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Advice about Montessori School

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > School & Preschool > Advice about Montessori School


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Montessori preschool: worth it?

Feb 2013

Hi there, We are looking for preschools for our daughter, and are wondering parents' thoughts on whether sending your child to Montessori for just 2-3 years is worth the cost over other play-based daycares. We can't afford to do a Montessori school for her whole education--do the two years make a difference? Thanks for your thoughts! Interested in Montessori


In a word: no. At least, that's my opinion. I'm sure you'll receive many enthusiastic endorsements of Montessori preschools from satisfied parents, but my son's play-based preschool was overwhelmingly wonderful and completely perfect for us, at a fraction of the price. After spending two years ''playing'' (which was really complex learning) at preschool, he is now excelling in a demanding, ''academic'' kindergarten--and that's despite being a young five-year-old boy. I think the Montessori brand name appeals to anxious parents who want to start the academic rat race at age 3. I say save your money, and let your child play while s/he's young. Happy With Our Choice
What a great question, and one that many parents are probably asking themselves! My two children are currently enrolled in a Montessori program here in Berkeley (American International Montessori), and I also work in parent outreach with LePort Schools, a group of Montessori schools in Orange County.

My answer is, yes, it's totally worth it to enroll in Montessori for 2-3 years - especially if two key conditions are in place:

1) Your child can stay for the whole 3-year Montessori primary cycle (from age three through age 6, including what is traditionally the Kindergarten year.) 2) You enroll at a school that is serious about Montessori. It's important to know that Montessori isn't trademarked and there's a wide variation between Montessori schools: some schools faithfully implement an authentic Montessori program, while some may bring in Montessori materials and activities, without necessarily implementing a fully consistent, carefully prepared Montessori classroom environment. If you think Montessori is right for your child, and you want him to get the most out of his 2-3 year experience, then I think it's important to invest the time to find a school that does Montessori well.

There's a lot more to be said about both points! Here's a link to a blog post I've written to answer this question more fully, including some information on what your child can expect to get out of three years of Montessori, and a list of four factors that I've found to be pretty telling for identifying authentic Montessori programs: http://www.leportschools.com/montessori-preschool-worth-2-3-years/ Heike


I know this is a bit late but I wanted to chime in on Montessori preschool. We started our daughter in a lovely play based preschool that we and she loved. When she turned 4 (and had been at her current school for 2.5 years) we moved her to a Montessori preschool, in prep for kindergarten. It was a very tough decision. She loved her school and her friends, but she yearned for more structured learning. She wanted to play ''school'' at home, and she would sit down and do ''homework'' after seeing our friends middle school kids at the table after family dinners. I talked with some parents of kids who had gone on to kindergarten and some said that given the current expectations for kids in Kindergarten, sitting still and paying attention was an issue and a tough transition in the beginning for some. We are not keeping her in Montessori for K, however what she is taking away from the experience is a few tools to help her learn, and some skills at understanding when it is time to work and when it is time to play and best yet, how to make new friends! When kids leave preschool it seems that it is a bit like throwing petals to the wind. Everyone takes time to pick preschool and schools and they are not always decisions based on location. If my daughter had stayed at her preschool she would not have had one person moving on to K with her. Now she has 3 kids she will know at her new school. So, there are a couple of things here- but in summary pick the place your kid will be happy at the age they are now and you can always move later! H
Depending on the school, I definitely think that a Montessori preschool can be well worth the money. I have two teenage children, one who is a senior at Berkeley High School and the other a sophomore at the College Preparatory School. They both went to Berkeley Montessori school, which is now called The Berkeley School, although it's still heavily influenced by Montessori practices and I can't imagine a better preschool education for our children. The teachers there are loving, nurturing, lots of fun and truly inspirational. My children are not perfect, by any means, but they do have a natural curiosity and love of learning, not just to do well on tests, or get an A in class, but because they're genuinely interested and find learning fun and exciting. I get comments confirming this from their high school teachers when report cards come out and I really believe that their enthusiasm for learning started to take shape in their early education, where they were given the freedom to explore, experiment and figure out things for themselves at their own pace in a collaborative way with the loving guidance of an exceptional group of teachers. I can't speak for all Montessori preschools, but I will always be grateful and couldn't be happier with the The Berkeley School and the early education it provided for our children. Good luck in your search, you may want to visit a number of different schools and see what speaks to you and your family, but definitely check out the The Berkeley School. Nancy
As dad of two happy, creative Montessori kids, I am a firm believer in the approach. I'm also mystified by a common mischaracterization of Montessori- as the antithesis of a creative play inspiring environment. I hear this from parents who are generally intelligent and well meaning, but who typically have not taken the time or had the opportunity to look closely at a well run Montessori school. If they had, they would have seen kids happily engaged in pretend play at recess, and also building their learning, problem solving and social skill pathways in carefully prepared classroom environments. These classrooms offer what, to a 3-6 year old, must seem like an endless array of choices- within which they are allowed to learn/play (within generous time frames) at whatever they want for as long as they want- either alone or with other kids.

Montessori marketing (are you listening, school owners/executives/directors?) shares the blame for the misguided anti-play dogma through their casual use- without adequate explanation- of the term 'work period'. The term 'work' has natural negative connotations when associated with school environments and younger children. It conjures up images of autocracy and excessive 'follow my lead only' structure that many of us suffered through as children ourselves. In Montessori speak, the word 'work' was likely selected out of respect for the importance of each child's time for learning. The 'work period' (insert better name, please?) in fact offers a wide range of stimulating exercises that accomplish what I would call 'skill building through play'.

In my children's case (a daughter with 2.5 years and a son with 1 year in Montessori), I'm convinced that the combination of prepared environment learning and free-form recess play has made them much more, not less, creative kids. This in addition to great advances- largely through their own choice of daily learning activities- in essential social, problem solving and language skills. Just this morning, they entertained me by building an 'animal hospital' for their numerous stuffed 'friends', complete with an 'ambulance service' to deliver them, utilizing living room chairs, couch cushions and pillows in ways I hadn't imagined possible! They then trooped happily out the door and on their way to school- not toward anything that constitutes 'work' in their minds- but toward new, exciting (and very creative) learning adventures.

Best wishes for finding a great creative learning environment for your child. - Dad of Two Playful Montessorians


How do kids turn out? Play-based or Montessori

Feb 2013

I have a child who will be 2 1/2 when entering preschool. I've visited play-based and Montessoris and I can't help but wonder ... do kids at play-based preschools end up being more frenzied and in need of attention and stimulation (with some good manners, but not as many as we'd like) whereas Montessori kids leave preschool more calm and perhaps less social and overly prepared for kindergarten (and with really good manners and a knack for cleaning up). I've read a fair amount on previous posts, but would love to hear even more. I may be over-thinking this, but I do see value in both types of schools and wonder if anyone thinks (or has noticed) there REALLY IS a difference in the way kids turn out when they head to kindergarten. Or, is it just that kids are mini adults w/their general personalities already formed and they'll be how they are no matter what preschool they attend? Thank you in advance. Signed, Looking for more perspective


With your statement ''Or, is it just that kids are mini adults w/their general personalities already formed and they'll be how they are no matter what preschool they attend?'' I think you nailed it. When it comes to preschool, I think all that matters is whether the child is happy and whether the teachers are loving and nurturing. We've experienced three preschools--one play-based, one Montessori, and one Montessori-influenced. My two older children attended Montessori and I have to say they do not know how to clean up! My eldest is not very academic, despite his Montessori training, while my middle child is slightly more inclined that way. My youngest, attending the Montessori-influenced preschool, will probably be my most academic (but she doesn't know how to clean up either). All three kids made friends at their preschools, did lots of learning (even at the play-based one), enjoyed going to school, and are growing into kind, happy children and pre-teens (who are very messy). I recommend you choose a school where the children seem happy and fits your needs in terms of location, hours, and cost. Seasoned preschool mom

How do kids do academically after Montessori school?

Nov 2012

Montessori supporters claim that kids who attend Montessori schools are advanced academically compared to other schools however I've talked with a few parents and read some reviews which report that some parents have found their kids to be behind when transferring to other schools or taking standardized tests. I'm guessing this is greatly influenced by the individual child and the specific Montessori program/school, but can anyone who has had Montessori experience (K and above) share thoughts about this? Montessori philosophy has many qualities that appeal to me and I am really less concerned with being ''advanced'' academically but would not want to set my child up to get behind. Thank you


Former Montessori kid here (attended a very traditional Montessori ages 3 to 7). I think there's actually a thread of truth to both observations--though as you say, a lot depends on the individual child and school. I started public school in second grade and was definitely behind in some things and far ahead in others. Everything reflected the Montessori method, though. For instance, because we had learned cursive rather than print and my public school didn't teach cursive till third grade, I spent most of second grade getting ''poors'' in handwriting because I had no practice in printing. (But fast forward to third grade, and I was a pro at cursive!) Similarly, I had much stronger multiplication, logic, and number sense skills than my public school classmates, but no real experience with things like formal long addition/subtraction, so there was a learning curve there too. We never did get to some of the shapes I'd learned as a six-year-old in ''regular'' school. It was a rough transition, though things worked out in the end--I was caught up within a year or so where I was behind, and I retained the strong language and creative thinking skills throughout my school years (and beyond). I can't say whether those skills were innate or learned, but at a minimum, Montessori certainly fostered them. And then there were the practical skills--to this day I still carry scissors Montessori-style! It's definitely wise to think through how Montessori may mesh with the school your child will attend afterwards, but don't let it discourage you from choosing the method. From recent conversations with my mom, I do know that choosing Montessori for us was one of the only educational decisions that my parents never second-guessed or regretted in any way, which speaks volumes. Excited that my son will be a Montessori kid, too!
We are sold on the value of a Montessori education, but naturally we also wondered about this before our eldest started high school, since we had no experience in this transition. We now see that our child is overprepared academically in all subjects. We have heard similar reports from other families. The MFS middle school graduates have all gone on to their first choice of high schools. Parent of an MFS MS graduate
My son goes to a Montessori school and our school requests that parents evaluate their children prior to individual parent/teacher meetings. I have found in the last two meetings that both teachers have repeated almost exactly what was written by us. I am interested to hear what the process is for other Montessori schools. Do the teachers guide you as parents, and do they recall dates and specific activities? Do they rate your child amongst his/her peers? Do they have suggestions on how your child might improve? Also, our school has issues with bullying, and I would like it if the school would tell us what sorts of struggles they are working on with the group as a whole -- does your school inform you of these bigger overarching issues?

We don't have family here and I only can compare my kids to what else is going on with his school, so I rely heavily on the guidance of the teachers and their feedback to help me help my kids to grow and be prepared. Thank you Lisa


18 month old too young for Montessori?

Aug 2012

I have been looking at various Montessori preschool programs in the East Bay and am planning to put my son on the waitlist for AIM in Berkeley. I know that children can start in the infant community at AIM as young as 18 months, and was wondering if anyone else has experience starting their child either at AIM or in any other Montessori program at such a young age. Could that be too early an age to start start him in Montessori? I've also heard that Montessori works best when you also implement some Montessori style elements at home. I have done a little bit of reading, but I don't have any personal experience with Montessori. Are there some things I can start doing at home now? Montessori curious


My son is now 6 and he started in IC at 18 months when Ernie Mahr was still the director for PRINTS. For my son, the hardest part was being separated from us and he cried for a whole month before setting into a good routine. But he gained tremendously from being in a language immersion environment from such a young age. It really helped him when he transitioned to CH. He also got potty trained quickly.

