Question:

Does the Montessori method restrict the child’s creativity?

Answer:
No. In fact, the very foundation of the Montessori approach is based on the recognition of the child’s creativity and his need for an environment that encourages rather than limits this creativity. Music, art, storytelling, movement and drama are part of every American Montessori program. But there are also other things specific to the Montessori environment that encourage creative development and the opportunity for both verbal and non-verbal modes of learning.

Question:
How can a ‘Real’ Montessori classroom be identified?

Answer:
Since the term ‘Montessori’ is in the public domain, many non-Montessori schools use it to capitalize on public interest in Montessori. But an authentic Montessori classroom must have the following basic characteristics at all levels: (a) A classroom atmosphere which encourages social interaction for cooperative learning, peer teaching and emotional development. (b) Teachers educated in the Montessori philosophy and methodology for the age level they are teaching. (c) Multi-aged students, and a diverse set of Montessori materials, activities and experiences which are designed to foster physical, intellectual, creative and social independence. It is very important to check the credentials of the teachers and the school before enrolling your child.

Question:
How did the Montessori method begin?

Answer:
Dr. Maria Montessori was the creator of ‘The Montessori Method of Education’, which is based on her scientific observations of young children’s behavior. Dr. Maria Montessori, Italy’s first woman medical doctor, became interested in the education as a doctor treating mentally challenged children. She returned to the University for further study, and in 1907, was invited to organize a school in the reconstructed slum area of San Lorenzo, Italy. She established a method of education that became universally effective. International interest in her approach led to Montessori schools in many countries.

Question:
How do Montessori schools view imaginative play?

Answer:
Maria Montessori saw that there was a difference between truly creative imagination (based on reality) and fantasy (based on non-real events). When she watched children play she realised that they really wanted to be able to do real things in a real world, rather than just pretend. So Montessori schools really value imaginative play but will always try to help children work with real objects and situations.

Question:
How does it work?

Answer:
Each Montessori class operates on the principle of freedom within limits. Every program has its set of ground rules that differs from age to age, but is always based on the core Montessori beliefs, that is, respect for each other and for the environment. The Montessori material allows concrete manipulation of materials that are multi-sensory, sequential and self-correcting in nature, and hence facilitate the learning of skills as well as abstract ideas. The Montessori materials also have a built in ‘control of error’ which provides the learner with information as to the accuracy of his response and enables him to correct himself. The teacher demonstrates the lesson initially, and is available, if needed. The child is free to work at his own pace with material that he has chosen, either alone or with others. The teacher’s role is to act as a facilitator to encourage active, self-directed learning.

Question:
How expensive is Montessori education?

Answer:
Costs vary widely. The cost of establishing a Montessori classroom is probably higher than a traditional one because of the precision and quality demanded in the manufacture of Montessori materials. Like everything else, these costs are affected by inflation. About a year of specialized training on both the undergraduate and graduate levels is required to teach in a Montessori school. The longer the school day and higher the grade level, the greater the cost.

Question:
How is discipline dealt with in a Montessori School?

Answer:
Montessori schools believe that discipline is something that should come from inside rather than something that is always imposed by others. They do not rely on rewards and punishments. By being allowed to be free in the environment, and learning to love and care for other people, the child develops confidence and control over his own behaviour. So Montessori teachers only step in when a child’s behaviour is upsetting or disruptive to others. And then the child will be handled with deep respect and sensitivity. The belief is that the children are by nature loving and caring, and the emphasis is on helping them develop the vital social and emotional skills needed for participating in true community.

Question:
How much freedom is allowed in the Montessori classroom?

Answer:
‘Freedom within limits’. A number of ground rules help preserve the order of the classroom as the students move about. For example, the child is free to move around the classroom at will, to talk to other children, to work with any material he understands. He is allowed to choose where he would like to work and for how long, or to ask the teacher to introduce new material to him. However, a child is not allowed to interfere with other children at work or to mistreat the material that is so important to the child’s development.

Question:
How will my child fit in with a more traditional system after leaving Montessori preschool?

Answere:
Montessori children tend to be very socially comfortable. Because they have been encouraged to problem solve and think independently they are happy, confident and resourceful. So they normally settle in very quickly and easily into new schools. In fact primary school teachers are often delighted to hear that your child has been to a Montessori school!

Question:
Is it oriented to a particular religion?

