There are so many schools that bear the Montessori name. Are they all the same?
It depends on where the principal or the teachers are trained. The two internationally accredited and most renown institutions in the world that train Montessori teachers are Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and Montessori Centre International (MCI). Both institutions are very strict about the qualifications of their trainers, i.e. their trainers that train the teachers have to undergo very thorough and proper training by the said institutions to be trainers; needless to say, they do not hire teachers, who have been trained only as teachers, to be trainers.
There are two obvious signs that a school is an authentic Montessori school. First, that the school has mixed aged grouping and second, the Montessori work cycle is at least 1 ½ hours. The Montessori work cycle is the time when each child is free to choose his/her work in the Montessori classroom. This time is needed as with the freedom given, children need time to work up their concentration and it is usually during the last half hour of the 1 ½ hour work cycle that the children choose difficult work. In fact, Dr Montessori would prefer a work cycle of 3 hours! In many schools in Singapore, the Montessori work cycle has been shortened to less than an hour as schools try to fit in as many group activities as possible, such as snack time, Art & Craft, Music & Movement, Chinese language etc. At dMP Kindergarten, we have extended our time with the children to 3 ½ hours so that the children can get the benefit of the 1 ½ hour work cycle as well as group activities. The Montessori work cycle is a precious time for the children to build up their order, self-esteem, independence and concentration and should not be compromised.
Due to the fact that Montessori's name is not patented, there are, sadly, schools that use the Montessori name to charge higher fees without actually employing qualified teachers to carry out the approach. They may adopt a 'partial' Montessori curriculum and approach. However, the fact is that Montessori's method has to be carried out in its entirety to be beneficial to the children.
Is the Montessori approach obsolete? How does it compare with other play-based or child-centered approaches?
The Montessori approach is based on child psychology and child development theories and thus it is timeless and never obsolete since human behaviour has not changed much since the beginning. There is nothing 'modern' or 'traditional' about the Montessori approach. In Singapore's context where much emphasis has been placed on academic excellence, the Montessori approach is the most suitable method because it has a structured curriculum and yet has play-based and child-centered philosophies incorporated. (However, in a broader context, Montessori is more than just about academic excellence; it is about helping each child find his/her place in this world.) A purely play-based preschool is very dependent on experienced teachers to carry out scaffolding during the children's play.
Is my child free to do what he chooses in the classroom?
A common misconception about the Montessori approach is that a child is “free to do whatever he/she wants” in the Montessori classroom. Yes, we have “freedom” in the classroom, but we have certain rules that the children have to respect and follow. This is what we call “freedom within limitations”. During the Montessori work time in our kindergarten, your child is free to work on any material on the shelves that he or she understands, to talk to other children and to move around to observe other children. However, your child is not free to disturb another child working or to use the material in such a way that would damage it as these materials are so important to his/her development.
Another misconception is that “Montessori children are selfish as they don’t like to be disturbed and they always do things by themselves”. Let me explain why this is not what a child development theorist would say. Eric Erikson's psychosocial child development theory states that children between 2 to 3 years of age need an environment that encourages them to do things for themselves and children between 4 to 5 need an environment that encourages them to develop and act on their own ideas, including being more ready to socialize with others as opposed to their earlier need to be on their own. This is why Montessori is such a genius. She developed a method to implement child development theories, even before these theories were developed! The Montessori approach follows children’s natural development; it will support the 2 ½ -year old insisting on independence as well as a 4-year old leading play activities with friends.
You talk about giving a child freedom to choose activities. What if my child chooses to pour water all the time or keeps picking only one kind of activity?
If your child chooses to repeat an activity, it is actually a critical milestone in the Montessori classroom! Your child is following his/her inner guide that pushes your child to perfect this skill. When that inner construction is complete, your child will naturally move on and show interest in other activities.
What is this inner guide?
Montessori observed that children have natural urges in them that drive them forward for a period of time to be particularly sensitive to certain stimuli in their surroundings. She called them “sensitive periods” and believed that these urges are crucial for the fulfillment of a child’s potential. Many of the sensitive periods that she identified occur predominantly in children from 0 to 6 years of age. Montessori also called the mind of a child below 6 the “absorbent mind”.
These are the main sensitivities that Montessori identified.
1. order – children expect things to be in the right place. They will experience frustration if they cannot find what is expected.
2. refinement of senses – urge to explore by touching, smelling, seeing, tasting and hearing.
3. language – sensitivity to sounds of language, ability to pick up new language
4. movement/walking – enjoys things to do with motor skills, e.g. practical life activities on the shelves, walking/balancing on the line
5. writing – enjoys practicing fine motor skill of writing
6. small objects – enjoys small objects and pays attention to detail
7. social aspects – enjoys being with other children, interested in learning how to fit in and join in play with other children.
What are the benefits of a classroom with mixed aged (vertical) grouping?
The atmosphere of a mixed-aged setting is more of a relaxed and natural environment to learn. In a mixed-aged class, all the materials for Pre-Nursery children (3 year olds) to K2 children (6 year olds) are available for the children to choose from without pressure. With so many things to do in the classroom and with each child doing different things, the atmosphere is less competitive as opposed to each child doing the same thing, e.g. the same worksheets. With children of different ages mingling together, the children are free to work on developing relationships with children older or younger than themselves. This presents a real environment for children to develop in social skills, just as in our adult working environment where our working colleagues are of different ages. The older children also enjoy being role models for the younger ones and we have observed how they tenderly instruct the younger ones and in doing so, hone their leadership skills. The younger ones also benefit from observing the older ones work and learn at an early age how to work alongside older children. The children get to progress at their own pace according to their interests and strengths.
Last modified: 03 January 2021