Montessori Myths Explored
Myth #1. All Montessori Schools are the same.
Montessori is a philosophy of education and it is not a franchise or a licensed approach. This means that Montessori schools come with great variety of ownership (non-profit, private for profit, and public) as well as inconsistent fidelity to the original model. Valley Montessori School, founded in 1976, is an independent school (non-profit, board governed, 501c3) accredited by The American Montessori Society (AMS) and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), and a provisional member of the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS).
Myth #2. Montessori is a religion or is affiliated with a particular church.
Montessori is a child-centered, developmentally-based, philosophical approach to education developed in Italy by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early 1900s and since adopted by educators around the world. Montessori schools may be housed in churches or affiliated with many different kinds of churches or houses of worship. However, the program itself is not religious nor is it attached to any particular religion or church.
Myth #3. In Montessori classrooms children can do whatever they want.
Montessori classrooms offer a thoughtfully prepared environment, rich with developmentally appropriate learning materials that invite the child to explore using their curiosity and interests to lead the way. Montessori recognized that children who are given independence are much more motivated to learn. Each program level of Montessori is based on a curriculum that is conveyed to children through their work with the materials. At Valley Montessori School, teachers are guides to learning, who give lessons and move about the classroom coaching children to challenge themselves in areas they are exploring and in new areas. Teachers are trained observers of children and invite children to branch out and grow intellectually as they master skills and content. Beginning in Lower Elementary (grades 1-3) students learn to develop their own work plans for each day that include work in all the basic areas – reading, math, cultural, science, etc.., This self-management lays a crucial foundation that students can build upon as they move to subsequent levels and more advanced curriculum in Upper Elementary (grades 4-5) and Middle School (grades 6-8).
Myth #4. Montessori classrooms are either too structured or too unstructured.
The “prepared environment” of a Montessori classroom, paired with the thoughtful guidance of the teachers provides a structure that is peaceful and conducive to learning. To the casual observer who is accustomed to a traditional approach, it may seem unstructured. Closer examination will reveal the beauty of the structure and how well it supports children as learners. Children can move about the classroom selecting work, setting it up, completing it and then returning it to its proper place. Children might all be working on the same thing, but more typically they will all be engaged in different work. The materials are often auto-didactic so that children can see an error and self-correct. Teachers can assist children who are stuck, need to be refocused, or would like to go further with the subject. It is a subtle but powerful structure that yields wonderful results – empowered and engaged children who love to learn. At the Middle School level the structure is characterized by a blend of teacher led instruction, collaborative and independent practice and projects, and built-in opportunities for work time.
Myth #5. As children get older the Montessori program will not keep pace with curriculum in non-Montessori schools.
On the contrary, our program encourages children to advance according to their challenge level all the way through 8th grade. At Valley Montessori, the curriculum takes California State Standards into consideration as a starting place, and many elementary and middle school children actually advance well beyond levels achieved by children in public schools. This is verified by their results on the Stanford Achievement Test (nationally normed) which is administered annually. Test results are published on the school website. It is also verified anecdotally by their experience in high school and beyond.
Myth #6. Montessori curriculum is not strongly academic – my child could fall behind
Montessori curriculum actually helps children excel and even surpass the academic levels of their peers in traditional schools. Montessori understood that very young children can understand complex concepts if they are introduced in a concrete manner. For example, children who have learned about multiplication tables by doing the “100s Board” will have a much firmer grasp of multiplication when it progresses to abstract symbols. At the Upper Elementary and Middle School levels, Montessori schools teach skills such as reading, writing and research via the exploration of other subjects in the curriculum including cultural studies and science. Skills are not taught simply for the skill’s sake. This encourages students to progress at a more rapid pace since they are often studying areas of great personal interest.
Myth #7. Montessori education only works for one kind of learner.
Montessori education actually works for a wide range of learners. By design, instruction and work address all three modes of learning – visual, auditory, and kinetic, so that every child can find success! Teachers are skilled observers who know the strengths and challenges of their students. When they deliver a lesson to a small group, they are tuned into to each child to make sure they understand before they move on to related independent work. Multi-age classroom naturally provide additional time and support for students who need it and at the same time allow more precocious children to move ahead at the levels that keep them challenged and interested. Success in a Montessori classroom does require a degree of self-management and ability to focus. The only kind of learner who may struggle in a Montessori program would be one who consistently needs one-on-one, step-by-step teacher support in order to progress.
Myth #8. Montessori programs do not offer opportunities for free play or development of creativity.
Not all Montessori programs are alike, but at Valley Montessori School children have ample time for free play at recess and also have specialists who teach art, music and drama Spanish and PE. These classes are considered important to the overall intellectual development of children. Moreover, the Montessori approach in the regular classroom actually encourages creativity by supporting a child’s curiosity and interests. An amazing number of innovators in high technology and the arts have received their educational foundation in Montessori schools. (See the Wall Street Journal article http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/04/05/the-montessori-mafia/)