Answer:
No. A true Montessori school offers a religiously neutral environment, that is, it is not associated with any particular religious persuasion. However, it is important to stress that it does not have any conflict with any religion, either. In fact, schools have been sponsored by groups representing non-sectarian interests as well as by the Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu and other faiths.

Question:
Is the Montessori method suitable only for young children and/or certain categories of children?

Answer:
No. Although Dr. Maria Montessori did much of her work with 3 to 6 year old children, the Montessori approach to education has been used successfully with children from age two-and-a-half to eighteen from all socio-economic levels. It has benefited children who are normal, gifted, learning-disabled, mentally challenged, emotionally disturbed, and physically handicapped. Addressing the education of the whole child, this approach allows children to actively participate in their own development. It is also appropriate for classes in which the student-teacher ratio is high because children learn at an early age to work independently. Today, most child psychologists agree that an holistic educational environment best serves children during their most formative years.

Question:
What does it do for the child?

Answer:
Observers of the Montessori children have described them as having developed self-discipline, self-knowledge, and independence, as well as enthusiasm for learning, an organized approach to problem-solving, and academic skills. These children tend to be well-rounded individuals who understand their importance within their community and relate in positive ways to their natural surrounding.

Question:
What is the difference between Montessori and Traditional Methods of teaching?

Answer:
In Montessori schools the child is seen as a dynamic learner, full of creative potential and in need of the maximum possible freedom to be allowed to develop as a happy, confident individual. Montessori schools therefore place emphasis on the importance of process. In more traditional schools children are seen to be in need of more instruction and control from adults – there is less trust in the child’s own inner abilities and more emphasis on ensuring very defined results. So Montessori schools are learner centred, whereas traditional schools tend to be more teacher centred.

Question:
What is the Montessori Method?

Answer:
The basic principle of the Montessori philosophy of education is that all children carry within themselves the person they will become. In order to develop the physical, intellectual, and spiritual potential to the fullest, the child must have freedom – a freedom achieved through order and self-discipline. The primary goal of a Montessori program is to help each child reach the fullest potential in all areas of life and to create a secure, loving and joyful environment in which the child can learn, grow, and become independent. It strives to educate each child to acquire self-esteem and a positive attitude towards learning. The program includes individualized teaching, self-corrective materials, as well as a stimulating and non-pressured environment. The lessons are individual and brief. Another characteristic of the lesson is its simplicity. The third quality is objectivity. Dr. Montessori developed what she called a ‘prepared environment’ that is controlled by the teacher, while children make decisions controlled within the Environment. The teacher is often called the directress or guide, who prepares this environment, directs the activities, functions as the authority, and offers stimulation to the child; but it is the child who learns and is motivated through the work and his desire to learn. All these activities help the child develop an ‘inner discipline’ which is the core concept of the Montessori philosophy.

Question:
Why is the classroom called an environment?

Answer:
Everything in a Montessori classroom is geared to the child, creating a child-sized world. The furniture in the classroom is properly sized for the child. The materials are proportionate, fitting easily to the child’s hand. They are also proportionate to his abilities, not overly simple, challenging but never presenting an impossible goal. The teacher carefully prepares this environment to give the child a safe place in which to explore, experiment, and learn. The tailored environment allows the child to proceed at his/her own pace from simple activities to more complex ones. The child’s natural curiosity is satisfied as he/she continues to experience the joy of discovering the world around him/her.

Question:
What are the basic things parents should look for in an authentic Montessori School?

Answer:
Vertical Grouping (Mixed Ages), with at least a three year span between ages. Traditionally Montessori classes are grouped 3-6 years, 6-9 years, 9-12 years, 12-15 years and 15-18 years. Some schools, due to logistics, may extend the 3-6 age grouping down to 2½ years or up to 7 year olds. This implies that there is no separate Grade R or 0 in a Montessori school. The 3-6 class may include children preparing for primary school but they are not separated from the rest of the class. Maria Montessori emphasized the importance of preparing the classroom environment in accordance with the natural laws of development, applicable to the particular plane of development. According to Dr Montessori, these planes of development follow the age spans, 0-3, 3-6, 6-9 and so on.

An uninterrupted work cycle of approximately 3 hours in a mature class (i.e. a class that has a core of normalized children). “Concentration is the key that opens up to the child the latent treasures within him”. Maria Montessori expressed this idea throughout her writings and it is imperative that the child be given the opportunity to develop his/her concentration through meaningful work, free from adult interruption or intervention.

