Montessori Myths

Myth #1:
Montessori is too structured.
Although the teacher is careful to clarify the specific purpose of each material and to present activities in a clear, step-by-step order, the child is free to choose from a vast array of activities and to discover new possibilities.

Myth #2:
A Montessori classroom is too unstructured for my child.
The Montessori classroom provides a balance between structure and freedom of choice. The structure is quite different from a traditional preschool. Many traditional preschools work on a schedule where the entire classroom is involved in an activity for fifteen minutes, then moves on to the next activity. This structure is based on the belief that young children have short attention spans of less than twenty minutes per activity.
In the Montessori classroom, each child creates his or her own cycle of work based on individual interests. This cycle of self-directed activity lengthens the child’s attention span and ability to focus. Structure is created by each child selecting his or her activity, completing it and returning the activity to the shelf making it available for the next child. After the successful completion of a task, there is a period of self-satisfaction and reflection, then, the child chooses the next activity. Montessorians call this rhythm of activity a work cycle. Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, refers to the habit of a work cycle as creating an upward spiral of growth and change. Covey describes a spiraling process of learn–commit–do that empowers us to move toward continuous improvement, both as children and adults. The Montessori curriculum allows for freedom with responsibility where children are allowed to learn and develop at their own pace.
The teacher, instead of directing a group of children in one activity, quietly moves from child to child, giving individual lessons with materials. The teacher or assistant may lead a few small-group activities, such as reading a book out loud, singing songs, presenting the steps to complete a craft, or preparing to go outside.
Montessori observed that children naturally tend to use self-selected, purposeful activities to develop themselves. The Montessori classroom, with its prepared activities and trained teachers, is structured to promote this natural process of human development.

Myth #3:
Montessori is only for ‘well behaved’ children.
Students new to the Montessori classroom, who may or may not have been in a traditionally structured school, learn to select their own work and complete it with order, concentration and attention to detail. Montessorians refer to children, who work in this independent, self-disciplined way as ‘normalized’ or using the natural and normal tendencies of human development. Lessons also focus on grace, courtesy, and building community. Because children are engaged in purposeful activities and kindness is encouraged throughout the environment, the children are consistently challenged and are less likely to misbehave.
Montessori is based on the principle of free choice of purposeful activity within a prepared learning environment. If the child is being destructive or is using materials in an unproductive way, the teacher will intervene and gently re-direct the child either to more appropriate materials or to a more appropriate use of the material.

Myth # 4:
Claims that Montessori education is more effective than traditional methods of education are exaggerated and based on opinion, not science.
Throughout the 100 years of Montessori practice, there have been many objective analyses of the method’s effectiveness. One of the latest, published in the journal Science (September 29, 2006), compared outcomes of children at a public inner-city Montessori school with children who attended traditional schools. The study indicates that Montessori education leads to children with better social and academic skills.

Myth #5:
Montessori classrooms are chaotic; the children are allowed to do whatever they want.
Children in a Montessori classroom are allowed free choice within a prepared environment. Because the ‘teacher’ serves as a guide, a child is introduced to an activity with its corresponding sequence of steps. That activity becomes available for that child to experiment with and the child can develop concentration, coordination, and independence. The result is the child becomes relaxed, peaceful and absorbed in the activity. If the activity has not been introduced, then the child must ask the teacher or an older child. A wide range of self-correcting (auto-didactic) materials are made available to each child. As a result, each child may be engaged in individual work, but it is organized chaos and often described as a quiet hum of activity.
In the “normalized” classroom, disputes between children are almost always settled by the children themselves. They absorb conflict management skills from the teachers, who are trained to be deeply respectful of themselves, others and their environment. The role of the teacher in the classroom is to be the observer of activity and facilitator of self-discipline as opposed to director of activity and enforcer of rules.

Myth #6: 

There’s little, if any, opportunity for the young child to develop creatively in the Montessori environment. Fantasy play and creative endeavor are frowned upon and discouraged.

