What is a Montessori School: A Complete Guide for ParentsPinewoods Montessori School, North Carolina

Other than Google, what do Larry Page and Sergey Brin have in common? They both went to a Montessori school and attribute some of their success to their Montessori roots.

Montessori is more than just a school. It’s an approach to ensure the intellectual and emotional development of children. As a result, a growing number of parents are considering Montessori education for their young ones. That said, given the overwhelming number of options out there, finding a reliable Montessori school is far from easy.

Let’s understand what Montessori education is, how this school works, and how you can find one that best fits your child’s needs.

Table of Contents

What Is Montessori?

Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori developed the Montessori method of education in the early 1900s. She found that experiential learning helps children better understand science, languages, mathematics, music, art, and more. That’s what a Montessori school does. It focuses on the social, emotional, physical, and academic development of children.

So, what is a Montessori school like?

Montessori education aims to bring forth children’s innate skills and qualities. So, a typical Montessori school provides a learning environment that encourages self-discovery through hands-on learning.

The classrooms are designed to meet the needs of children in a specific age group. Teachers supervise and support children during these self-directed lessons. Everything in a Montessori school classroom helps children to learn through their own experiences. There is no pressure to follow a set pattern of teaching.

Needless to say, Montessori education lays the foundation for life-long learning. It fosters the inherent curiosity to discover the world in every child. Another important aspect is that it is tailored to each child’s abilities and skills. Everyone can learn at their own pace. There is no rat race.

Today, there are more than 2600 private and more than 500 public Montessori schools. In 1929, Dr. Maria Montessori established The Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). This organization continues to uphold the principles and standards of Montessori education. It also contributes to research in child development globally.

The Five Principles of the Montessori Method of Education

The Montessori program relies on a set of five unique principles. These principles encourage students to self-motivate, question and analyze what’s happening around them, and learn at their own pace.

Respecting the children is the bedrock of a Montessori school. The roots of this founding principle originated in the early years of Dr. Montessori’s work.

In the beginning, her students were children with learning difficulties. The turn of the century education system deemed these children unfit for learning.

But, Dr. Montessori saw these children from a different perspective. She understood that children should be respected for their needs, characteristics, and interests, which makes learning easier.

So, how does a Montessori school show respect to its pupils?

The respect is shown by not interrupting their focus, their desire to express, and their own pace of learning. At Pinewoods Montessori School, the primary responsibility of teachers is to support the children.

As each child learns at a different pace and in different ways, teachers motivate each student depending on their needs and interests. You do not see a one-size-fits-all approach in a Montessori classroom.

Montessori education’s second principle acknowledges that children experience specific periods in their development, where they have an increased ability to learn. Within Montessori programs, educators observe and identify these sensitive periods in each child. When a child is going through a sensitive period, teachers provide tailored support and tools to aid their learning. As children’s receptiveness is heightened during these periods, they can acquire new skills with ease and effectiveness.

The third principle is based on the fact that children are constantly learning naturally by interacting with their environment. They are absorbing information and interpreting it through real-life experiences. So, a Montessori school or those following this education method let children absorb information from their surroundings.  

Take reading, for example. How do Montessori schools teach reading? In a Montessori school, children first learn to write and then read. It’s amazing to watch children learn how to put together letters to form words based on how they sound.

And this occurs before they can interpret and write a word. The process fully leverages the fact that children are like a sponge and learn faster through hands-on experiences.l

For children to learn through hands-on experiences, you need to provide them with a suitable environment. That’s where a Montessori school comes in. Each classroom is specially prepared to respond with Montessori’s hands-on materials, child sized furnishing and practical living activities that make the classroom feel more like a home than an institution.

Also, everything in a classroom, from furniture to the free space, is designed to boost hands-on learning. The design allows kids to explore, experiment, and learn freely.

Auto Education, a core principle of Montessori education, emphasizes that children have the ability to educate themselves with proper resources and support. With time, the other four principles complement this approach and enable self-education. Teachers are present to guide, but the focus is on empowering children to learn on their own.