Fast forward to this year, my daughter started at AIM in Jan when she turned two. I cannot say enough good things about the IC teachers at AIM. They are loving, patient, experienced and work hard with each individual child to help them learn good practical life habits. The office staff communicates well with parents to keep them informed about their kids, as well as what's going on at school.

To prepare your child for a Montessori school, the key thing is to let him be as independent as he can be at his age. Show him how to put on his shoes and pants. Let him feed himself instead of feeding him. Then once he starts school, you can observe the work materials he has in the classroom and have similar things at home. See you at AIM! Mom with two Montessori kids


My daughter started at what is now Montessori Learning Center in El Cerrito when she was about 21 months old and stayed until she was 5.5 years old. Here is what we followed at home:

1. Putting one ''job'' such as a puzzle, blocks, a doll and its accessories, into one container, that is, one activity per container. Then, she could play with any activity, but had to put it away *by herself* before taking out another one. This worked totally great, she is now 12 years old and has never had a messy room.

2. You don't always have to share, but you must be respectful in asking or declining to share and you must keep in mind while you are playing that someone is waiting for a turn.

3. Start letting her get dressed, brush, hair, button buttons, zip zippers, tie shoes as soon as they express interest. If it is not perfect, no problem, don't do lifeskills for the child as soon as they are close enough to doing it themselves.

I've heard that different Montessori schools have different interpretations of the philosophy, but these above were the main things I remember that the school did that we also did at home. good luck


Montessori can work well as early as 18 months, or even earlier. AIM's toddler community is a wonderful program: the classrooms are small, the teachers very caring and well trained, and the school's parent community is really nice and supportive. They help with potty training, too, and always have lots of good ideas on Montessori-based parenting. And, as a bonus, your child will also learn Japanese and Chinese!

We chose AIM for our family after visiting many Montessori schools in the area, and I am choosy, as I work for a group of Montessori schools in Orange County. At the OC schools, we offer Montessori programs starting as young as 3 months, and it's amazing what a difference a high-quality, educational program can make even for children this young. So I'd say, go for it (but make sure you get on the waitlist right away - a friend of mine was interested in AIM, but didn't waitlist immediately, and her child didn't get in as the school was full...)

On your questions for doing Montessori things at home, I'd suggest a couple of resources you might find helpful:
- How We Montessori blog. Very helpful blog/newsletter, esp. for doing Montessori in the home. The author applies Montessori at home, while her children attend a Montessori school, so it's more practical than most. Her youngest is a toddler, and the older one is four, so the activities she writes about should be perfect for you:http://www.howwemontessori.com/how-we-montessori/
- Montessori Madness, by Trevor Eissler. More a primer on Montessori in general than a hands-on at home guide, but getting the principles will help you achieve consistency.
- The Facebook page of the school I work at, LePort Schools. I post links to interesting educational topic there daily, with lots of links to cool Montessori stuff from around the web: www.Facebook.com/LePortSchools
- The resources sections of the LePort Schools web site, with links to helpful books & articles about Montessori:http://www.leportschools.com/infants/resources/ specifically for infants/toddlers, and http://www.leportschools.com/media-events/resources-links/ for general Montessori info.

FInally, I'd suggest bringing any of your questions straight to the AIM staff. They are so passionate about Montessori, and always willing to answer questions. Plus, once you join the school, you'll get lots of information at the regular parent education events, held about every 6 weeks throughout the school year. Heike - Montessori Mom


My daughter started at 17 months at AIM in Berkeley and she turned three a few months ago and is in their Children's House program. I would have preferred that she be home with me or my wife longer to be honest, but we both had to go back to work after taking leaves before that to stay with her. She cried on the first day but rarely after that, and was generally trying to drag us out the door each morning to go to school. She'd ask for school on weekends. She was potty trained before 2 and became fluent in Japanese and Mandarin unbelievably quickly. This is the time to teach languages Cb wait til six and it's already too late! Her mom speaks to her in Spanish and now she easily switches between her four languages! The teachers and director, Ernie Mahr, are very good about helping parents know what to do at home to encourage their child's independence, but there are also many good books out there about this. Nothing beats Montessori for a child-centered, nurturing environment, at 18 months or any other age. And AIM is the best Montessori program I have found in the Bay Area. AIM Fan
We started our son at AIM at 18 months. He went from being at home with a nanny full time, to being there until 330 pm. We also are not Chinese or Japanese so there was a complete language immersion as well. Given all of these facts our son is flourishing!!! He is now 26 months and He is potty trained, he listens to us and is much more self sufficient. He is also understanding basic mandarin and Japanese. We were skeptical in the beginning but turns out to be the best thing we could have done for him. Happy AIM parent
Putting our children in Montessori school at 18 months was the best decision we ever made. We are convinced their Montessori education has helped us avoid many of the behavioral / sleep / eating issues our friends are going through with their children. Our 2 year old just used the potty, washed her hands, and cleaned up some water on the floor without any prompting from us. We often get complements at restaurants on how well behaved our children are. When the children walk into a store, they instinctively put their hands behind their backs and stroll around until we let them know it is okay to touch! We cannot take credit for their good behavior, though, because we have only done exactly what AIM told us to do. AIM is an exceptional school. The facilities aren't exactly posh, but the money is on the field. The AIM staff is the best in the business. The teachers take their jobs very seriously, have angelic patience, and are frankly just good people. Even if AIM had no facilities and the teachers had to work with the children in an empty field, they would still offer the best developmental education in the East Bay (in my humble opinion).

Early on, AIM provided specific suggestions on how to Montessori-ize our house, and we did. We went to Cost Plus World Market and bought a bunch of cocktail utensils and small juice glasses for meals. We got small furniture from IKEA, including a table and chairs and a toy shelf, which we use to rotate out toys. We favor Melissa & Doug wooden toys and puzzles which can be put away in an orderly manner. We do not keep toys in the children's bedroom, which we think is why they go to sleep so easily. The children's beds are layered with sheets and absorbent pads which make middle-of-the-night sheet changes easy (you rip off the top sheet and pad and a dry layer is waiting underneath). We were given a toy cleaning set that includes a small broom and mop. Through clothing swaps/sales at AIM and other places, so we were able to build up a small collection of cotton training pants. Our bathrooms mimic the potty setup at AIM, including the trash cans, the hampers, and the Baby Bjorn potties. We have individual toddler-sized cubbies in the hallway for hanging jackets, hats, and putting away bags and shoes. It was a small investment, but completely worth it. The children respond well to the familiar objects and routine. AIM Parents


Montessori for active, high energy boy?

Feb 2012

We're looking into montessori schools in and around Berkeley. We recently toured a montessori school and were impressed by how self-directed and cooperative the students seemed. We also noticed that there were many more girls than boys at the school.

We have a 3 year old boy who is currently in a play-based preschool. His current teachers consider him high energy, bright and social. He likes being outdoors, moving around, and dramatic play. Recently, he's been getting really into ''boy'' play - superheroes vs. villians and the idea of bad guys/good guys.

We're wondering how he might fit into a montessori environment. Would a high energy boy thrive? Might it be too stifling? Or would the structure be helpful? What other factors should we be considering?

We're particularly interested in hearing from parents of high energy boys who have had good and bad experiences at montessori.

We'd also love to hear recommendations for other preschools for this type of boy. Thanks in advance. anon


I have a high-energy boy who goes to the Model School, a montessory-based school in South Berkeley, and loves it. He asks to go to school on weekends. The teachers GET that he is physcially unable to sit still and must run instead of walk. The teachers teach my son ways to harness his energy and focus more. It's a big preschool with an excellent teacher/student ratios. There is a big yard and lots of outside time. There is music every week and a lot of art. My son is also learning to write and can read a few words already. He is kindergarten ready. happy model school parent
We tried Montessori in San Francisco with our twin boys when they were 3. One was extremely compliant (a ''pleaser''), and the other was high energy, spirited and very creative. I thought the child-directed yet structured approach in Montessori would be helpful for the spirited guy (while also playing to the strengths of my other sweetie), but it was a disaster. I don't know if this would be the case for any high energy child, but we pulled him out after 3 months of many problems. Despite the unstructured time where he could choose what ''work'' to do, he felt suffocated by all the rules and ''structure'' around this unstructured time.

We hired a specialist to evaluate him (discretely) in the classroom to suggest what type of environment would be best for him, and I was told a small, play-based environment, where dramatic play and outdoor time was paramount. This ended up being spot on, and although we did get a diagnosis for some sensory integration issues and ADHD 3 years later, it was the right thing for us to move him. I'm happy to talk with you further if you have specific questions.


Our high-energy/spirited and imaginative 4-year-old has been going to Rising Star Montessori School in Alameda (Cottage Campus) since he was two. Although we were worried about the structure and emphasis on independent/quiet focus, we've been happy to see how much he's grown and thrived under such warm and kind teachers. The preschool has been around for almost 30 years, and we appreciate the cozy feeling at their Cottage Campus and the diversity of families and staff. Check them out... www.risingstarschool.org - A teacher and mama
I highly recommend looking at The Berkeley School's Early Childhood Center (formerly Berkeley Montessori School). It is a Montessori inspired preschool which also includes elements of Reggio Emilia. All three of my high energy sons have thrived in this environment which seems to have a wonderful balance of indoor and outdoor play and keeping children engaged both in independent and collaborative play/work. All three of them also transitioned very well to this setting after having been at play-based preschools. TBS Parent

Montessori vs Public Elementary Schools

Oct 2011

I am excited about the new Urban Montessori Charter School opening in Oakland. I've read through a lot of the materials but still have some questions. I researched the Montessori method when looking for a preschool, but decided that a play-based/Reggio Emilia school was better for my child. So I'm familiar with the pros and cons of Montessori in comparison to other types of preschools, but I can't find much information about the pros and cons of Montessori on the elementary level, as compared to traditional public schools.

I have other, more specific curriculum questions that I will ask at the information sessions, and I know that a lot varies school to school. I'm just looking for some anecdotes from adults who attended Montessori elementary schools or send their children there to get a general idea of how it compares to public education. Were you happy? Did you learn? Was it an overall good experience? How did you adjust to mainstream education? Would you recommend it? Thank you! Considering UMCS


My 3 daughters have all attended Montessori Family School in Berkeley. My daughters have thrived in this learning environment. The environment has prepared them very well in every aspect of learning. MY 2 oldest daughters have transitioned to Berkeley public schools and they have continued to thrive. I can't speak for all Montessori schools but I can say that Montessori Family School has been brilliant for my children Jacques
A couple of things:

My nieces both attended Montessori elementary school and now the older one is at a Montessori high school (in Canada). They have both done extremely well in this environment and in fact the older one has just skipped a grade in high school. They are very different personalities, so I think it speaks well to their school that they have both flourished there. The older one is much more outgoing as a person and I don't think Montessori school has made her shyer. The younger one is shyer by nature and school has not changed this in one direction or another.

As for a child not learning to read until they're nine and self-directed learners falling behind and this putting them at a disadvantage, this is a misconception that the public at large really needs to learn about. My god-daugher was entirely self-directed as a learner until she went to high school. She and many like her who were home schooled in the ''unschooling'' approach didn't learn to read until she was ten and then she taught herself to read. Within a couple of years she was reading college level material. To this day she is an avid reader who devours books.

This kind of education maintains a child's intrinsic motivation for learning and it fosters a deep sense of responsibility within the child. When my god-daughter started high school there were certain areas that she needed to catch up academically. She did it all with grace (and learned those things in far shorter time than kids typically slog through them in school). She was a straight A student and her mom never once asked her to do her homework because it was her choice to be in school! Albeit she was pretty bored at school, but she wanted to try it out. What this kind of education teaches you is how to go after what you want and how to be a learner (so the academic stuff doesn't take long once you want to learn it) rather than someone who simply does what they're told. It takes a certain kind of commitment and faith in your child's natural drive to learn (just think of how much they've learned since being born...how to talk, how to walk, jump, run, somersault...if we sent them to school for these things it would really screw that process up!)

