As a clearinghouse for all things Montessori, we at Jade Drive often find ourselves fielding questions from the general public. Here are some of the things about Montessori education and our school:  

What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?

Montessori emphasises learning through all five senses, not just through listening, watching, or reading. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own, individual pace and according to their personal choice of activities from hundreds of possibilities. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning. Montessori classes place children in three-year age groups (3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and so on), forming communities in which the older children spontaneously share their knowledge with the younger ones. Montessori represents an entirely different approach to education.

How is a Montessori school different from a conventional school?

A Montessori school is different in some very fundamental ways.

Children learn by doing: Since children receive information through their five senses via active engagement, each classroom is meticulously designed for optimal learning and contains developmentally appropriate materials, aesthetically pleasing arrangements and a structure that supports independence and nurtures each child’s natural curiosity. Through the use of Dr. Montessori’s scientifically-designed materials, the child achieves first perceptual and then a cognitive understanding of concepts, building their competence and confidence.

Children learn at their own pace: Montessorians recognise that learning is natural and innate, that children have a natural desire (intrinsic motivation) to know about their world. Our classrooms are designed to promote engaged exploration and discovery. Students joyfully learn at their own pace, making choices that are right for them, with the support and guidance of their teachers. Because students are curious and excited about what they’re learning, they build a strong foundation of concentration, inner discipline and joy of learning.

Children see the connections: Due to our fully integrated curriculum, students see how our various curriculum areas are connected, leading to a greater understanding of how our complex world works. They learn why we count, not just what or how we count. As an active participant in one’s education, with the teacher as a guide, each child becomes the builder of essential knowledge, helping one learn how to learn.

Children collaborate: Our multi-age classrooms support collaborative learning, where children not only learn from the teachers but also learn from each other. The students hone their cooperation and negotiation skills when working through choices with work partners, recognising the strength of working together toward a common goal.

Children are responsible: Autonomy and freedom are balanced with responsibility, preparing students to follow their passions, yet understand how their actions impact the broader community (including our earth community). Students develop empathy, cooperation and personal responsibility within the context of being an actively engaged member of the community.

Children are peaceful: From the youngest to the oldest child, our students learn to interact with others with respect, compassion and kindness. Awareness that every living thing has a meaningful role in the more extensive system leads children to define for themselves how they will contribute toward creating a more peaceful world.

Are Montessori children successful later in life?

Research studies show that Montessori children are well prepared for later life academically, socially, and emotionally. In addition to scoring well on standardised tests, Montessori children are ranked above average on such criteria as following directions, turning in work on time, listening attentively, using basic skills, showing responsibility, asking provocative questions, showing enthusiasm for learning, and adapting to new situations. Click here to see famous people who went to Montessori schools!

How many students are typically in a Montessori class?

In a traditional school, the number of children in each class is typically at least 25 to 30 students, sometimes higher. Typically, traditional schools have one teacher per classroom, with possibly an assistant or student teacher in special cases. At a Montessori school, the ratio of children to teachers is much smaller, which is a ratio of 1:8. Additionally, older children are present to help guide younger children, which encourages more peer learning and coaching opportunities. When the number of children in our school grows, the number of teachers we hired will grow as well.

How can children learn if they're free to do whatever they want?

Freedom with limits, as Dr. Montessori emphasised. She observed that children are more motivated to learn when working on something of their choosing. A Montessori student may choose his focus of learning on any given day, but his decision is limited by the materials and activities—in each area of the curriculum—that his teacher has prepared and presented to him.

Beginning at the elementary level, students typically set learning goals and create personal work plans under their teacher’s guidance.

Why are Montessori schools all work and no play?

Dr. Montessori realised that children’s play is their work—their effort to master their own bodies and the environment—and out of respect she used the term “work” to describe all their classroom activities. Montessori students work hard, but they don’t experience it as drudgery; instead, it’s an expression of their natural curiosity and desire to learn.

If children work at their own pace, don't they fall behind?

Although students are free to work at their own pace, they’re not doing it alone. The Montessori teacher closely observes each child and provides materials and activities that advance his learning by building on skills and knowledge already gained. This gentle guidance helps him master the challenge at hand—and protects him from moving on before he’s ready.