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The Key Elements in a Montessori Education That Create Student Success

Nine key elements of student success for children in Montessori schools were described, along with supporting research, in the book, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, Lillard, 2017. Lillard shows that Montessori education has better outcomes than modern curriculums, based on current research. The nature of these outcomes fall into the following categories:

  1. Montessori education involves hands-on learning; cognition and movement are therefore integrated in the learning process. Children use materials that convey important concepts and skills that might transfer to improved academic outcomes.
  1. Children in Montessori programs get to pursue what they are interested in learning when they are ready, rather than having to follow the prescription of a teacher (or state legislature). This interest responsive method enhances learning, and being able to do what one is interested at the moment of interest could lead to better nonacademic outcomes, such as positive feelings about or wellbeing in school.
  1. Children in Montessori programs are allowed to choose what they will learn about; and they determine how much time they will be engaged. Research has shown that when children are in environments with more self-determination, their academic performance improves.These conditions aso promote perceived self-worth, mastery and orientation.
  1. The Montessori approach places a high priority on concentrated attention and developing executive function. Research shows that enhanced self-regulation early in life predicts a wide range of health-related and wealth-related outcomes later in life).
  1. The child’s learning stems from intrinsic motivation; there are no extrinsic motivators encouraging children to work in Montessori classrooms. Intrinsic motivation is desirable in itself, and is also associated with demonstrated lifelong learning. Creativity is also enhanced by a lack of extrinsic rewards.
  1. Montessori learning is situated, so a child who is interested in bugs will study actual bugs, not just read about them in texts. In other cases, Montessori’s specially-developed hands-on materials make learning situated; e.g., a child learning the Pythagorean theorem gets materials that make the theorem self-evident. The children also embody the theorem in the schoolyard, using ropes to measure triangles, imagining themselves as ancient Egyptians measuring property lines. Research shows that learning is enhanced when it is situated in contexts.
  1. In Montessori classrooms, children are able to work with peers at will; they learn through imitation, through collaboration, and through peer tutoring. Peers can inspire children to assimilate and accommodate academic and social skills exhibited by those peers. Many studies show that peer learning is associated with better outcomes.
  1. Montessori teachers are counseled to work with children in specific ways, to cultivate the sensitive responsiveness that leads to secure attachment, and to take an authoritative approach; such approaches are demonstrated to show better child outcomes. Montessori teachers also facilitate student-driven creative approaches to solving problems.
  1. The Montessori environment is tightly ordered, with everything in its place. Although children have considerable freedom about how to use their time, exactly how a child uses each material is far from random; there are a series of prescribed steps, from which children are permitted to deviate only when the teacher perceives that deviation to be constructive for their learning and development. Order is also associated with better academic and nonacademic outcomes for children.

Montessori education focuses on various learning principles and tools to fulfill these objectives. They are very different from traditional teacher-led education.

Putting Children First
Unlike a traditional school, a Montessori school is more children-centric. Children have the liberty to speak their minds, learn at their own pace, and have freedom of choice. The traditional classrooms are more restrictive thanks to a myriad of rules and a teacher-centric learning process.

Adaptable Curriculum
Montessori has a flexible curriculum as each child is allowed to learn at their own pace. Children can choose what they want to learn and when they want to do it. And teachers provide the support they need.

Hands-On Learning
Montessori also focuses on real-life learning environments, both indoors and outdoors. Instead of sitting in a classroom listening to their teacher talk, children actively engage in hands-on experiences. Teachers, on the other hand, observe their progress and help children reach their potential.

Leverage Natural Development
Traditional education focuses on the transfer of a general curriculum. It often begs for a reward and punishment approach. In a Montessori school, however, kids learn to nurture their individual development. It brings self-motivation. So, there is no need for a reward and punishment system.

Minimal Interruptions
The whole concept of Montessori education is based on giving children the freedom to choose. Teachers will not disturb a child who is engaged in a particular activity. In fact, children are often encouraged to finish the activities they are working on.

The Montessori environment encourages self-correction, self-discipline, and self-learning. Rather than just passing tests, children learn to enjoy and value the process of learning. Thus, Montessori can turn learning into a way of life, not just a school activity.

Pinewoods Montessori School

Choose the Best Montessori
Program for Your Child

Benefits of Montessori Education

Given the freedom to discover, question, and connect with their surroundings, Montessori education can transform your kids into strong, independent individuals one day. But, that’s not the only benefit of Montessori education.

Still wondering if a Montessori
school is the right fit?

To help clear up any doubts, let’s take a look at a typical day at a Montessori school.

A Typical Day At a Montessori School

At the heart of the Montessori education system is the understanding that children develop in their own unique ways, often in sudden bursts of growth. Each child follows their own internal timetable for growth and change. Dr. Montessori observed this firsthand and created learning environments that honor this reality.

The mixed age groupings in each classroom, provide opportunities for children who share similar needs and characteristics to lean=rn from one another. each child’s individual development needs. This approach allows children to learn and grow at their own pace and in their own way.

Self-initiated hands-on activities are the mainstay of a Montessori school, the ultimate goal being self-discipline. In this regard, every classroom boasts a perfect balance between freedom and responsibility. 