If you want to know more about this I suggest reading books by the late great educator John Holt and by two time New York State teacher of the year John Taylor Gatto who wrote Dumbing us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. Elanne


This is an anecdote about Montessori: I have a friend who was educated at a private Montessori school in Texas, K-12, I believe. Her husband went through public school. While my friend loved her Montessori school, her husband points out that both of their educational paths got them to the same place, which was UT Law School. They are both successful attorneys now. So I guess what this points to is that children can get an excellent education in a Montessori school and children can get an excellent education in a public school (though BTW, charter schools are technically public).

Also, my kids went to a Montessori preschool and while I loved their school, it wasn't the Montessori aspect that I loved--it was the quality of teaching. To me, that's most important. You can have good teachers in traditional public schools and bad ones in Montessori, and of course, the opposite is true as well. anon


In answer to the question about Montessori vs. Public Elementary -- my experience of Montessori is that when it is good, it is very good, and when it is bad, it is horrible. In public school, at least one has the state standards to get through, and other classes that are marching along in parallel, so you have some sort of minimum threshold for what is covered. One shouldn't assume that kids in Montessori are working at a higher level in elementary school. A lot depends on the teacher's ability to monitor each child's progress and pace and challenge each child appropriately. It's up to the teacher to move each individual child along, and to know intuitively what is right for them next; when this is working, it's magical, and when it's not, the whole system falls apart. Teachers can be as idiosyncratic as they want -- at the time, all of Monday morning's work period was spent fixing mistakes on homework -- and there is no correction built into the system. The head teacher in my child's class, who has since left, preferred to have the kids to do math for long periods once or twice a week -- he didn't believe that it was better to do it for shorter periods every day -- so many weeks went by when my child barely did any math at all. We're still catching up from that.

In my observation, Montessori kids sometimes go into elementary school with a huge advantage because their preschool experience is academic, but by third grade or so that advantage is often spent, and public school kids are actually working for higher level. My second child would probably have had a great experience in Montessori for elementary but I just couldn't deal with the stress it creates on the parent to notice whether the teacher is covering the appropriate grade-level curriculum. anon


Montessori is self-directed, but it doesn't mean children learn whatever they want. There is a framework, a curriculum they follow. It may not look like traditional ones, but there is one. You're free to chose w/in that framework.

Most of us go through public schools. And I think if you think back to your own schooling, you'll remember a class full of shy kids, outgoing kids, and kids in between. I don't think Montessori children as a whole are shyer than public school kids.

From my reading, ages 7+ (elementary school years) are the years that kids naturally want to work with groups so there are lots of group projects and such. anon


Play-based vs. Montessori

Feb 2011

Can anyone explain the differences between play-based, emergent curriculum, and Montessori preschools? It seems that the daily schedules for most schools are quite similar - involving group/circle time, outdoor play, and free play time to explore materials. I'd also be interested to hear how others have decided which type of preschool is the best fit for their child. Thanks! Rob


I'm the mom of a child in Montessori preschool, and also work for a Montessori school down in Orange County. I just wrote a lot of content for the web site of the school I work with - we describe in detail what the Montessori approach is all about, and you can read about it here: www.leportschools.com/our-programs-toddler-and-preschool/montessori-method

We also just put a video on YouTube, which shows a Montessori classroom in action, and provides a good 10-minute overview of how Montessori works in practice. You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-xK5vgrmBY

Let me start by saying that Montessori is very different from play-based preschool. In fact, it is an entire approach to early childhood education. Fundamentally, Montessori believes that the child should be in charge of his learning, not the adult - and that the best way to make that happen is to combine a carefully prepared environment with a teacher whose main role is to observe the child and to introduce him to the right educational material at the right time. Dr. Montessori believed that the most important years in life are the early ones, birth to age six: she wrote "that is the time when a man's intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed" - and pointed out that young children before age 6 have a very passing window of opportunity to learn many skills early, playfully, skills that are much harder to learn later in a child's life.

With that as the background, here are some of the key differences between authentic Montessori schools and a typical play-based program:

- Multi-age, family-like grouping. In a true Montessori program, 3-6 year-olds are together in one class, and each child stays with the same teacher for a 3-year cycle. The younger ones benefit from observing the older children; the older children act as mentors. The teacher really gets to know each child. And children can develop at their own pace: the classroom will have materials appropriate for 3-year olds and for 7-year olds.

- A deliberate selection of Montessori activities, and not the typical lego-blocks-barbie-trucks toys you have at home anyway. Over decades of experimentation, Dr. Montessori identified an assortment of learning materials, which share a few key characteristics: Children love to engage with them over and over again; by working with them, children learn certain skills - such as careful observation, hand strength, the ability to distinguish musical tones, the shapes of the letters, counting; the materials build sequentially, enabling children to progress from one to the next as their abilities evolve; they are self-correcting, so children can work independently of adults and learn to problem-solve on their own.

- A long, unstructured, child-led "work period" - as against the typical adult-led schedule of 30 minutes of this, followed by 30 minutes of that (e.g., circle time, crafts, snack, outside time, story time etc.) In a good Montessori school, children have 2-3 hours each morning and afternoon to pursue what interest them - and the adults respect and encourage this child-led exploration. Thus, children develop real interests - and learn to expand their attention span through chosen, self-directed activities.

We chose Montessori for our children, because the many benefits of this approach. Kids just learn so much: They improve their gross and fine motor skills. They extend their attention span (my now 4-year-old daughter couldn't focus for more than 5 min at age 2 1/2 - now she works on one project for several hours.) They learn ''Grace and Courtesy'' skills, such as asking for help kindly, using please/thank you, helping friends, not snatching toys away. They become very independent - the schools teach them how to button clothes, how to set and clean a table, how to prepare foods (my daughter loves that ability to do things ''all by myself.'') They also learn a lot of academics - many 4-year-olds in Montessori begin to read (all learn their letter sounds) and do math, joyfully (my daughter has learned to count to 20 and write the numbers to 20, she just started on adding numbers.)

The key challenge if you want a Montessori school will be to find a good one. I'd suggest you start by looking for a school associated with or that employs AMI-certified teachers (they go to a challenging, 1-year, on-site program which goes much beyond the typical preschool teacher credentials.) I visited a dozen schools in our area before choosing American International Montessori in South Berkeley; you may want to check them out if you are ok with having a Mandarin or Japanese immersion program: http://www.aimmontessori.com/ Montessori Mom


My understanding is that the term ''playbased'' was created in response to the Montessori term ''work''. There is really no playbased philosophy. I think the Montessori philosophy is best and most comprehensive. Not only does it teach so many useful things using the hand and movement for deep learning but also good habits that will last, like picking up after yourself, empathy for others, and how to find each child's interests and skills. Eventually they internalize the lessons and challenge themselves. There are beautiful premath materials (called sensorial) that are like colorful fun puzzles for the children. Overall the ''works'' are play, and it's great that they learn to do for themselves. We are in our third year and it's been great for my child. She loves it so much we are rethinking our plans for elementary... the kids are so sharp at this age and they readily take in the info. I've watched developmentally challenged children be positively influenced intellectually and socially too. Really can't say enough. If it's done right it's a joy. I love to see kids learn to think and be outside of their gender roles, something that doesn't happen often in most free play situations. In my observations, the kids even at reputed play based schools were wild and/or bored. Lots of luck! tabsweb
I have read the previous comments about Montessori schools. It is a pity that the person asking about two types of preschools was only informed about the Montessori type but nobody wrote about preschools with a play based approach.

As an early childhood educator, first of all I have to say that there are several different models in early childhood education, all of which have pros and cons. While a child may be very happy in a model, s/he may not reach his/her full potential in another one. Therefore, you should take into consideration your child's personality, interests and your parenting style before making a decision. I strongly believe that there is no single great model but the most important thing is that children should be given their right to play in a good preschool. The things that have been praised in the previous comments about Montessori schools are supposed to be covered in a ''quality'' preschool, no matter its approach is. Supporting impulse control, increasing attention span, teaching children ''grace and courtesy'', developing literacy and math skills; that is supporting the whole development of a child in brief should be what a ''quality'' preschool is aiming for. Before making such a decision, I suggest one should find out whether there is a warm and loving atmosphere, which helps the child's emotional development, whether there is a good curriculum, which provides children with the opportunity to explore and learn while having fun and a good parent involvement, which will ensure that the school and family are on the same road to support the child. Personally, I believe play is a child's work so I'd love to see my child using his imagination and being creative instead of using structured materials in a single way demonstrated by the teacher or learning academics, as he is going to learn counting or other cognitive skills easily through play in anyway.

Finally, I'd like to add that having a Montessori certificate is not'' going much beyond a typical preschool teacher'' but becoming specialized in one of the many early childhood curriculum approaches. Love of children, a good level of human development knowledge as well as a creative and innovative mind are essential skills for preschool teachers, even for the Montessori school teachers... Elif


Does Montessori preschool prepare kids for teamwork?

Jan 2011

Hello, We are starting to seriously consider preschools for our 22 month old and were wondering about montessori schools.

I have taken a tour of a montessori preschool and am very impressed, but my concern is if this type of preschool is good for children who are headed for public school, vs. a private montessori k-12 school?

I spoke with a fellow parent who's child attended a montessori preschool and is now (at 7) attending a public school. Apparently the child is having a hard time adjusting to group activities and as a team player.

My question is, has any other family experienced this, or is this solely based on the child's individual personality?

Any advise from parents who's children have attended a montessori preschool and are now attending a public school would be appreciated! Thanks!


My son did. He had problems with the social aspect in public school, at first. However, he is a shy person to begin with. I'm pretty sure that my other child who is very outgoing naturally would not have problems if she had gone to Montessori. I think Montessori has some great benefits. So there is not a ''right'' answer. anon
My children attended Cedar Creek Montessori School (which we highly recommend) in North Berkeley and are now thriving in an Oakland public school. Montessori in no way ''stunts'' social skills or ''team-player'' abilities; the problem may lie with that individual child. Montessori Mom
I think that the degree to which a Montessori school can foster team playing depends entirely on the particular Montessori school. My two children attended 3 different Montessori schools. One child transferred to Montessori Family School after attending a play-based preschool and progressive private school. MFS had the nicest, most accepting children you could ever hope to meet. The teachers were very adept at facilitating team playing and the kids were great at working out disagreements, much better than at the progressive school my child had attended previously. The academics in my child's particular elementary classroom however were not always strong. The other child attended two Montessori schools which had excellent academics. However, the teachers really did not know how to cultivate friendships among the kids or to cultivate a certain quality of heart. It took my child eighteen months to ''catch up'' to the other kids in her new school socially. My child is outgoing and always had friends, but it took that long in my opinion for her to shift from a more individualistic to a more team-based mode of playing. I also think that a focus on academics in preschool can make kids stressed and that renders them, in a very subtle way, more anxious and less flexible when they play with others. I also notice that my child who went to a play-based preschool is more inventive. That may of course just be who that child was destined to be. Even within a Montessori school, each classroom is its own fiefdom. You really have to sit in on a particular classroom and see how it feels to you, and watch the kids on the playground and see how they treat each other. another mom
Montessori Family School, 7075 Cutting Blvd., El Cerrito is a place where the students are surrounded by an environment that promotes the need for team playing. This training is started in the preschool years and continued throughout all grades in the school. I have a child in the lower elementary classroom (grade one) and I was skeptical about him being in a multi-grade classroom with students who are in second and third grades. But it is the best experience ever. There are about seven students of each grade level in the class and they really work together as a team. The third graders are paired with the first graders as buddies and are able to mentor and share with the younger students in ways that only a peer can do. And the younger students soon realize that this is a position they would like to hold when they reach third grade. The first graders also feel a sense of security knowing that an older student is ''looking out for them'' and is there to help. The school is having an open house on January 29 and I would recommend that you give them a call at 510-236-8802 to learn more. The school is great and I hope to keep my child there through all eight grades. A very pleased parent

Any regrets about choosing Montessori?