Do Montessori teachers follow a curriculum?

Montessori schools teach the same basic skills as traditional schools and offer a rigorous academic program. Most of the subject areas are familiar—such as math, science, history, geography, and language—but they are presented through an integrated approach that brings separate strands of the curriculum together. While studying a map of Asia, for example, students may explore the art, history, and inventions of several Asian nations. This may lead them to examine ancient China, including its history and culture. The study of the Great Wall of China, of course, is a natural bridge to geometry. This approach to curriculum shows the interrelatedness of all things. It also allows students to become thoroughly immersed in a topic—and to give their curiosity full rein.

Why don't Montessori teachers give grades?

Grades, like other external rewards, have little to no effect on a child’s efforts or achievements. The Montessori approach nurtures the motivation that comes from within, kindling the child’s natural desire to learn. A self-motivated learner also learns to be self-sufficient, without needing reinforcement from outside. In the classroom, of course, the teacher is always available to provide students with guidance and support. Although most Montessori teachers don’t assign grades, they carefully observe each student’s progress and readiness to advance to new lessons. Jade Drive holds Parent-teacher Meetings once a term, so parents may see their child’s work and hear the teacher’s assessment.

How are your teachers trained?

As we all know, the teachers make all the difference at a school. At our Montessori school, all of our guides (our teachers are called "guides") have attended a Montessori-certified training centre (AMI, MMI or other certified Montessori diploma) and have completed a rigorous training program as well as earning themselves a certified Montessori diploma. Since our teachers are hand-picked, they will have to go through several stages of the interview process. Once they pass the interview stages, they will be trained under Jade Drive's guidelines with an in-depth understanding of child development and Montessori philosophy, as well as a mastery of a comprehensive, fully-integrated Montessori curriculum.

Are Montessori schools religious?

Some are, but most are not. Montessori is a secular education system, exactly like the public education sector. This means that no particular religion is taught as part of the curriculum, but all religions and all different kinds of people are respected. Respect is a crucial component in a Montessori classroom - respect for the child, respect for the environment, respect for others and respect for oneself. Religion is looked at from a cultural and sociological point of view. Children are invited to explore the cultures throughout the world and can see that there are many different religions.

How well do Montessori children manage in the ‘real world’?

Our classrooms are ‘real world’. In the ‘real world,’ people work together to solve problems, resolve differences, make contributions to the larger community, follow their passions and make choices and learn from their mistakes. Our students practice, nurture and fine-tune these same qualities in our school community. Our students are becoming confident collaborators, independent thinkers, knowledgeable about their strengths and weaknesses, intrinsically motivated, and responsible global citizens and embody these qualities when they graduate from our school.

Is Montessori good for children with learning disabilities? What about gifted children?

Montessori is designed to help all children reach their fullest potential at their own unique pace. A classroom whose children have varying abilities is a community in which everyone learns from one another, and everyone contributes. Moreover, multi-age grouping allows each child to find his or her own pace without feeling "ahead" or "behind" in relation to peers.

Where did Montessori come from?

Montessori (pronounced MON-tuh-SORE-ee) education was founded in 1907 by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman in Italy to become a physician. She based her educational methods on scientific observation of children's learning processes. Guided by her discovery that children teach themselves, Dr. Montessori designed a "prepared environment" in which children could freely make a choice from several developmentally appropriate activities. Now, nearly a century after Maria Montessori's first Casa dei Bambini ("Children's House") in Rome, Montessori education is found all over the world, spanning ages from birth to adolescence.

How do you know if the school is a real Montessori?

1. Teacher Training: Good Montessori schools have teachers who were trained by the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) or the Modern Montessori International (MMI). Ask to see the teachers’ graduate diplomas to verify their training.

2. Length of Class Time: Authentic Montessori programs have a three-hour uninterrupted work period each morning. During this three-hour session, your child will receive lessons from his or her teacher and is never interrupted to join all-class exercises over self-chosen activities.

3. Individualized Curriculum: An authentic Montessori program supports the individual development of your child. This is very different from a one-size-fits-all curriculum that suggests all children are ready to do the same thing at the same time because they are a particular age. In an authentic Montessori classroom, the curriculum adjusts to your child instead of your child having to adjust to the curriculum.