We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry.” – Maria Montessori

A Montessori classroom fosters self-expression and allows children free access to pencils, pencil sharpeners, markers, crayons, chalk, paint, scissors, glue and a stapler along with cardboard, paper, chalkboards, easels, etc. Crafts may follow a seasonal theme, but they are not a daily activity unless it is the child’s choice. As with Montessori materials, children are taught the proper and safe way to use and carry items such as scissors and staplers.
While Montessori materials have specific purposes, children are encouraged to combine those materials and obtain a new result. Montessori education is based on the assumption that children are ready for serious, beautiful, meaningful activities and the teacher fosters optimal use of their uninterrupted work cycle.  Fantasy play may take the form of dressing up in multicultural outfits instead of superheroes or princesses.  Another integral part of creativity in the classroom is through Music and Spanish.

Myth #7:
Montessori teachers are strict and overly concerned with academics; they’re discouraged from being affectionate or loving with the children.
Montessori classrooms create an atmosphere based on community, kindness and respect: respect of self, each other and the environment. Children in a Montessori environment tend to form a caring environment with their teacher and peers.
Maria Montessori created a carefully prepared environment based on her research that discovered various stages of a child’s brain development.  The classrooms are designed to maximize learning within those stages and teachers recognize there is a lot to absorb as they guide the children so they may reach their full potential within this environment. Montessori children far ahead of traditional expectations for their age level reflect not artificial acceleration but the possibilities open when children are allowed to learn at their own pace in a scientifically prepared environment.

Myth #8:
Montessori is just for preschool children.
While the majority of Montessori schools around the world began as preschools, there have been an increasing number of schools offering elementary, middle, and high school programs. The Montessori School of Waukesha offers programs beginning with children ages 20 months old through Middle School (8th grade).

Myth #9:
Montessori is just for special learners-the gifted or the learning-disabled.
The methods used in Montessori schools are highly effective with both learning-disabled and gifted learners; the reason for their effectiveness, however, is that the learning environments have been designed to ensure success for all children.

Myth #10:
Montessori schools are religious.
Maria Montessori was a devout catholic and her first schools reflected her views, but the majority of Montessori schools in the U.S. today are nonsectarian.

Myth #11:
Montessori is only for the rich.
Many Montessori schools are private schools but there are currently a growing number of sites that are charter schools or public school sites. The Montessori School of Waukesha firmly believes in equal access to high quality education and is actively pursuing charter status.  Currently, the school is a 4K community partner with the School District of Waukesha and the School District of Kettle Moraine. This partnership means that the student’s tuition is covered by those districts for the child’s 4K school year.

Montessori School of Waukesha also allocates 11% of its annual operating budget to financial aid in the form of scholarships. This decades-long practice provides opportunities for families who choose Montessori education for their child.

Myth #12:
Montessori is a cult.
Montessori is a method of educating children based on the philosophy of Italian educator and physicist Maria Montessori and is far from being a cult. Montessori is part of the educational mainstream, as evidenced by growing numbers of graduate-level programs in Montessori education (such as those at Cleveland State University and New York University) and the increasing popularity of Montessori in the public schools.

Myth #13:
Montessori is out of date.
While Maria Montessori began her research and developed her approach to child education over 100 years ago, the curriculum has been updated as appropriate.  For example, Practical Life exercises are modified to maintain their cultural relevance and classrooms at the Montessori School of Waukesha include computers and technology instruction in the higher grades.  Recognizing the perceptiveness and intuition qualities common in Montessori students, educators have increasingly integrated components of Montessori philosophy into their curriculum. A limited number of schools are beginning to offer multi-age classrooms, hands-on learning, and project-based learning.

Myth #14:
Going to Montessori Every Day is Too Much for My Child.
Montessori materials were carefully designed to work with increasing level of difficulty and in conjunction with each other. A five-day program, such as at Montessori School of Waukesha, establishes consistency and continuity that allows the child further opportunities to explore the full range of the Montessori classroom.

Myth #15:
High Teacher:Child Ratios Work Best for Children.
The Montessori School of Waukesha maintains ratios that allow teachers to provide individual attention to the children. The basis for Montessori education is that children develop at their own pace and the teacher:child ratios at MSW enable teachers to provide the individual attention needed for each of the children to reach their full potential.