Feb 2010

I'm strongly considering sending my 3-year old son to a Montessori preschool. When I began the preschool search, I was pretty set on a play-based program, but I've recently changed my mind. The whole selection process has been so stressful, and I know I will feel so much wiser once my son has started. So I'd love to tap the wisdom of parents with preschool graduates out there-- any regrets about choosing a Montessori preschool program for you child? Stressed about preschool


I have no regrets about send my eldest son to a Montessori for preschool except for the cost. His brother is in 1st year preschool and we'll send him there next year as well. I really like the curriculum and the manipulatives. ''Mama, here's a picture of my quatrefoil...'' One reason why we didn't continue with Montessori is the cost. It was cheaper to send him to the local catholic school and for the religion classes. Another consideration is if you like or dislike the small school size. As you get to upper grades, there are fewer and fewer students (usually 6-8). I will tell you this, at the local catholic school, our current class size is 36!!! Public school is 20, maybe 25 students per class. I'm revisiting my options for next year... Anon
Our child attends a Montessori pre-school (Nia House Learning Center in Berkeley) and we love it! She really enjoys school, is happy to go in the morning, and has many great stories at the end of the day. She's learned to be quite responsible and is so proud of what she can do. It's been amazing to watch this all emerge. Absolutely no regrets here. pleased with montessori
My regret about Montessori does not have to do with the program but that I lose my daughter 5 (half) days a week. I was always reluctant to do it but now that it's done I regret it a little. Although she seems content to be at school every day she is chronically tired and our days are consumed with school -- little time for other activities with mom (and I am by far her best teacher, best influence). Next year I am considering something different that will take us back to 3-4 days a week, a better schedule for us all. too much school
I have two kids; one attended a Montessori preschool (Growing Light in Kensington) and the other attended a play based preschool. We went with Montessori because we didn't get in to any other schools. I was a bit skeptical of the Montessori method initially (doing ''work'' and ''jobs'' was a bit of a turn off -LOL) but it turned out to be a wonderful experience. My Montessori daughter was far better equipped for Kindergarten than my play based preschool kid. That isn't to say the play based experience was a bad one - both of my kids had a great time in preschool and learned a lot but, if we could do it over again, we would have placed both in Montessori. Good luck with your decision. RK
Please see my post above about Montessori Family School. Not only are we regret-free, but we have found the Montessori method to be a fabulous educational approach. It will give your little one a great foundation before he moves on to elementary school. Plus, because MFS goes through middle school, you have the option to stay on beyond the preschool years. definitely regret-free
No regrets here about sending my child to a Montessori School. However, not all Montessori schools are alike. Don't assume that if it is ''Montessori'' that it will meet your expectations. My kids go to Montessori Family School (MFS). This school has everything and more of what I expect in a school for my children. I couldn't be happier with the teachers and the program. My two children are thriving. We originally had thought we would put our kids in the preschool program and then apply for public school at K. When the time came, our child was doing so well and was so happy that we didn't want to end this experience. I can't say enough great things about all the preschool teachers and Kindergarten teachers. They are phenomenal and love their students to no end. We are just as pleased with the elementary school teachers. Our boys are now in the lower Elementary classrooms (1st year and 3rd year) and love to go to school and learn everyday. The best thing I love about this program is the collaborative learning environment and the mixed age classrooms. They now offer a middle school program through 8th grade. rw
Dear Understandably Stressed-Out,

Searching for a pre-school is incredibly time consuming and stressful. I also did a lot of research and came to the conclusion that Montessori was a good choice for our child and fit with our personal beliefs about child development. After our first meeting with the teachers at Montessori Family School (MFS), I felt this school was our first choice, and fortunately we were accepted.

Please read the post above (Kind of Pre-school?) for more information. I won't repeat it here. I do not have any regrets about choosing a Montessori program or Montessori Family School. I didn't see the point of play-based schools because they seemed like daycare. If I wanted a play-based program for my pre-school child, I would have had a nanny share and saved the money. I feel that Montessori is worth every penny for the multitude of reasons mentioned in the other posting.

What I suggest is that you take into consideration your research, intuition and your child's body language while visiting schools. There's an open house for the Montessori Family School Early Education Campus at 1850 Scenic Ave in Berkeley on Saturday, February 27th at 10:30 am. You can tour the classrooms and meet the teachers--well worth the visit if you haven't already observed the school.

Happy MFS Parent


As a parent and a teacher, I wanted to add a little perspective. It's preschool. As long as you feel that he is safe and reasonably happy there, then it probably - in the grand scheme of things - doesn't matter much what kind of preschool he goes to. It might make more sense to consider what is convenient to get to and within your budget. In order to be ready for an academic kindergarten, he needs to have practice being with groups of kids, following rules, sharing, putting supplies back, sitting still and paying attention, and being away from his parents. Just about any preschool will provide that level of socialization. The exposure to books, the alphabet, colors, etc. is probably happening at home, and will more than likely happen in any preschool as well. Choose a place that is safe, convenient, affordable, and pleasant, then RELAX! chill mama

Traditional vs. Montessori Preschool

Feb 2010

HELP! I am having an internal struggle between traditional and montessori schools. My twins will turn 3 in late October. Right now they go to ''school'' one day a week for three hours. Their teachers are sweet, their faces light up when they see my boys, they read stories and sing and my boys enter with glee. It is like an extension of a mother's love! Many traditional preschools tend to have teachers like these, but lack a bit of structure. When I visit Montessori schools, I love that the kids seem so busy and capable. I love that manners and self disciple are taught. But everyone--kids and teachers-- seem so serious. Of course, I've only seen parts of the day, but I feel little kids should have a certain amount of ''joy'' in their day. Do you have any thoughts--pros/cons---from personal experiecne you'd like to share? Thanks so much! confused


I have one child that ''graduated'' from a play based program and another mid-way through. We too looked at both Montessori as well as play based. Initially I was worried about the idea of kids leading the curriculum as is done with some play based programs, but after visiting schools and reading many comments on bpn I was won over. We've had an amazing experience with our kids loving learning and feeling free to explore different ideas and activities. In addition, it's taught our children that learning is about exploring their world in a way that they choose with teachers helping them navigate it. Montessori felt very structured to me and at least for us, overly stiff for our parenting style. That being said, I have friends who've enjoyed it, and at the end of the day I think kids in both styles of programs do just fine. It's more of a question of which community are you most comfortable being part of as a parent. Seems like a very stressful decision, but now that we're well into our preschool years I feel that for us, and most of our friends, all our kids are doing just fine in a wide variety of schools. Your preschool will be a community for your child so I think the most important question is which school creates a community that you most want to join. Anon
Our daughter attends a wonderful Montessori preschool (Nia House Learning Center in Berkeley). She really loves it and has a lot of fun every day. At the end of the day she has great stories about her friends, playing outside, cooking, gardening, and the Montessori activities. Her teachers are amazing -- smart, caring, fun, creative, patient -- incredibly talented! There is structure, but that structure has allowed our daughter's confidence to emerge and her social skills to bloom. Of course, every school is different and each child unique, but our family absolutely loves Nia House. Happy Parent
You describe so much of what we felt. Check out The Berkeley School (formerly Berkeley Montessori School). Both of our children attend preschool at the Early Childhood Center. Many Montessori principles used, but incorporates other pedagogy too. Most importantly, a VERY joyful, loving environment. The Best of Both Worlds
We have had our child in a montessori preschool for over 2 years and have been very happy with the decision. She thrives from the independence the school has taught her, from hour or so a day of structured learning, and from the tools in the classroom which have helped her gain strong language and math skills. She also thrives from the individualized attention and the firm but kind discipline. But from a very young age, she was the kind of kid who could focus for quite some time on one activity. She didn't have a ton of energy that needed to be expended outdoors all the time. She enjoyed books, games, learning, etc. I have seen some children in her school who are constantly geting reprimanded because they can't stay in line in the hallways, or they always want to touch things or get down and dirty outdoors or be more physical with other kids. Those are the types of kids I think would be better off in a play-based preschool, at least in the very beginning years. Montessori allows a child to thrive and is in my humble opinion the best option for preschools out there. But for a certain type of child, I can see how it would be a challenge, and who wants to put their kid through such a big challenge that early in life? I have a second baby, and I am going to wait and see what personality comes out before deciding on a school. happy montessori parent
I cannot praise the Montessori method or our school, Montessori Family School, enough for the happy years and learning foundation that it has given our children. We are in our 5th year there, with one child at the elementary school and one in the preschool. The teachers are incredible, loving, fun and extremely tuned to the needs and interests of each child. Our kids truly enjoy and take pride in the (self-directed) learning they do/did in the preschool. The program includes practical life, cooking projects, music & movement classes and ample time for free play outside each day which all together ensures a lot of fun in the daily mix. MFS cultivates an amazingly happy and confident bunch of kids. There is a preschool open house on February 27th at 10:30 am - I highly encourage you to check it out. best decision we've made so far
Dear Understandably Confused,

Searching for a pre-school is incredibly time consuming. I also did a lot of research and came to the conclusion that Montessori was a good choice for our child and fit with our personal beliefs about child development. After our first meeting with the teachers at Montessori Family School (MFS), I felt this school was our first choice and fortunately we were accepted.

It sounds like you have seen how a Montessori classroom operates. There is a certain "hum" that happens when a classroom full of young children is deep in concentration. There is a respect for routine with minimal interruption during the work period. Children interact in small groups and also work individually, by choice, moving from one beautiful, hands-on material to another. Play and work are synonymous for children. In Montessori, the children "work" at an individual pace and teachers are able to accommodate a variety of learning styles. It appears that Montessori gets the gears going from day one.

One aspect of Montessori that stands out is the early development of independence. Young children are way more capable than we realize. With the parenting coaching we received as needed from the teachers at MFS, I knew we were off to a good start. I can't tell you how eye-opening this emotional/social focus has been. I have seen our first child blossom in this environment and our second will begin pre-school in a few months.

MFS is an extraordinary school that continues up through elementary and middle school. The teachers are excellent and the community great. At MFS I see an important balance of strong academics and the social/emotional education that I think will prepare our children for interesting challenges of the 21st century.

I feel the differences between Montessori and Traditional education become even more apparent in kindergarten and above. The biggest difference I see is that Montessori learning is more vertical or deeper while Traditional education is more lateral. There are other differences too, such as time management skills built into Montessori, while in Traditional, the schedule is pre-determined. Montessori learning feels more natural and kinder and again seems to prepare children well for the rest of their lives without being either too structured and unstructured.

