Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why Do Montessori Classes Group Different Age Levels Together?
  • Why Do Most Montessori Schools Ask Young Children to Attend Five Days a Week?
  • Is Montessori for All Children?
  • Is Montessori Unstructured?
  • What’s the Big Deal about Freedom and Independence in Montessori?
  • Is It True that Montessori Children Never Play?
  • What about Children with Special Needs?
  • Is Montessori Opposed to Competition?
  • Is Montessori Opposed to Fantasy and Creativity?
  • Will My Child Be Able to Adjust to Traditional Public or Private Schools After Montessori?
  • How Can Parents Help At Home?
Why Do Montessori Classes Group Different Age Levels Together?

Sometimes Parents worry that by having younger children in the same class as older ones, one group or the other will be shortchanged.  They fear that the younger children will absorb the teachers’ time and attention, or that the importance of covering the kindergarten curriculum for the 5 year-olds will prevent them from giving the 3 and 4 year-olds the emotional support and stimulation that they need.

Both concerns are misguided.
At each level, Montessori programs are designed to address the developmental characteristics normal to children in that stage.

  • Montessori classes are organized to encompass a 2 or 3 year age span, which allows younger students the stimulation of older children, who in turn benefit from serving as role models.  Each child learns at her own pace and will be ready for any given lesson in her own time, not on the teacher’s schedule of lessons.  In a mixed-age class, children can always find peers who are working at their current level.
  • Working in one class for 2 or 3 years allows children to develop a strong sense of community with their classmates and teachers.  The age range also allows especially gifted children the stimulation of intellectual peers, without requiring that they skip a grade or feel emotionally out of place. With two-thirds of the class returning each year, the classroom culture tends to remain quite stable.
Why Do Most Montessori Schools Ask Young Children to Attend Five Days a Week?

2 and 3 day programs are often attractive to Parents who do not need full-time care; however,  5 day programs create the consistency that is so important to young children and which is essential in developing strong Montessori programs.  Since the primary goal of Montessori involves creating a culture of consistency, order, and empowerment, most Montessori schools will expect children to attend 5 days a week.

Is Montessori for All Children?

The Montessori system has been used successfully with children from all socio-economic levels, representing those in regular classes as well as the gifted, children with developmental delays, and children with emotional and physical disabilities.  There is no one school that is right for all children, and certainly there are children who may do better in a smaller classroom setting with a more teacher-directed program that offers fewer choices and more consistent external structure.

Children who are easily over stimulated, or those who tend to be overly aggressive, may be examples of children who might not adapt as easily to a Montessori program.  Each situation is different, and it is best to work with the schools in your area to see if it appears that a particular child and school would be a good match.

Is Montessori Unstructured?

At first, Montessori may look unstructured to some people, but it is actually quite structured at every level.  Just because the Montessori program is highly individualized does not mean that students can do whatever they want.  Like all children, Montessori students live within a cultural context that involves the mastery of skills and knowledge that are considered essential.

Montessori teaches all of the “basics,” along with giving students the opportunity to investigate and learn subjects that are of particular interest.  It also allows them the ability to set their own schedule to a large degree during class time.  At the Early Childhood level, external structure is limited to clear-cut ground rules and correct procedures that provide guidelines and structure for 3 to 6 year-olds.

What’s the Big Deal about Freedom and Independence in Montessori?

Children touch and manipulate everything in their environment. In a sense, the human mind is handmade, because through movement and touch, the child explores, manipulates, and builds a storehouse of impressions about the physical world around her.

Children learn best by doing, and this requires movement and spontaneous investigation.  Montessori children are free to move about, working alone or with others at will.  They may select any activity and work with it as long as they wish, so long as they do not disturb anyone or damage anything, and as long as they put it back where it belongs when they are finished.

Many exercises, especially at the Early Childhood level, are designed to draw children’s attention to the sensory properties of objects within their environment: size, shape, color, texture, weight, smell, sound etc.  Gradually, they learn to pay attention, seeing more clearly small details in the things around them.  They have begun to observe and appreciate their environment.  This is a key in helping children discover how to learn.

Freedom is a second critical issue as children begin to explore.  Our goal is less to teach them facts and concepts, but rather to help them to fall in love with the process of focusing their complete attention on something and mastering its challenge with enthusiasm.  Work assigned by adults rarely results in such enthusiasm and interest as does work that children freely choose for themselves.

The Prepared Environment of the Montessori class is a learning laboratory in which children are allowed to explore, discover, and select their own work.  The independence that the children gain is not only empowering on a social and emotional basis, but it is also intrinsically involved with helping them become comfortable and confident in their ability to master the environment, ask questions, puzzle out the answer, and learn without needing to be “spoon-fed” by an adult.

Is It True that Montessori Children Never Play?

All children play!  They explore new things playfully.  They watch something of interest with a fresh open mind.  They enjoy the company of treasured adults and other children.  They make up stories.  They dream.  They imagine.  This impression stems from Parents who don’t know what to make of the incredible concentration, order, and self-discipline that we commonly see among Montessori children.

