Myth 1- “Montessori is just for gifted children.”
To the casual observer, Montessori students may appear advanced for their age, leading to the assumption that the schools cater to gifted children. Instead, a Montessori school offers children of differing abilities ways to express their unique personalities. Montessori preschools begin working with infants, to toddlers, to 3-6 year-olds in a prepared environment. Therefore, students learn to read, write, and understand the world around them in ways that they can easily express, which helps each child develop individuality in a way that accentuates his or her innate intelligence.
Myth 2: “In Montessori classrooms, children run around and do whatever they want.”
When looking at a Montessori classroom you may see a class of ten to twenty three children involved in individual or small group activities. It is possible that each child will be doing something different. At first glance, a classroom can look busy or chaotic. If you take the time to follow the activities of a child over the course of a work period, you will observe a series of self-directed activities.
The children aren’t running wild.
They are each involved in self-selected work, designed to build concentration and support independent learning. It is important to remember that choosing what you do is not the same as doing whatever you want. In the book, Maria Montessori- Her life and work, by E.M. Standing, Standing says, “A rather captious and skeptical visitor to a Montessori class once buttonholed one of the children- a little girl of seven- and asked: ‘Is it true that in this school you are allowed to do anything you like?’ ‘I don’t know about that,’ replied the little maiden cautiously, ‘but I do know that we like what we do!’”
Myth 3: “A Montessori classroom is too structured/ unstructured for my child.”
I often hear people say Montessori is too structured and I just as often hear that Montessori is not structured enough. Amazing that both can happen!
Montessori education is well known for the concept of freedom, but that freedom is only possible when certain other concepts come into play. One of these is structure. Maria Montessori observed that children naturally tend to use self-directed, purposeful activities to develop themselves.
Structure in a Montessori classroom comes from the way the environment works, rather than just from the teacher. The shelves are neat, orderly, and hosts works ranging from easy to complex moving from left to right. A child knows that if they go to a particular shelf, they can retrieve a work and engage with it for as long as they like without fear of interruption.
Structure comes in the way a child is presented with a lesson, slowly and clearly with a minimum of talking. Children know they are free to explore the material’s possibilities as long as the child is not hurting himself, a friend, or the work.
Structure comes in the control of error in the material. The control of error allows a child to learn from interacting with the materials, without an adult having to point out that a mistake has been made. Children with time and space are often able to work it out for themselves.
Structure also comes in the careful and methodical observations the teachers make of the children, so they know exactly where a child is, what they need, and when to show them something new.
When all of this structure is put together it creates an environment where it is possible to give children the freedom to interact. Montessorians refer to children, who work in this independent, self-disciplined way as “normalized” or using the natural and normal tendencies of human development.
Sometimes people see these Montessori concepts as “overly structured.” The activities in the classroom are referred to as work, and the children are directed to choose their work. The children’s work is very satisfying to them, and they make no distinction between work and play. Children almost always find Montessori activities both interesting and fun. You might think the only way this behavior can occur is by children being regimented into it. As the children move from work to work, day by day their skills and confidence grow. Children show us when given a prepared environment, a knowledgeable adult, and a work cycle that the natural state of the child is to be a happy, considerate, and contended person. A child is most like a child when he or she is engaged in the work of the Montessori classroom.
Myth 4: “Kids can’t be kids in Montessori.”
Where is the creativity in Montessori? Where can the children play, pretend, or imagine? The best answer to this, that I have found, is from the book The Tao of Montessori by Catherine McTamaney. She says, “Great art speaks universally because it reflects the universal experience, an experience that can only be understood by living it. Children do not build their imaginations by escaping into fantastic diversions. Children build their imaginations by experiencing imagination. In imagining children living around the world, children put into those conceptions bits of what they understand from their own. They may never have tasted a particular spice, but they know what bitter tastes like, and so they imagine. They may never visit the Eiffel Tower, but they know how far back their necks have to reach to look up at the highest building in their towns, and so they imagine. They may not fully understand the suffering of a child, who has been orphaned by war, but they know what it feels like to miss their parents, and so they imagine. From these imaginings, their creativity is born.”
Montessori allows for children to categorize their world in reality in order to unleash their creativity.
Myth 5- “Mixed age groups don’t work.”
With this myth, you may be comparing the ages of children in Montessori classes to traditional schools, because that is what is known. You probably experienced classes yourself, where the majority of the children were similar in age to you and this was the group from whom you selected your friends and felt comfortable around.
You may be concerned that the older children in mixed age groups are too big and may scare or intimidate the younger ones. You may be concerned that the younger children are too small and may influence older children to inappropriate behavior. You may even be concerned with how the teacher is going to be able to cater for the educational needs of the class with such a wide range of ages.
Having a class of children with a range of ages does not affect the ability of the teacher to effectively teach them. The Montessori-trained adult understands your child’s developmental needs and will create individual plans so that your child can learn at his or her own pace, not having to rush to keep up with someone else or wait for others to catch up.
The younger children: have role models for how to act in the classroom, have the ability to witness more advanced lessons being completed next to them, and are able to see each step or lesson they need to complete in order to achieve their new interests.
The older children: have the chance to learn the value of helping others and consolidate their learning through becoming ‘the teacher’ themselves.
Having friends from different age groups is a great preparation for the rest of your child’s life.
When your child enters the class as the youngest and newest he or she is the observer, the person who looks to the others to see how they should be, the child who asks for help and enjoys being taken care of.
Your child is the social beginner. By the end of the three years your child will have developed empathy and have spent some time in the role of leader in the classroom.