Please feel free to contact me with questions. There's an open house on Saturday, February 27th at the Early Education Campus at 1850 Scenic Avenue in Berkeley at 10:30 am. Come tour the classrooms and see what you think. Happy MFS Parent


My kids have attendended Montessori Family School (MFS) from their first year of preschool. They are now in first and third grade (1st year and 3rd year in The Lower Elementary classrooms). I have to admit that when I was researching preschools I was concerned that ''Montessori'' might not give my kids enough ''love'' if they fell down and hurt themselves or if they were just sad and having a bad day. I'm not even sure where I had heard that and became concerned with it. It is completely contrary to how MFS interacts with their students. During my initial observation of the classrooms I got to witness a child crying on the playground because they scraped their knee. It was amazing to watch all the teachers spot it right away and without using words to know who would address the child(maybe it was the closest one) sweep her up and start cuddling them. Over the years I have seen the teachers hold the children, hug them, cuddle them. They do this when a child is sad, or even when a child comes up to the teacher and just wants their contact for no special reason. It is my observation that the kids at MFS are confident and completely happy children. You mentioned in your post that you ''...loved that the kids seem so busy and capable....love that manners and self disciple are taught. But everyone--kids and teachers- - seem so serious...'' I think what you are observing is intense satisfaction in the work that the kids are doing. The work and their independence make them happy and proud to be doing it. A child can't be giggling and interacting with their peers all day long if they are working independently. That's no to say that they aren't enjoying what they are doing. It is quite amazing what my children have experienced at MFS. I wouldn't trade it in for anything. rw

Is Montessori school a good fit for bouncy 4-year-old?

Jan 2008

My 4 year old son is currently in a traditional school. He has problems at school in the last several weeks. He does relatively fine at home. Basically he doesnít listen well at school; the biggest issue is he doesn't want to take a nap at school, and cannot keep quiet and stay in his cot. The teacher literally said, when he didn't want to listen, they didn't know what to do with him.

Since the problem is not going to get solved there, we decided to move him to another school which doesn't require nap time for 4 year olds. It has been very stressful to get calls from the school almost every day; and hear all the negative comments from an afternoon teacher every day when I pick him up.

My son is a bounce-around boy, active, a typical kinesthetic learner, not afraid of authority. For a kid like him, do you think that a more structured environment will be better for him? There're openings in a Montessori school near where we live. Are Montessori schools more structured? Are they a better fit for a boy like my son?


I can relate to your issues. Our son has been to many Montessori schools due to moves, so we have a lot of experience on Montessori now. Ultimately we have come to the conclusion that Montessori was not a good fit for him. Some of the other reviews state that there is structure, but we found that the lack of structure was what our son took ill-advantage of. It would be interesting to hear what you mean when you say ''not afraid of authority''. Feel free to email me to discuss it more in depth.
Hi - I'll tell you about my experiences with my sons and Montessori. Both my sons started Montessori schools at age 2 and for both, it was transformational. The schools they went to focused on providing a clear, well-articulated structure, setting limits with children, making expectations (and consequences) clear, and setting the bar consistently very high. This means my children know what is and is not acceptable behavior, know when it's time to play and when it is time for quiet, know that if they are horsing around during quiet time or clean up, they will be ''invited'' to sit down until they are ready. They cannot go onto a new activity until they have completed and cleaned up the last one. It is not acceptable to be disruptive.

I used to find this environment restrictive, until I realized how much happier the children (and parents) are when we are clear, loving and fair about setting our own boundaries, and learn how to set ''natural consequences'' for our actions. I think Montessori has been the best thing in the world for MY children. Good luck! Montessori Mom


I am sure you will get a thousand replies telling you the same thing - the law requires a rest period for children in preschool and daycare, it doesn't matter which one you pick. I am in a similar situation - my daughter turns five next week and has not needed a nap for over a year. This year I am so fed up with the stress that naptime causes that I started picking her up at lunch time. Fortunately I work at home so I can make that work, at least temporarily. I try not to think about how much money I am wasting (they are still making me pay for a full time spot, regardless of when I pick her up), and I just count the months till kindergarten starts. In the same boat
I think a lot of the answer depends on the school. Montessori works really well for most children with all different temperaments, but all Montessori schools are different. If you already know that the Montessori school you are looking at doesn't require nap time, the second thing I would find out is if they allow the children to move independently from the indoor classroom to the outdoor classroom. If they are allowed to go outside when they want, then I think it would be a very good fit for your son. Alternately, if your son would be happy with the ability to move freely from ''job'' to ''job'' within the indoor classroom then I would also think Montessori would be a good fit. I also think a lot depends on the particular school you are looking at-some are stricter than others. I know that refusal to nap or sit during snack/lunch at my son's school will cause the administration to ask you to remove the child from the afternoon/lunch program, but I don't think they are all that way. A happy Montessori mom
I think the main problem is the attitudes of the teachers at your son's school. You should not be hearing negative comments every day. I would hope that the teachers would have experience working with all kinds of kids, and if not, that they would work with you to figure out the best way to help your son. Maybe you should ask them for solutions, rather than complaints. I went through this with my daughter, who your son sounds a lot like. Her former teacher did not have the experience or ability to work with her, and she had nothing but negative comments all the time. This made my daughter's behavior worse. She's in a more structured preschool now, which is not Montessori, but we almost did enroll her in one. The Montessori schools that I visited seemed to be good places for kids with high energy and various learning styles. In my opinion, the teachers make all the difference in the world. What influenced me most when looking for a preschool were recommendations from other folks who have children like mine and the ways that school directors and teachers would react to my honesty about my daughter's learning style and behaviors. If you'd like to email me personally, I would be glad to share my experiences and the names of some of the great schools I've toured. dawn
Your son sounds like a marvelous boy who needs an environment more suited to his personality. My advice is that Montessori is not the best idea. My daughter attends a Montessori school and it's perfect for her, but the approach is exceptionally structured, and while the learning activities are child-driven, the day and the environment are very boundaried. If you've never visited one, you should check it out -- Montessori classrooms are very quiet and the children very focused. There is a great sense of independence instilled in the kids, they are in charge of their own experience, and that's great, but in order for this to happen, it depends on everyone following the rules (and there are lots of them). I would suggest you look into a Waldorf program, which might allow your son the freedom he needs. Montessori Mom
My daughter was very similar - bouncy and full of energy. Montessori was great for her because she got to move around alot. They have a set number of ''works'' they have to accomplish. This introduces them to the concept of choice and engages them with a bit of responsibility as well as being able to move around the room. My daughter's teacher was particulary astute - she purposefully had her fetching things from across the room in order to deal with all the energy. Naps - they took them, with the teacher either reading or playing music. Don't know if all Montessori schools were this way - but this was Montessori Family School in Berkeley. Good luck. Davita
It is hard to sort out whether or not Montessori would be good for your son without knowing a little more about your orientation to the development of your son's inner discipline. The business about naps for 4 year olds can be solved in any school where naps are not required for a 4 year old. But the overall question of how your son would do in a Montessori school, even without naps, is a broader question.

Can your son listen to instructions in general? Does your family expect him to listen when an adult or another child addresses him? Montessori schools want children to be able to listen to direction and watch an adult or another child show how to work with a piece of material as a starting point for gaining ground in many areas that lead to more self reliance and sense of capability, and true capability on the part of the child. When the child can exercise enough control over his or her impulses to stop, listen, and watch for guidance, many wonderful things start to become possible for the child.

If your child is accustomed to being able to kind of ''run wild'', so to speak,and your parenting style is happy with this, then Montessori is probably not a good fit for either you or your child.

If, on the other hand, you want your child to be able to gain enough self control to begin establishing his skills in many areas, including community living, then Montessori may be just the thing for your family. You will be able and happy to support what the school is trying to do for your son, and the school will be happy supporting your parenting efforts.

In our enrollment process at my school we deliberately give families a chance to think about this sort of thing before enrolling, to make sure there is a good fit before we commit a space and the parent commits for a school year.

Having said all that, I believe that there may be some children who would need the absolutely most experienced and patient of Montessori teachers to be integrated into a Montessori classroom. The activity level of these children is so very high, and impulse control so low that it is a really big struggle for the teachers and for the child and the parents just to get to that level where the child can begin to exercize enough self control to not be a constant disruption in the classroom environment where children are used to respecting one another's space, materials, and feelings. Perhaps this scenario is not at all applicable to your child, but I thought I should throw in this consideration as well, if you are thinking about Montessori for your son.

I wish you well in considering preschool options for your son. And because I love Montessori education so much for what it does for children, I hope it turns out to be a good fit for your family. Mimi at Garden Gate


Montessori preschool isn't structured enough for 2-year-old

Nov 2007

Hi. After 6 months in Japan, we brought our 2 year old back last week to start at the Montessori school we had chosen for him... and I hate it. In his little Japanese school they learned so much. They started the day in a little circle calling attendance and singing songs, they went on nature walks, the teacher read books to the group, sometimes they would all play with big lego blocks... but all very group oriented.

Our son LOVED it. He had so much fun every day seeing how other kids did the same thing he was doing. He learned so many words and songs. Now we go to the Montessori and they literally require nothing of the children. There is no group time AT ALL. There is no structure at all, except when snack, outdoor play, and lunch is. The teacher will read a book to individual children if they ask, but no group singing or reading. Just to note, he is a sharp little cookie... picked up Japanese on top of his Spanish and English. He is wide awake and very open to learning.

First of all, what is the difference between daycare and montessori at this age? I am struggling to see it. Second, are there more structured methods of schooling at this age? J


It sounds like you and your son found a really good match for yourselves in your Japanese preschool - and you have found less of a good one in your new school. I don't think the difference here is between daycare and preschool, however, but just between one program and another. If you are that unhappy, ask friends, check old BPN listings, and most importantly, go visit a few schools. Even Montessori schools vary widely in how structured or unstructured they are. Further, I'm willing to bet that you would find some play-based preschool or day care programs that feel warm and loving to you. A preschool teacher
Hi. I don't know much at all about Montessori pre-school programs, but I KNOW that my 2 year old would not do well without the kind of structure that her daycare provides. Even though there are some bad ones out there, don't give on on daycare centers. Not all of them are free for alls. Our daughter is in a family (private home) day care center (12 kid capacity) and loves it. They are on a tight schedule filled with group activities throughout the day. They do two daily circle times that include music, stories, puppet shows,learning time, structured play, and also go for walks to the park, etc. She's learning a lot and has great manners/social skills. We did a lot of shopping around, but eventually found what we were looking for. This particular daycare is entirely Spanish speaking and in SF. Structure a must for us.
I can't speak on behalf of Montessori schools, but I can say that not all preschools are like that the one you describe. My children went to Rainbow School in Rockridge, where they have daily circle time, regular storytelling of all kinds - group, interactive, by request, naptime. There is weekly group music time and a separate movement time. They also go on nature walks and the older children take weekly walks to the library. And as weather and parent interest call for it, field trips. Lots of group activities as well as time and space for individual needs/preferences. At least two of the teachers are bilingual. Rainbow is very good at giving the children a well-rounded, happy, experience. So, it sounds like you need to start shopping around a bit, now that you know what you don't want and what you do want. I'm sure you can find it. Happy Hunting! Mom of Two
There are many kinds of Montessori schools. It depends on the owner/teachers as to what aspects of the philosophy are stressed. Basically, Maria Montessori prescribes an environment which is arranged for the child to explore; this implies individuality will be desired and fostered; a child can push ahead and not be held back by a group that is still dealing with concepts, taught diadactically, that are already understood. However the method also emphasizes sharing in the adventure of learning; in the school my child attended, she often was gratified by being able to share her skills with others who were still learning them. They had sharing time daily, and joined together to participate in cultural learning and celebrations. I can imagine that in just coming from Japan and the type of school your child was in, the experience of being in a Montessori school such as you describe, which sounds very lopsided, to say the least, you must be perplexed. My advice is that you search out other schools, other Montessori, maybe Waldorf schools, ''play based'' preschools, or daycares and compare them. My experience is that there is a vast difference in them. I have a daycare in my home, and I try to bring the best parts of Montessori and the Waldorf method into my program. I am familiar with these philosophies of education, but I believe most daycares are not going to impress you, as the licensing process really focuses on safety, not what you do all day. They want you to be a ''home'' not necessarily a ''school.'' Choose a school or home where your child feels nurtured. You may have to spend some time looking, but it sounds like you want to. Good luck! Susanne
Hi, I don't know what Montessori preschool you are in but it sounds COMPLETELY un-montessori to me. Montessori schools can vary in how they are run but they all are generally very structured and require a lot from the kids. If you are not happy, I would look around at some different pre-schools.