4. Calm and Peaceful Classrooms: A good Montessori classroom is calm and peaceful. You will see many children deep in concentration as they choose an activity and work with it for a good long time. Other children are moving in the classroom as they choose an activity and sit down to work, but the movement in the classroom is well-paced and purposeful.

5. A Beautiful Classroom Environment: Montessori classroom environments are exquisitely prepared with materials laid out by subject on long, low shelves. The materials will be clean and beautiful and alluring to the child. You will see many materials made of wood and glass and natural fibres. You will rarely if ever, see plastic. Authentic Montessori classrooms have materials that facilitate independence: dull knives to slice apples, miniature graters to shred cheese, ingredients like flour, salt, sugar, yeast and water to make and bake bread, glass vases and fresh flowers to practice flower arranging, or polish and small applicators to shine brass, silver, wood and mirrors. You will see handmade reading materials — never textbooks. You will also see incredible mathematics materials — never worksheets or workbooks. Lastly, you will see the full complement of Montessori materials that allow your child to learn academic subjects in language, mathematics, practical life, sensorial, geography, and arts.

6. Multi-Age Classrooms: An authentic Montessori classroom group children together by a three-year age spans, it means a third of the children in a class will be three years old, a third will be four and a third will be five (turning six). An authentic Montessori school will always have kindergarten included in this age grouping, with 3 and 4-year-old children and will never separate kindergarten children into a different class. The reason? Older kindergarten-age children model respectful behaviours and advanced work that the younger children will eventually one day experience. Younger children certainly benefit from this mentoring—but also the older children, irrespective of personality, are afforded an opportunity of leadership.

Will my child be able to adjust to traditional public or private schools after Montessori?

By the end of age 5, Montessori children are generally curious, self-confident learners who look forward to going to school. They are typically engaged, enthusiastic learners who honestly want to learn and who ask excellent questions. Montessori children by age 6 have spent three or four years in a school where they were treated with honesty and respect. While there were clear expectations and ground rules, within that framework, their opinions and questions were taken quite seriously. Unfortunately, there are still some teachers and schools where children who ask questions are seen as challenging authority. It is not hard to imagine an independent Montessori child asking his new teacher, “But why do I have to ask each time I need to use the bathroom?” or, “Why do I have to stop my work right now?” We also have to remember that children are different. One child may be sensitive or have special needs that might not be met well in a teacher-centred traditional classroom. Other children can succeed in any school. There is nothing inherent in Montessori that causes children to have a hard time if they are transferred to traditional schools. Some will be bored. Others may not understand why everyone in the class has to do the same thing at the same time. However, most adapt to their new setting reasonably quickly, making new friends, and succeeding within the definition of success understood in their new school.

Why is there so much emphasis on freedom and independence in Montessori?

Montessori children are free to move about, working alone or with others at will. Freedom is crucial as children begin to explore. Our goal is less to teach them facts and concepts, but rather to fall in love with the process of focusing their complete attention on something and mastering its challenge with enthusiasm. The prepared environment of the Montessori class is a learning laboratory in which children are allowed the liberty to explore, discover, and select work for themselves. Work assigned by adults rarely results in such enthusiasm and interest and independence as does work that children freely choose for themselves.

Why does Montessori have multi-age classrooms?

Multi-age classrooms afford us the luxury of adapting the curriculum to the individual child. Each child can work at his or her own pace while remaining in a community with his or her peers. Also, the multi-age format allows all older children to be the leaders of the classroom community, even those children who may be shy or quiet.

If children are free to choose their own work, how do you ensure that they receive a well-rounded education?

Montessori children are free to choose within limits and have only as much freedom as they can handle with appropriate responsibility. The classroom teacher and assistant ensure that children do not interfere with each other and that each child is progressing at her appropriate pace in all subjects.

Montessori classrooms don't look like regular classrooms. Where are the rows of desks?

The different arrangement of a Montessori classroom mirrors the Montessori method's differences from traditional education. Rather than putting the teacher at the focal point of the class, with children dependent on her for information and activity, the classroom shows a child-centred approach. Children work at tables or on floor mats where they can spread out their materials, and the teacher circulates about the room, giving lessons or resolving issues as they arise.