The use of generally larger child/teacher ratios. These are more effective in a Montessori classroom as smaller ratios tend to inhibit the development of independence in the child.

A prepared environment based on reality and nature and not fantasy.

Particularly in the 3-6 environment, few group lessons, with the focus on individual learning and lessons. Developmentally the children in the older ages group, prefer working and interacting with their peers. Here the focus is on smaller group, co-operative and collaborative learning experiences.

Children working at their own pace. In a Montessori classroom, each child is working at his/her own pace, within a vertically grouped environment. This allows for natural inclusion of children with special needs as the pace of learning is based on the child’s potential.

The understanding that the work of the child is different to the work of the adult. “The adult works to perfect his environment; the child works to perfect himself.”

Staff who are trained and qualified as Montessori directresses/ directors/ assistants. It is important that all teaching staff are trained and qualified to work within the prepared environment. It is internationally accepted Montessori Best Practice that those working and teaching in Montessori schools should hold Montessori teaching qualifications and undertake ‘Continued Professional Development’.

A classroom that is clean, neat, ordered and well-equipped with predominantly Montessori equipment and materials. These should be accessible to the children – at child height – and should always be complete and in good condition.

That there are several basic learning areas. In a Montessori 3-6 classroom: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Maths, Cultural Subjects and areas for art, creative expression and music. In the primary and higher levels, there should be also be areas for Language, Maths and Cultural Subjects. Cultural Subjects includes botany, zoology, history, geography, science, physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology and other similar subjects.

A sense of happiness and peace should prevail throughout the school, with the children showing signs of being comfortable and without fear.

Question:
Why are people allowed to run Montessori schools without qualifications? How do I know if my child’s teacher is properly qualified?

Answer:
Ask for proof of registration with the South African Council of Educators (SACE). In South Africa, it is a requirement for everyone in the teaching profession to be registered. It is however not a guarantee that the person is trained and qualified in Montessori education.

Parents should simply ask about staff qualifications, if they are not displayed in the classroom/school.

It is important to remember that, until recently, the quality of any training in South Africa was not monitored or accredited. Now, all training organizations, including Montessori teacher training centers, are required to be registered with the ETDP-SETA to ensure quality and uniformity among training providers.

There is more to be an effective Montessori teacher than simply a piece of paper – ask questions, be comfortable with the staff, observe their interactions with the children and feel confident in the people who will serve your child each day.

Question:
Why are some schools members of your association and others not?

Answer:
There is no compulsory Montessori association or organization anywhere in the world. Membership to any one of the many Montessori organizations globally is entirely voluntary thus ensuring our right to freedom of association.

SAMA was formed with the aim of unifying Montessorians in the Southern African region and further promoting authentic Montessori education.

Schools who have joined SAMA have agreed to abide by our Professional Code of Ethics and all heads of member schools are individual members of SAMA, promoting and supporting our Constitution, Aims and Objectives.

Question:
Does being a member of your association guarantee the school is a ‘proper’ Montessori school?

Answer:
No it does not. Our association is aimed at a broad membership base in order to be inclusion and supportive to all Montessorians in the region.

Accreditation of schools as Montessori schools has not yet been implemented in the Southern African region.

Parents should verify that the school does comply with all other statutory requirements such as registration with the Department of Health, Department of Social Development, local Municipal authorities and Department of Education (for schools engaged with formal schooling) among others.

SAMA members do agree to uphold the professional Code of Ethics.

SAMA has a Grievance Procedure which can be completed should any member of the public wish to lay a complaint against a SAMA member.

Question:
What does it really mean if a school or person is a member of your association?

Answer:
Membership of SAMA is a statement of commitment to Montessori education in the Southern African region.

We offer support to our members and the wider Montessori community.

The individual or school member subscribes to a professional Code of Ethics and supports the Aims and Objectives of the SAMA Constitution.

SAMA has a grievance procedure aimed at finding resolutions for all parties.

Members receive an informative monthly newsletter and may attend an Annual Conference in order to keep abreast of developments in Montessori and education in general.

Members may attend regional meetings held in all main centres within South Africa on a quarterly basis.

Members have access to a variety of publications generated by the association such as a Recommended Curriculum, Policies and Procedures CDs, Parent Handbooks and similar.

Members of our association, and the association itself, support many initiatives to extend Montessori education into disadvantaged communities.