I had my child at one Montessori for a year that I did not like for a variety of reasons. We moved him to another the following year and they are great. anon


I think your problem is that a Montessori style school (and all its emphasis on individual work) is not right for your child. Look for a play-based toddler or preschool program that emphasizes social and emotional development. There your son will learn to play with other children, get involved in group activities, and thrive.
Hmmm, sounds like you weren't fully informed about Montessori school before you signed up for it. Don't worry, they do learn a lot, but there is very little emphasis on the group as such, even though there is a lot of emphasis on being polite and respectful and stuff like that. There are definitely preschools with a more structured, group emphasis day. If you're sure you don't like Montessori, check out one of those rather than day care. Day care is usually going to be completely unstructured but without any instructional philosophy. Just to reiterate, they do ''expect'' and ''get'' work out of the children in Montessori. Read up and you might change your mind. Or just change schools. anon
Montessori is an approach or philosophy of education. There are Montessori daycares and preschools and then there other preschools that follow other approaches. I really like the Montessori philosophy, but I found that it wasn't really a fit for either of my children. But it is a good fit for some.

I highly recommend finding a preschool or daycare that is certified by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. In order to be certified, a center must meet standards established by this professional organization, which include staffing, training, space, materials, curriculum delivery. These standards have been developed in association with other educational professional associations--Internation Reading Association, etc. I have never seen a ''bad'' center with this certification. Now, there may still be less than ideal teachers. . .You can look up certified centers at www.naeyc.org This rating is separate from the state's rating which focuses on health and safety. But most important, find a place that is a good fit for your family and your child. What is great for one may not be for another. Looked at LOTS of preschools


Switching to Montessori after a year at play-based preschool

May 2006

I am enrolling my son in a play-based preschool in the fall, at 2 years old. The school has a fairly high ratio (24 children to 3 teachers), and when I visited the school I noticed that many of the children play for periods of time without teachers' supervision/guidance. I think this will be fine for my child, since he is very active and independent. But he is also quite bright and loves problem-solving and learning new things (at 21 months he knows around 700 words, knows all the letters by heart and can count to 10), so I am thinking he would also thrive in a Montessori environment. A Montessori is not really an option for this fall for many reasons - financially, I doubt there are openings now, and because I think he still needs some 'running around' time. So, I am thinking of keeping him in the play-based for one year, then switching to a Montessori when he is 3, for the two years before he goes to Kindergarden at 5 years old. Any comments on if this is a good idea - i.e. the transition from play- based to Montessori, two preschools in three years, changing friends and teachers, etc. Also, any comments on the benefits of play-based vs. Montessori, and the differences, are greatly appreciated! still wavering


Each Montessori school is different from the other. You should check them out while their work time (the time they use the montessori ''works'') is happening. But remember, that this is usually for just a very small portion of each day. The rest of the day is usually made up of run around play time outdoors and play time indoors, some opening and closing circle times, and perhaps some tea time fort the extended day kids (for families who work full time days). IF you are even considering switching in September '07, you should be contacting preschools now to see when they take applications and when they give tours. Openings for a mid-preschool age kid may be plentiful, but are more likely to be limited. It probably depends on who leaves the school between now and when you want a spot Montessori Mom
I'd be careful about putting a two-year-old boy in a play-based preschool. From my experience, it can be overwhelming for a child that age, esp. a boy. I'd suggest waiting till he's three and then putting him where he'll stay for the duration, or putting him in a smaller, more structured setting till he's a bit older (ie, a daycare with older kids and some sort of program that will challenge him). anon
I think it's totally fine to switch from play-based to Montessori, which is exactly what we did. However, I don't think it's necessary if you are happy with the play-based school (we were not so happy with ours). While at the play-based school my son learned all of his letters and numbers, so obviously they are learning while they play. Conversely, at his Montessori school (Cedar Creek), which we love, the kids have lots and lots of time to play. But they learn also. So change schools if you must, but if your child is happy at his play- based school and you like the teachers, then don't disrupt his world if you don't have to! Montessori is great, but so are lots of other kinds of schools anon

Montessori vs. Play-based Preschool

October 2005

Hi-I am wondering whether I could get some advice from parents who have experience with both play-based preschools and Montessori schools. My son will be 2 1/2 next fall, and I am having a hard time deciding between the two types of school philosophies. The Montessori schools seem to teach kids great practical skills but seem somewhat stiff and the kids don't look like they are having all that much fun, but the play-based schools don't seem to teach as much about the practical world and the hands-on stuff that I find to be useful, yet the kids seem to be free to be just that--kids. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I have very minimal experience with observing either type of preschool, so my above critique is based on what little I know. Thanks! - confused parent


My wife and I had our son in a playbased preschool (Kiddie Kampus) for 7 months before transferring him to a Montessori based preschool when my wife began working fulltime. The free structure of an emerging curriculum, where the director drew from each kid's interest to create projects and learning situations, was in sharp contrast with the more set curriculum of the Montessori school. For our son, the switch was traumatic, and it had more to do with what he was used--working in groups with other children on a common project, learning to interact and play together, growing their own vegetable garden, going--than with the montessori setting. After three weeks at the new Montessori school we decided that, for us, it was more important to continue encouraging our young 4 year old to learn with/from others his age than to! lead him on a road that fosters a more isolated, independent approach to learning. While the people who taught him at the Montessori school were beautifully loving, they still had a learning approach to implement and it was a little too rigid for a child used to learning from the real world around him. I am also a high school teacher and while I am usually impressed with students who are highly independent when it comes to learning, I have also noticed that the more successful students are usually those who can work with their peers and who are sensitive to others--they're happier, less stressed, and have a brighter, less dog-eat-dog way of looking at the world. I think a playbased learning style provides children the support they need to engage with the world at their own rate(not every child is developmentally ready at the same time) and by doing activities that matter and are compelling to them. &n! bsp; Visit both settings before you decide for your child. See how your child engages with other children and with the setting. If you can, visit Kiddie Kampus and meet the director Suellen-- with 35 years of teaching experience (she is also a cellist) she brings a wealth of activities and perspectives to the children she works with. I wish you the best of luck in your search for your little one. Doug
March 2005

I am debating between montessori preschool (pretty strict montessori) and play base for my almost 3 years old son. I see both good and bad in both philosophies. At the montessori school, I see how my son could be learning sense of responsiblity and be advanced in academic part by the time he goes to kindergarden. He will also enjoy the calmness of it. He will enjoy mastering many projects. On the other hand, he will miss the introduction to new art projects (because at montessori, they can do art if they want to but it is not encourage like play base school), simple music and dancing, and being just a kid and have fun. I have been thinking this through over and over. I know that it all comes down to what would fit his personality and temerpaments. I also know that there is no ''perfect'' preschool. But it is such a difficult decision to make. So, I wonder if I can hear other parents' input on this subject. Thank you. confused mom


First, I suppose, not all Montessori or playbased preschools are alike, but at my daughter's full-day Montessori there is plenty of free time, especially outside time. The ''work'' time is only from about 9-11 am, which includes circle time. My daughter attended a playbased preschool for a few weeks last summer while her Montessori was on vacation, and she became bored by mid-day with the lack of structure and the chaos of toys all over the place. Also, at this and another playbased preschool I know of, the group art and music projects are teacher-directed and do not let the children be as creative as are the student-choice projects at her Montessori. I think the Montessori experience of learning organization and choice skills, while still having fun, has been valuable and will help her in kindergarten and in life. Mom of a 5 year old
My son just started in a primary Montessori program a few months ago (he just turned 3 in Feb). I too faced some of the same concerns when we were looking at different type of schools. Although many parents and Montessori school teachers may say any child can foster in this environment, I do agree with you that it depends on a child's temperament- maybe not in the long term as I do see that children will eventually adapt (not always in a positive manner!) but more like the ease of the initial adjustment.

I am not sure how old your child is but one positive aspect of Montessori is the mixed age group. My son is the youngest and in the short time he has been there, we have seen tremendous changes in his independence and ''willingness'' to do things on his own (practical life skills). However, he has always had a strong will so I think the environment with the older kids just encouraged him a bit more. I think it also depends on the school and class room environment-I found that although my son's school seems more like an ''institution'' than a home based pre- school, his teachers have been tremendously nurturing and supportive of his needs as a 3 year old to play, or be in a group setting, etc. My son loves art and music so he naturally gravitate to the circle time participation and other ''enrichment'' activities in the classroom on his own. On the other hand, he is also very social so working independently has been a bit of a challenge for him but it is also his young age. He receives a lot support to get redirected to work on his own and apparently once he gets the introduction to the ''work'' he becomes very engaged and enjoys it. Also, before he started he was already pretty interested in numbers, ABC's etc so even and since starting the program, he seems to be a bit more directed about learning sounds, counting, etc but personally that might just be him. On the other hand, all of Montessori ''work'' is sequential so I am also certain that some of the things he is exposed to are also attributing to the heightened awareness without going over board.

I think my son gets plenty of kid ''play'' time at home but it was a bit of a change for us to see him do ''work'' (as they call it) seeing that he LOVED playing all day long at home with his nanny share prior to starting school. I think it is children's nature to want to follow a group at a young age, but eventually I think they do grow out of that and ''some'' prefer to make their own choices...our opinion is that that is how the world works and we feel that the Montessori environment really fosters that.

I would suggest you speak about your concerns with the teachers and director about your concerns to a get their opinion play based vs. the independent work. I think it is more important to base your decision on the support and nurturing your child will be receiving (as well as yourself as a parent!) in his classroom- regardless if it is Montessori or play-based. Please email me directly if you have any other questions suags


Both my kids went to a fairly strict Montessori School (Nia House Learning Center in Berkeley). The structured environment, child/developmental based teaching philosphy, and emphasis on self-discipline and responsibility is something that I still see the influence of in my kids - years later. I think one of the things that I most appreciate about Montessori is that there is no distinction between work and play - so learning is joyful and fun. By the way, Montessori schools do ''teach'' music and most Montessori schools do have opportunities for the kids to do some ''free'' art. Interestingly enough, both my Montessori kids are very creative and are artistically talented (music, theatre, and visual arts) so to the extent that the arts wasn't stressed in their preschool years it doesn't seem to have stifled their creativity at all. And, of course academically, Montessori really prepares kids - no matter what their developmental level. For some kids, its working on pre-literacy and pre-math skills (tracing for small muscle development, pouring water for sense of volume, etc.)for other kids - its understanding multiplication theory and reading by kindergarten/first grade (many Montessori schools encourage 5 year olds staying with the program). That type of awareness and response to a child's particular developmental stage is another great thing about Montessori. Karen H.
I think, particularly given your dilemma, it's better to choose between particular schools than between school philosophies. When we were ''shopping'' for preschools, I visited two Montessori schools. One of them I liked, but it had no actual openings -- we would have had to sign up for a waiting list. The other I simply was not impressed with at all. I also visited a play- based school and liked it very much. So I brought my son to visit it also, he seemed comfortable there, and so we enrolled him.