Montessori students also tend to take the things they do in school quite seriously.  It is common for them to respond, “This is my work,” when adults ask what they are doing.  They work hard and expect their Parents to treat them and their work with respect.  But it is joyful, playful, and anything but drudgery.

What about Children with Special Needs?

Every child has areas of special gifts, a unique learning style, and some areas that can be considered special challenges.  Each child is unique.  Montessori is designed to allow for differences.  It allows students to learn at their own pace and is quite flexible in adapting for different learning styles.

In many cases, children with mild physical handicaps or learning disabilities may do very well in a Montessori classroom setting.  On the other hand, some children do much better in a smaller, more structured classroom.  Each situation has to be evaluated individually to ensure that the program can successfully meet a given child’s needs and learning style.

Is Montessori Opposed to Competition?

Montessori is not opposed to competition; Dr. Montessori simply observed that competition is an ineffective tool to motivate children to learn and to work hard in school.

Traditionally, schools challenge students to compete with one another for grades, class rankings, and special awards.  For example, in many schools tests are graded on a curve and are measured against the performance of their classmates rather than considered for their individual progress.

In Montessori schools, students learn to collaborate with each other rather than mindlessly compete.  Students discover their own innate abilities and develop a strong sense of independence, self-confidence, and self-discipline. In an atmosphere in which children learn at their own pace and compete only against themselves, they learn not to be afraid of making mistakes.

They quickly find that few things in life come easily, and they can try again without fear of embarrassment. Dr. Montessori argued that for an education to touch children’s hearts and minds profoundly, students must be learning because they are curious and interested, not simply to earn the highest grade in the class.

Montessori children compete with each other every day, both in class and on the playground.  Dr. Montessori, herself an extraordinary student and a very high achiever, was never opposed to competition on principle.  Her objection was to using competition to create an artificial motivation to get students to achieve.

Montessori schools allow competition to evolve naturally among children, without adult interference unless the children begin to show poor sportsmanship.  The key is the child’s voluntary decision to compete rather than having it imposed on him by the school.

Is Montessori Opposed to Fantasy and Creativity?

NO!!!  Fantasy and creativity are important aspects of a Montessori child’s experience.  Montessori classrooms incorporate art, music, dance, and creative drama throughout the curriculum.  Imagination plays a central role, as children explore how the natural world works, visualize other cultures and ancient civilizations, and search for creative solutions to real-life problems. I n Montessori schools, the Arts are normally integrated into the rest of the curriculum.

Will My Child Be Able to Adjust to Traditional Public or Private Schools After Montessori?

By the end of age five, Montessori children are normally curious, self-confident learners who look forward to going to school.  They are normally engaged, enthusiastic learners who honestly want to learn and who ask excellent questions.  Montessori children by age six 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 very sensitive or have special needs that might not be met well in a teacher-centered traditional classroom.  Other children can succeed in any type of 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.  But most adapt to their new setting fairly quickly, making new friends, and succeeding within the definition of success understood in their new school.

There will naturally be trade-offs if a Montessori child transfers to a traditional school.  The curriculum in Montessori schools is often more enriched than that taught in mainstream schools.  The values and attitudes of the children and teachers may also be quite different.  Learning will often be focused more on adult-assigned tasks done more by rote than with enthusiasm and understanding.

There is an old saying that if something is working, don’t fix it!  This leads many families to continue their children in Montessori at least through the sixth grade.

How Can Parents Help At Home?

To give the child the best opportunity for development, the Montessori principles and philosophy should be implemented in the home from birth.  Parents need to read books as well as attend workshops, lectures and courses, if possible, on implementing the Montessori philosophy in the home.  If the home and school environments complement each other, the child will receive the maximum benefit.




1 Teacher sets curriculum 1 Child chooses materials
2 Teacher sets pace 2 Child sets own pace
3 Teacher guides child 3 Child free to discover on own
4 Emphasis is on the abstract 4 Emphasis is on the concrete
5 Much role-play and fantasy 5 Reality orientated
6 Random placement - not necessary to return to specific place 6 Specific places for materials - sense of order
7 Teacher provides stimuli to learning 7 Child provides own stimuli to learning
8 Teacher-centred environment 8 Child-centred learning environment
9 Use of reward and punishment in motivation 9 Self-education through self-correcting materials
10 All children are treated alike 10 Recognition of sensitive periods
11 Play materials for non-specific skills 11 Multi-sensory materials to develop specific skills
12 Rigid rules not to move furniture and to sit in designated places 12 Liberty to move about self and furniture
13 Silence is on many occasions enforced 13 Liberty to speak (without disturbing others) as he pleases
14 Teacher does all and child is forced to follow 14 Teacher's part is to guide child to act and think for himself
15 Children are punished even if fault lies at the teacher's in capabilities 15 Disorderly conduct in class is regarded as teacher's fault, she seeks it out and corrects it