others and Respect for the Environment.

As they become independent, children develop their self-esteem and this in turn promotes respect for self. Respect for one-self leads to respect for others.

Children learn to treat others as they want to be treated, by not disturbing other children while they work. Thirdly, the orderly environment itself invites children to deal with the materials in a careful way, return work to their places, and keep it tidy and orderly.

Freedom in a Montessori environment is always seen in the reciprocal context of responsibility. It is a freedom based on choice and self-control. This type of freedom is the exact opposite of license. In a well-run Montessori environment freedom and discipline are closely related.

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  Does Montessori encourage creativity?
  Yes, Montessori encourages creativity. It would go against the very basic principles of Montessori not to promote creativity. Montessori fosters curiosity, independence and experimentation. Creativity is natural and inborn in every child. Life itself is a constant act of creation.

As with all the other areas of the curriculum and prepared environment, children are encouraged to explore and express their innate creativity. Gentle guidance is provided when needed. For example, children are shown how to use art materials, but they are not told what to paint.

By helping a child develop various skills, and by encouraging self-expression, creativity is nurtured in the prepared environment.

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  What about imagination and fantasy?
  A clear distinction must be made between imagination and fantasy. Young children find it difficult to understand the difference between what is and is not real. All children have a fertile imagination and this is encouraged through the child's natural and self-directed curiosity, independence and experimentation.

Fantasy, on the other hand, is often an escape from reality. It is a way very young children defend themselves from an aggressive, hostile environment that gives them neither the space, nor the means, to develop according to their needs.

As a child's greatest desire is to do things independently, as soon as she is presented with a favorable environment, the child herself chooses the work that is essential for her growth. As she makes these choices, her imagination is constantly challenged, and children come up with amazing ways of resolving problems.

It should also be remembered that much of what passes as “imagination” is actually based on adult fantasy. In a Montessori environment children are encouraged to use their imaginations to understand and explore the wonders of the real world, including the marvels of nature and the diversity of mankind.

Children who are able to do this have little or no interest in that sort of adult “ready made” fantasy, because they are imaginative and creative, not passive consumers.

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  What happens after Montessori kindergarten?
  Many parents wonder if their children will be able to adapt to a non-Montessori school when they later move beyond kindergarten.

Children who have spent their early years in a Montessori kindergarten are usually flexible, and able to adjust rather easily to other schools. They often are more focused and become better students because they have learned independence and acquired the skills to work in a self-directed way. They love to learn.

We do, however, encourage parents to try to find an elementary Montessori school for their children, or another similar learning environment, as these benefit children in ways traditional school systems cannot.

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  Why do you encourage that children stay at the Mammolina Children's Home for the three-year program?
  The Montessori program is a continuous and integrated cycle based on the child’s natural developmental phases. These phases are accompanied by what Dr. Montessori called “sensitive periods”. These are now sometimes called “windows of opportunity” – periods that modern neuroscientists recognize as times of optimal learning opportunities.

The activities and materials available in the Montessori environment provide learning experiences appropriate to the full three to four year developmental cycle. This enables each child to develop to his or her full potential.

If a child enters the Montessori prepared environment early, the directress gets to know him or her very well, and is thus able to provide support for each child’s unique learning patterns, habits, interests and tendencies.

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  Isn't Montessori too individualistic?
  This common misconception about Montessori is probably a result of the fact that lessons are usually given individually.

If you observe a Montessori classroom, you will notice that there is a natural, happy activity, and children work both individually and in smaller or larger groups.

Socialization is essential in Montessori, because children are naturally sociable. This is indeed one of the reasons why Montessori offers children a mixed-age environment: older children love to help the younger ones, and spontaneously assist the new comers in finding their place around the classroom.

The socialization of the Montessori classroom is natural and spontaneous resembling the interactions within a large extended family, or the community.

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  Can Montessori meet the needs of my child?
  Montessori is neither a method, nor a set curriculum, but rather an "approach" to learning. It has been used with amazing results, in countries all over the world, and with children of all cultural backgrounds. It has assisted children across the spectrum form highly gifted to those with learning disabilities. It has even been successfully used with adults.