If you have two specific schools in mind, one that is Montessori and the other play-based, and you like them both about equally overall, bring your son for trial visits at each. See which one HE likes better! Or choose on the basis of which offers a more convenient schedule or location for you, or which one costs less. Remember that if you make a choice and then later feel that it was a mistake, it is not THAT hard to switch schools! It's Only Preschool


It has been a long time since my children were in preschool (one is now in high school, the other in college). I am an elementary school teacher, and when my children were ready for preschool I found the least ''academic'', most play-based school I could find for them. My rationale was that the work of childhood is play; children have so few years of their lives to be children and to learn the skills that are acquired through play before they are expected to do the work that adults choose for them. I chose a school where they could dig in the sand all day if they chose (learning important information about measuring and volume, as well as eye-hand coordination, task completion, etc. Or they could listen to stories (reading readiness), or cook (following directions, sequencing), or play dress-up (cooperation, imagination). The most important part of the school I chose was that the children were free to follow their own lead; nothing was required of them other than to sit down for lunch. They could play inside or outside, go to circle time or not, particiipate in art projects when they wanted, etc. What my children learned from this, and what all the children learned, was to explore their own interests, discover their passions, make choices and have their choices honored and respected by adults, play cooperatively or independently, and most of all, be kids! They got wet, dirty, and messy. They had lots of fun. They made good friends, learned to share, to solve problems, to be caring and respectful. They, and all of their preschool friends, were high achieving students once they got to school, and I've always thought it had a lot to do with the fact that no one was pushing them to do academic tasks before they were either developmentally ready or interested. They entered school reading, ready for the serious business of learning. I did not even look at Montessori schools at the time; my thought (based on a very little reading) was that they were more task and skill oriented, and less social ineraction and play oriented than I was interested in. Kids have the rest of their lives to acquire skills and complete tasks. Once my kids got into school it was full speed ahead to sit still, do work, produce, please the teachers--you get the picture--and it hasn't ended yet. I'm so glad they had the chance to be kids for the first years of their lives. Judy
In the Montessori school in Berkeley where I taught art was central, as was singing and music. I am sure there are many ''play-based'' schools that integrate concepts/ materials inspired by Montessori. Why not look for all the things you value in one school? The most important thing is to visit classrooms, and find one that feels like a good fit for your kid and you. That means philosophy, comaraderie, and proximity (parents get stressed out with too much driving... don't go for the ''perfect'' school if it will be a strain on you. Go for a good one that is on your circuit). Tati
Dear Confused Mom, I have participated in Sequoia Nursery School, a play-based preschool in Oakland, with both of my children. I can't compare Montessori and play-based, because my only experience is in a play-based school, but I can tell you that I have never regreted my decision to go with a play-based program. In fact I am grateful daily for the choice I made. Not only was my second grader well prepared emotionally, socially and academically when he began kindergarten, but he still looks back fondly on his years of ''play'' at preschool. You can find numerous studies and articles that describe the importance of self-directed play. This is the one time in their academic experience when they have free choice, opportunity for self expression, and encouragement to use their imagination and creativity. They are building the foundation and skills needed for reading, writing, math, etc, but they do it through play, which is developmentally appropriate and rewarding for this age group. It won't be long before their entire day is structured for them, so why not give them the space and time they need now? a play-based fan
Hello, I am the owner, director and teacher of a little in-home Montessori school in Walnut Creek. I read your question about ''play based'' versus Montessori education with interest because of having met many people recently who have been trying to compare Montesssori with ''play based'' preschools. I would like to take this opportunity to respond to your questions from my own perspective as an early childhood educator of about 30 years who chose to enter the field of Montessori after working in more conventional kinds of programs for several years.

Only recently did the term ''play based'' become a popular term to be used by preschools where most learning is supposed to be accomplished through play. It seems that non-Montessori schools have begun to differentiate themselves both from Montessori and from sturctured academic preschool programs through this terminology. But I am concerned that this differentiation is contributing to some ironic misconceptions about Montessori education as being some things that it is not and not being some things that it is.

By contrasting Montessori with ''play based'' education, one would get the impression that Montessori, itself, is not play based. Surprisingly, if truth be known, the Montessori method of education is, in itself, 100% play based. There is absolutely no differentiation between the play that a child does to pour water from one pitcher to another, improvise music with tone bells, or paint a water color, and the play that a child does to learn how to make words from letters or carry out multiplication on a bead board. It is just that in Montessori schools we call this the work of the child. It is all the child's self chosen work to develop through interaction with the environment,the hands-on, natural way of learning that is the hallmark of early childhood.

The child's work of becoming a social human being also develops naturally through the children's spontaneous interactions with one another within this environment. Children work both alone and with other children depending upon their own wishes at a given moment, so when they enter into an interaction with another child, they feel in control of the situation because they have chosen it. An emphasis is placed on learning how to work respectfully together, to work out problems together, and how to be a kind and thoughtful member of the little community.

In preschools that identify themselves as ''play based'', the orientation is that children need to play and socialize their way through preschool with the traditional preschool materials such as blocks,puzzles,dolls, etc.and that they are learning through these experiences. But then there is a differentiation between this happy and self chosen play and what is considered to be the more serious academic and academic preparedness work that begins closer to the kindergarten year, with at first, perhaps a smattering of structured ''academic work'' at pre- determined group times, and later pehaps more academic work at sit down group times that are very different from the child's other ''play based'' times. In contrast, the Montessori conception of play as the child's spontaneous, natural form of working toward self development permeates all of the opportunities offered, including the academic work. This represents an underlying difference from popular ideas about what makes children happy and fulfilled and how young children learn best. In Montessori schools all learning blends together as the child's playful response to a rich and inviting environment.

People sometimes enter a Montessori school and do not understand why it is so quiet, or why the children seem so serious while they are ''working.'' It is the child's concentration on a chosen task that tells us that she or he has found something truly satsifying to the child. Yet many people still hold the idea that if children are not running about, creating chaos, and being loudly gregarious, they are not ''being kids''. In Montessori schools ''being a kid'' means finding what you need to develop into a whole and fulfilled individual within a community of other people. This is not just a preparation for the next step in life, but a means to wholeness. Montessori children are centered, happy, confident little people who have learned how to contribute meaningfully to their community as well as to follow their individual and unique impetus toward learning and expression.

You mention that your child would miss out on art work in a Montessori school because it is there but not encouraged. But It is the environment that is carefully designed to encourage the child and respond to his needs. This is what gives the child a chance to be more self determining and self discovering. Art work in a good Montessori school is in many places throughout the school. It is in the ''Sensorial'' area where children find beautiful,inviting materials through which to refine their senses and appreciation regarding texture, color, shape,and sound, and even refining their discrimination of taste and smell. It is in the water color work set up on a beautiful tray with a good brush and good paints and a little jar of water. It is in the many other art materials set out for children to explore and use with both respect and self expression.

In a good Montessori school, this little water color ''work'', like all other ''work'' is a delightful, child oriented temptation sitting on a shelf, waiting for an eager little artist to choose it, carry it to a table, use with it joy and respect, and then restore to it's original cleanliness and order, and return to the shelf. It is not an adult supervised ''art time'' experience or a station where children can perhaps volunteer to go for a limited time under the watchful supervision of an adult. And, as with all learning materials, the art materials are an ever evolving part of the prepared environment. The teacher is a guide who watches to see what her individual students are ready for, prepares these inviting tasks, presents how to handle them to the children, and then observes to see how the children use them, varying them as needed, and providing suggestions and guidance, but never forcing, because the child's inner motivation for learning is the strongest and most effective pathway to a child's further development.

Some people worry about there being less fantasy play in the Montessori school. Fantasy play is less emphasized in half day programs than in ''play based'' preschools, because children have so much fantasy play in their home environments, and we feel that school is an opportunity to develop in ways that may not be so available at home. However full day programs where children are not going home for the afternoon have lots of fantasy and open ended activities in the afternoon portion of their programs, and even most morning programs have opportunities for fantasy play built into some aspects of the program.

Are children able to be ''just children'' in a Montessori environment? You bet they are, but we see children as young people trying to evolve toward their full human potential. Yes there is a structure to the environment,which serves as a framework that gives the child the opportunity to function independently. This independence brings the child the ability to act more freely to learn, develop, and discover his/her interests and creativity than would be otherwise possible.

I realize that this is a really long post, but Montessori is a complex way of working with children with a deep and broad philosophical base designed to meet the real needs of children. To the casual observer it may appear to be something it is not, and to not be something that it is. I thank you for the opportunity to try to clarify some common misconceptions about this really fabulous and holistic way of approaching the education of our young people. Mimi


I had no real idea what Montessori was like when I signed my then 3 year old daughter up for a Montessori preschool. I had heard it was ''child-centered'' and our child loved learning, and so it sounded good. Well for us it turned out to be terrible and when we pulled her out after 3 months our normally outgoing, curious, social, and imaginative child had become withdrawn, stopped participating in activitites, and didn't learn a thing. She was completely uninterested in the ''jobs'' and did not make any friends (she usually makes new friends very easily). The ''jobs'' were ''child-centered'' in that she could choose which one she wanted to do and do it for as long as she wanted, but they were not in any way imaginative or interesting to her. They are designed to be ''self-correcting'' like a puzzle, which means that you have to figure out the right way to do it, but there is no opportunity to use your imagination.

Here are my main criticisms of Montessori for preschool:

1. It does not teach kids the main thing they need to learn at this age which is how to play with others and get along socially. Every activity was either individual ''jobs'', whole group instruction, or completely unorganized play outside. There was no opportunity to get to know other kids and learn how to play with them. (Just because kids are all climbing on the same structure or going down the slide doesn't mean they are actually playing together.)

2. It does not encourage or even really allow for kids to use their imaginations, which is a real shame to deny this for 3-5 year olds.

3. It sets up a false dichotomy (to me) between ''work'' and ''play''. Especially at this age, learning should be fun.

I think Montessori is probably a great method for a certain small percentage of children. It is both mystifying and dismaying to me that it is so prevalent among educated middle class families to the point that it seems to be the only option available in certain areas (such as Alameda). Why are such parents so concerned about the academic achievement of their preschoolers? Do kids really need to know how to read before they start kindergarten? (BTW, a few months after we put her in a play-based daycare our daughter was back to her delightful self, and now she is really enjoying and doing well in kindergarten.) --obviously not a Montessori fan


I would suggest to you picking a Montessori school that is more moderate, not a strict Montessori. Montessori's seem to each be a bit different in terms of where they fall on the spectrum of how extrememly they adhere to the Montessori way. My son goes to one (Oakland Montessori), and it is a great mixture of philosophies. It definately has the Montessori feel, where the energy in the classroom is calm, organized, with no plastic toys, and they work on the traditional Montessori jobs during a large part of the day. But they also have enrichment activities like art, music and gymnastics each once a week. The techers are great about weaving into circle time songs, multi-cultural,holiday, and other themed activities. They also have alot of free play time outside where they can run around and have fun. Plus the teachers are very warm and nurturing, which you don't find at some more strict Montessori's. I feel that this type of enviroment weaves in all the plus's of each type of pre-school approach. Good luck. lkc

Montessori and OCD?

Sept 2005

I am considering a Montessori preschool for my daughter and am interested in hearing from parents of former or current Montessori kids or others with knowledge. I really like much of the philosophy but wonder if the emphasis on order and cleanliness is actually an overemphasis which could lead to problems later on. Has there been any research in this area? Any advice appreciated.
Signed, Mom with enough obsessive tendencies for the whole family.