When designing the classroom and presenting lessons, the Montessori “Guide” model provide lessons in “Grace and Courtesy”  to help kids make good behavioral choices independently. Observing their classmates, children learn to finish their tasks, tidy up their workspace, and behave, regardless of who is watching.

Montessori education is child-centric. And it wouldn’t be possible without seeing each child as an individual and providing them with the support they need. The teacher’s role is to facilitate the learning experience, not define it. The teacher guides the child, responding to their individual needs.

  • They will encourage the students to learn at their own pace. 
  • They will take the lead from students based on their interests and abilities. 
  • They will provide the next lesson only when the child is ready

Montessori classrooms prioritize independence, allowing children to work alone, in pairs, or in groups without constant teacher intervention. Faculty thoughtfully observe and minimize interruptions. While there are a few ground rules, the classroom environment fosters independence from a young age.

In each Montessori classroom the Guide takes a thoughtful approach to observing the children. This allows them to intervene in a considered manner when social difficulties arise. The Montessori philosophy is to allow children to work through their issues until they reach a point where they are unable to find a solution on their own. At that moment, we see an opportunity to teach them peacemaking skills or guide them through the conflict resolution process. This approach helps children learn to identify and correct their mistakes, and empowers them to handle situations on their own. Our goal is to help children gain the confidence they need to navigate through life’s challenges with skills.

Pinewoods Montessori School implements an authentic Montessori curriculum based on clear and measurable learner outcomes: academic preparation, autonomy and independence, confidence and competence, intrinsic motivation, social responsibility and global citizenship. Students actively engage in the learning process, exhibit joy in learning, and apply their knowledge and skills to real-world situations.

They develop not just intellectual but emotional and social skills as well. Education helps build a civilized and humane society. It’s no wonder Dr. Montessori saw education as an instrument for world peace.

Most parents want to know how their children will spend their day at a Montessori school. The daily routine in a Montessori class is built around predictability. This results in children having a sense of security, knowing what to expect each day when they come to school.

Although the structure of each new day will be more or less the same, it will be full of different lessons and activities. This is characterized by a long and uninterrupted “work cycle’ where children select activities, faculty provide lessons, and the group comes together for community meetings.

A typical day in the Primary classes consists of a morning session, mid-day session, lunch break, an afternoon session, and a late afternoon session. Each session roughly lasts about two to three hours.

8:15-8:30 – Greeting

The children arrive at the classroom door and are greeted with a handshake. They should reply to the greeting and politely respond to the questions on how they are. This simple grace and courtesy is an important routine.

They enter the classroom and begin by washing their hands and greeting the teachers. They then begin their choice of work.

8:30 – 11:15 – Work Cycle

A long and uninterrupted work cycle is a key feature of the Montessori classroom. This allows each child to have their own time to engage and concentrate in sustained activity which is both purposeful and individualized. 

During this work cycle individual lessons are given to the children by the Guide and the Assistant. Some small group work may also take place. Often this is in response to friends sharing a common interest.

The morning has periods of concentrated work with the Montessori materials. There are also restorative activities including art and crafts, practical activities, snacks and sometimes work outside. Games, stories and songs may take place spontaneously in response to the interests of the children during the work cycle.

11:15 – 11:30 – Community Meeting 

After a brief period of tidying the classroom and putting away the activities the group gathers around the rug. Often there will be songs or stories, sometimes group lessons, and much sharing about the morning just past. We may prepare for a special event, focus on the calendar, or relate to a theme.

At times we will discuss common interests or challenges and problem solve as a group if social situations call for that.

We then get coats and line up before going out to the playground. We remind children to use the bathroom before we go outside.

11:30 – 12:00 – Outside Time 

This is unstructured free time for the children to run and play and be with each other.  It is an important time for making friends, not just with each other but with children from the other classrooms. They love the top of the hill on the playground.  This is where they pretend, build things out of sticks and rocks, etc and make up games.  The Play structures are where the gross motor gets a workout by climbing, running, swinging.

11:50 – 12:00 – Half Day Children Dismiss

Noon to 12:40 – Community Lunch

As lunch winds down all the children put their lunch boxes, snack bag and water bottle in their backpacks. Nappers assemble and settle into their nap period. The children rest, and wake up around 2:30.  If a child wakes up earlier than the rest of the children, they either will read a book or rest quietly until the others awake.

12:40 – 2:30 – Afternoon Work Cycle-

Those who don’t rest focus on cleaning up after lunch. They sweep the floors, fold and put away the table cloths. When the room is ready we gather at the rug for a group lesson. Often this lesson has a follow-on work involving a project based outcome. The older children are ready for this and it helps to engage them in longer and more content based activities.

There are days when we will take a “Nature Walk”. We set out as a group and walk the campus, focused on a nature topic and observing evidence and discussing it as we go along.