Because Montessori is based on observation and following the individual needs of each child, it adapts to and provides for each child in a unique way. It can indeed be said that, if implemented as it should, it is as unique as your child!

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  What about current research and theory in educational methods? Dr. Montessori died more than 50 years ago.
  The Montessori approach to early childhood education is all inclusive. Although there are many different ways people use Montessori, the basic principles set by Dr. Maria Montessori are time tested and proven, and can be defined in just a few words: observing the child and following the child.

To properly abide by these principles, continuous change and experimentation are needed. Dr. Montessori was a scientist, and as such, she did not devise a system of education in an abstract way, first theorizing, and then experimenting. She observed children, noted their natural ways of learning, exploring and growing. Then she set out to understand what she had observed. This led to the development of a system, including the design of didactic materials and protocols that could help children in their quest.

What Dr Montessori developed is not a set of static, dead principles. There have been changes to the Montessori apparatus over the years, and new sets of didactic materials have been developed. What proves effective remains unchanged, but what can be improved, must be improved.

One of the astounding facts about Montessori education is how much of Dr. Montessori’s original work has been validated by recent neuro-scientific research and borrowed by other approaches and schools of thought.

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  Is Montessori opposed to other theories and approaches to early childhood education? Waldorf, Multiple Intelligences, Reggio Emilia, Democratic Education, Pestalozzi, Enki, etc?
  Montessori is about taking what is best for the child and making it available in the environment in a way that promotes the optimal development of each child’s potential.

Many other researchers, scientists and educators have studied children and designed approaches, materials and systems that can be beneficial. No properly prepared directress will ignore the findings of other schools of thought. She will study and contemplate, and if there are insights which can be applied in the prepared environment, she will adapt them to the needs of the children and use those ideas in her class.

Montessori is not, however, a patchwork of various approaches strung together in a haphazard way. Because it is such a comprehensive, integrated approach, a good Montessori classroom will exhibit many of the best features of many other “systems”. 

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  Do you offer separate classes for children of different ages, according to their needs?
  Montessori classrooms are prepared for a mixed age group, usually spanning 3 years, sometimes more. This is one of the key principles in Montessori, and is essential for the success of the program. There are many reasons why it is beneficial for children of different ages to share the same environment. There is so much research which supports mixed-age, non-graded environments that the real question should be why so many schools continue to separate children according to age.

In a multi-age class, children are able to learn from older, more competent children. In many ways, children learn more easily from other children than they do from adults. For a three year old, seeing a five year old reading makes the task less daunting. Older children learn compassion and patience from helping those who are younger and less able to do things.

It is the multi-age grouping, more than any other feature, which allows the Montessori directress to treat every child as an individual, with individual needs and aptitudes. Separate age classes, on the other hand, encourage comparison and conformity which are detrimental to learning and destroy self-esteem.

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  Are Montessori Directresses and Assistants trained in any special way?
  Montessori directresses receive rigorous training which includes most aspects of regular teacher training in addition to those specific to the Montessori context.

They learn how to prepare and maintain the environment so it provides optimal opportunities for the individual development of each child. They learn how to select, make and use the specialized Montessori materials, and how to adapt these to individual needs.

Training includes aspects of psychology and education philosophy as well as detailed content in all subject areas the Directress will be presenting to the children.

Whereas regular teachers only specialize in one age group, Montessori training covers a wide age range, giving the Directress an understanding of the needs of all the children – an insight into where they have been and where they are going.

Most importantly, Montessori training focuses on self-examination. The Directress is trained to examine herself and her role in interactions with the children. This inner examination, and understanding of the role of the adult is what makes Montessori staff training so special.

Assistants also receive special training, so they may support the Directress they work with, and the children in their endeavours. Often, an a Assistant is a student of Montessori working towards his or her future role, as s/he studies and prepares to become a directress or director.

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