I have had three kids in Montessori and do not feel that the philosophy would lead to OCD issues (I suppose that it might if the child was predisposed to OCD to begin with, but my kids were not and there do not seem to be any problems.) My oldest child is a naturally messy kid (but mentally organized) and she seems to have followed her natural tendency, but with the ability to manage her time and projects that she learned from her Montessori education. She's been out of Montessori for about 3-4 years now and is functioning very independently without any OCD isues. My second was always physically organized, and Montessori doesn't seem to have made her obsessive about it. She shares a bedroom with the messy older one and while she does clean up after her sister on occasion, it's more due to not being able to see the floor rat! her than an OCD perspective. From what I observed from my children, it seems that the Montessori orderliness taught them the ''process'' of getting something done which is something their peers struggle with. The Montessori ''cleanliness'' did teach them to clean up after themselves. while they do not always remember, all I have to give is a gentle reminder and it's done without much fuss. We found the Montessori philosophy to match our parenting philosophy (except we're not very neat ourselves) and it's worked very well for all of us. Tom

Montessori vs. Developmental Preschool

Sept 2005

My almost 4-year old daughter is currently attending a developmental preschool. We are hoping to send her to a Catholic school once she enters Kindergarten. Should we keep her in the program she is currently attending or would a Montessori environment prepare her more for the challenges of Kindergarten? Any feedback would be wonderful! Thanks... Cheryl


The best way to prepare your child for kindergarten is to make sure that he/she is socially and emotionally prepared. The biggest challenges they'll face are getting along with a new group of kids, and the challenges of having more autonomy in problem solving and issues with other kids. My son went to a developmental preschool and was more than prepared for kindergarten. I think most kindergarten teachers expect your kids to be an 'open slate' academically, and my son was just as prepared academically for kindergarten as his classmates, including those who went to 'academic' or Montessori preschools. If you and your child are happy with his current preschool, why move him?

What is Montessori?

What exactly does Montessori mean? I have seen "montessori" in various places as I've driven by for many years now, never quite knowing what was actually behind those classroom walls. Now that I finally have a baby of my own and am beginning to look into his education, I'm starting to research home schooling. I am curious what Montessori means, does it mean a certain philosophy of teaching, etc.? Irene
In a nutshell, Montessori is a method of teaching that is based on the developmental, behavioral tendencies of children. I am a Montessori teacher now in my sixth year of teaching at Berkeley Montessori School, and as this subject is near and dear to my heart, I'm compelled to give a longer explination of what a "developmental approach" really means, and what it looks like in action. Dr. Maria Montessori, at the turn of the 20th Century, did something remarkable: she observed children. She worked with children declared mentally deficient, and ineducable, and by observing them carefully, and providing learning experiences geared toward the individual child's needs, she discovered successful ways to teach. She applied these techniques and made further observations in her first "school" in Rome, working with normal, but very poor preschool-aged children. Thus began Montessori's lifelong persuit of understanding the development of children, and her creation of a developmental approach to education. Maria Montessori defined the goal of education as the development of a complete human being, a person oriented to his environment, and adapted to his time, place and culture. Montessori observed that children are driven to explore, repeat and work toward mastery of new skills. In her lectures and writings she identifies these behaviors, as well as orientation, order, imagination, manipulation, precision, and communication as innate in children. Children are driven to learn. The goal then is obviously to create an environment where the needs of the child at each stage of development dictate the form, content and pace of his education. (Contrast this with the current pressures upon children and teachers in traditional schools to allow state mandated aptitude test scores to drive the form, content and pace of a child's education). The Montessori preschool-kindergarten classroom is prepared with concrete, hands-on materials, organized in areas designed to appeal to the children's developmental interests. Montessori math and language materials are wonderful, and there are also works based on practical life activities, exercises in grace and courtesy, exploration of the senses, geography, and even animals and plants to care for. These materials are presented to the children and then left on the shelf for the children to work with as their interest dictates. Multi-age classrooms are an important aspect of a Montessori education. The children are not grouped by the same age, but rather by developmental plane, usually in three-year age spans. The younger children are inspired by the older ones, and the older ones take pride in helping the younger ones. It is a playful atmosphere in which children are free to choose what to work on, and free to repeat the same activity as much as they like. The children oscillate between periods of intense concentration on work, discussion with others, having a snack, observing what others are doing, and receiving lessons from one of the two full-time teachers. The works themselves are of profound interest to the child, because they provide opportunity for the child to discuss, experiment, organize and master things in his everyday environment. The playful atmosphere is a catalyst for ample learning because it is child-driven. Montessori stressed that a child's interaction with the environment is most productive in terms of the individual's development when it is self-chosen and founded upon individual interest. I suggest you do some research if you are shopping for a Montessori school. Anyone can hang a sign that says Montessori School, so check to see if the school is certified by AMS or AMI. And visit the school so you can see a classroom in action. Most Montessori Schools are preschool/kindergartens, but others, like Berkeley Montessori School, have elementary and middle schools as well. I teach a first, second and third grade class (age 6-9). Please email me if you are interested in more information about Montessori for the elementary years.
Rebecca
I want to add a word to the recent informative post by a teacher from Berkeley Montessori School. There are two Montessori schools in Berkeley with programs extending through at least 5th or 6th grade: Berkeley Montessori School and Montessori Family School (I wrote about my experience with MFS preschool recently.) Both are staffed by certified Montessori teachers. Berkeley Montessori began a middle school (7-8) program three or four years ago. Montessori Family School runs through 6th grade, I believe. Middle school has not been traditional Montessori territory but friends who attend seem reasonably happy with it. Kurt Chamberlin, the director of Berkeley Montessori, is a very impressive individual who seems to have his head screwed on straight.
Tim
Janis

I have found that the Montessori schools vary dramatically and whether they are good for your child really depends on the personality of the child and the school. When I first looked at a Montessori in San Francisco, I found it very rigid. I was uncomfortable there and my then 2 year old son seemed out of place when we went to check it out. He needed more flexibility and fewer rules. He had a strong sense of self esteem and was very social. The next time I looked into Montessori, it was at a different location and for a different child. This time it was a wonderful fit. Due to numerous changes when my second son was 2 (we moved, lost our regular care giver, changed jobs), he had lost some self esteem and was not very social. The Montessori he now attends, has more flexibility, is wide open and has encouraged his learning and exploration. In the last year he has blossomed, regained his self confidence and lost most of his shyness. So even though the Montessoris follow the same philosophy--how that philosophy is implemented will depend a lot on the director and the teachers. The surroundings vary too and make a big difference. In all Montessoris, everything has a place in which it belongs and the child is expected to return his or her "work" to the appropriate space. In SF the room was divided by child high space dividers into small and relatively dark work areas. The director became annoyed when my 2 year old--there just for a visit--picked something out and moved it from one area to another. In the Montessori we are now in (in Marin), the room is large--brightly lit--and everything is placed along the walls. It is a more welcoming feeling and gives the children a whole room to explore and move around. So you need to check out the specific school and if possible talk to other parents whose children are there. Good luck.


Sima

I was a Montessori kid myself and have my 3 year old in a Montessori school (Cedar Creek Montessori), and I think the Montessori method is wonderful. However, any school can call itself Montessori and have nothing to do with the Montessori method. I've been looking at Montessori schools on the Peninsula because we are moving there this summer and there are a lot of terrible ones! But I was very impressed with the Discovery Children's House (650-856-1760) Montessori school, which is in Palo Alto (and also in San Carlos); I also liked Montessori Community School in Redwood City. In general, AMS certified schools seem to be better. What I like about Montessori--they teach children to respect other people, they teach children to be self-motivated (the child is the one who picks what he/she will work on) and disciplined, they have an environment that is interesting to kids and helps them learn about the world in a concrete way, and they want to reach out to the community to interact positively and promote respect and peace. I also like that they have mixed ages, where older kids can act as teachers and mentors for the younger ones. What I look for are teachers and directors of schools that treat the children (and each other) in a respectful way--a Montessori teacher doesn't raise her/his voice, but uses positive disciplining measures. I also look for a warm environment where the children are engaged but having fun, where the teachers obviously care a lot for the kids. Yes, these schools are expensive, but child development research has shown that the biggest differences in a child's education come in the first 6 years of life. Better to spend that money now when it can so positively impact the way the child will learn for the rest of their lives. There is a good web site, http://www.montessoriconnections.com/, for finding Montessori schools. The Montessori method is not for every child, but I think it is worth visiting a good Montessori school and observing the kids and how much they enjoy the work they are doing, and also seeing how your child interacts with the environment. Then you can see if it is right for you.


Linda

Yes, yes, yes on Montessori, but you have to check out the individual program. There are different approaches within the method, some being more "rigid" than others. One advantage to Montessori is that all the teachers are fully trained in a two-year (?) program. My son was in a developmental (play=learning philosophy) and didn't prosper. He needed more structure, which Montessori gave him. He likes to know what's expected, and he loves to learn. And learn he did, all in a pleasant, progressive way with lots of manipulatives. The kids are the center of things in Montessori, and the teachers address the whole child, teaching manners, caring, self-reliance (fixing their own simple snacks), math, clean-up, cooking, gardening, science, and pre-reading. The kids go at their own paces and are never made to feel they are "behind." The materials are specialized for teaching kids of the relevant ages, and I liked the fact that they "extend" to keep teaching to kids once they have the basic principle down. Also, kids teach and help other kids, thereby reinforcing their learning. My son is gifted and was able to find challenges all the way thru his time at Montessori. Despite all the learning, there is also a lot of creativity and unstructured play-time. At first I was put off by the fact that the kids lined up to go inside, had to work on small mats, etc. But then I realized my son really liked and needed structure to his day.


My now 9-year-old has been in two Montessori settings -- preschool at Applegarden in Montclair and Berkeley Montessori School in Berkeley from K-4 presently. In brief, we are quite happy with the Montessori curriculum. I would say there are 3 things to consider -- 1) each Montessori environment translates the meaning a little differently, and some quite differently. Visit more than one. Talke with the head teachers carefully. 2) know ahead of time at what point you will be transferring your child to tranditional curriculum (at this point there aren't any Montessori high schools, so you have to face it at some point or another). Since one of the definitions of Montessori is to group 3 years at a time with a very specific agenda that depends upon completing the 3-year cycle (avoid transferring your child at grade 2, for instance), know ahead of time what your alternatives are. Don't enter them into the Montessori environment frivolously without intention of completing each cycle, if possible. 3) Understand that the Montessori match curriculum is TOTALLY DIFFERENT than traditional math, and have them present you with why it is so -- this is the one very definite strength of the Montessori belief system but it doesn't pan out until much later in the learning process -- which is another reason for not entering unless you intend to stay through at least 6th grade. -- Tamara
My daughter is attending the Montessori Family School in Kensington. She is in a mixed age class (first grade third grade). She started school elsewhere and transferred to the MFS in second grade. We've been very, very happy with the school. The director, Jane Weschler, is a strong, but supportive director, who also teaches part time at the school. What has made the school wonderful for my daughter is that the teachers are really dedicated to being teachers. They are not just there to pass the time until something else comes along. They teach there because they want to. In addition, the mixed age group has had benefits that I didn't anticipate. My daughter is an only child, but at school she helps the younger children and plays games during recess with the older children. There isn't so much age segregation as there is in a school w/o mixed age groups. As far as the Montessori philosophy goes, I have to admit that I am not well read and I have found the emphasis on manipulatives peculiar. But the results in terms of my daughter's learning have been very impressive. She is doing well in an areas, has an interest in learning, and is just picking up an amazing amount of information. So I think the educational system is very rich. There also is an emphasis on "integrated" learning, meaning that the children use their language and math skills to study cultural (social and historical) and science subjects. Also, the teachers discuss the relationship of different cultural and science subjects to one another. Through this system of education, my daughter has already learned to approach her school work as an integrated system. It's really nice to see a philosophy work in practice. I would guess that different schools apply the Montessori philosophy differently, so I'd ask the director of the school to discuss what the Montessori philosophy is and how it is implemented in his/her school.
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