This is a quieter time for the children.  They will receive small group lessons as well as individual lessons and work on materials that may take longer. 

2:30 – 2:50 – Wrap Up the Day

We often end our day with songs and recitations. Children may share some thoughts or ideas in the group. 

2:50 – 3:00 – Dismissal and Students Begin Sunset Program -Encore program

Encore is our after-school program.  Much of the time is spent outdoors, and children are encouraged to play and enjoy free time to have fun with friends. This unstructured and independent time is carefully supervised by the Encore staff, who are available to help and support the play and social interactions that take place as well as insure safety and oversight.

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Give Your Child a Well-Rounded
Education and Overall Development

How To Choose a Montessori School

By now, you may have started thinking about enrolling your child in a Montessori school. Most parents find it challenging to select a school, given the overwhelming number of choices. But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s what to look for when choosing a Montessori school – tips that’ll make your search a lot easier.

The American Montessori Society (AMS) provides accreditation to the eligible schools in the U.S. It is considered the gold standard in the American Montessori community. Currently, only 15% of their member schools are accredited. Make sure to check if the school has AMS accreditation.

Moreover, the teachers should have passed accredited training programs by the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education. These programs are available through AMS in the U.S. Make sure to check if teachers are also accredited.

The student-teacher ratio is an equally important measure of quality. Although it may not always equate to a higher standard, a lower teacher-student ratio can make a huge difference. 

In a Montessori school with a lower ratio, teachers can pay one-on-one attention to students. Combined with the Montessori education system, this ratio can ensure the overall development of your child. 

Montessori schools embrace the principle of giving students freedom with a few limitations. And the classroom structure needs to reflect this philosophy. 

  • Is the classroom designed to allow students to choose their activities? 
  • Is it a mixed-aged classroom? 
  • Are there zoned spaces? 
  • Do they have good quality learning material, furniture, and other classroom facilities? 

Think about all these factors when selecting a school.

The purpose of Montessori education is to ensure the full development of children. It isn’t possible without building a sense of community in the school.

Teachers and your child’s classmates aside, you as a parent also have an active role in this education system. So, find out if the school provides regular feedback to parents and keeps them involved in the learning process.

You can’t verify any of these factors without seeing the teachers and students in action. Make sure to schedule a tour if possible. See if the teachers adhere to the five principles of Montessori education during your classroom visit. After your visit, compare all the schools you have shortlisted and select the one that best fits your child’s needs.

Montessori FAQs

As a parent, you probably still have a lot of questions. While it is not possible to address all of them, we can look at a few common ones. Parents often ask the following questions when looking for a Montessori school.

Montessori schools don’t divide children into grades but age groups. Most schools offer programs for infant toddlers (ages 18 months to 3 years) and Elementary-aged children (ages 6 to 12). Some schools may also have programs for secondary students (ages 12 – 18).

As per the federal tax laws, money paid for a child’s education is not tax-deductible. However, depending on several factors, you can interpret Montessori school tuition as a childcare expense, which is tax-deductible. You can also get tax credits. However, you will need to consult a tax advisor for details.

You can try the AMI-USA school locator to find accredited schools. However, not all schools are accredited. So, make sure to check the “Accredited” box in the search option. 

While Montessori education believes in a child’s natural desire to explore, it also believes in self-discipline. So, children are allowed to do as they please but with certain limitations. Moreover, these limitations are necessary to ensure their safety. Rest assured, these limitations will not discourage children from using their creative imagination.

Montessori education puts equal weight on fostering independence and social skills. So, children will be involved in both individual and group activities. They will also work in pairs. The whole process aims to help them understand the concepts like respect, grace, courtesy, and acceptance.

In Conclusion

Montessori education encourages freedom with responsibility. At Pinewoods Montessori School students are active participants in their learning and make important decisions about how that learning is conducted.  One of the best qualities of the school is that students progress at a pace that is challenging but appropriate to their own needs. The multi-age classrooms provide flexibility and opportunities for leadership, mentoring, and deep collaboration at all levels. This approach develops both competence and confidence, which work hand in hand during the learning process.

How to Get Started

Thank you for your interest in a Pinewoods Montessori education. Please know that you are joining a school community committed to a unified mission of nurturing the natural curiosity of each child into a lifelong love of learning.  Daily, our faculty and staff work as advocates for each child and in partnership with each parent to cultivate the competence, independence and confidence that will enable our children to become the designers of their future and contributors to the world. 

Links below will put you in touch with our Admissions Director to begin the process of enrollment. We offer tours of the school on most Wednesday mornings when the school is in session, and have several Open House eents during the enrollment season.