In a Montessori Classroom, do children run around and do whatever they want?

When looking at a Montessori classroom you may see 20 children involved in individual or small group activities.  It is possible that each child will be doing something different.  At a glance, a classroom can look like a hive of bumblebees.  However, each child is involved in self-selected work, designed to build concentration and support independent learning.

Choosing what you do is not the same as doing whatever you want.  A well-known anecdote, about Montessori students doing what they like, comes from E.M Standings book, Maria Montessori – Her Life and Work:

“A rather captious and skeptical visitor to a Montessori class once buttonholed one of the children – a little girl of seven – and asked: 'Is it true that in this school you are allowed to do anything you like?'  'I don't know about that,' replied the little maiden cautiously, 'but I do know that we like what we do!'”

Is a Montessori Classroom too unstructured for my child?

The Montessori classroom is very structured, but that structure is quite different from a traditional preschool.  Montessori observed that children naturally tend to use self-selected, purposeful activities to develop themselves.  The Montessori classroom, with its prepared activities and trained adults, is structured to promote this natural process of human development.

Children in a Montessori classroom select their own work and complete it with order, concentration, and attention to detail.  Montessorians refer to children, who work in this independent, self-disciplined way as 'normalized,' or using the natural and normal tendencies of human development.

Many traditional preschools work on a schedule where the entire classroom is involved in an activity for fifteen minutes, then moves on to the next activity.  This structure is based on the belief that young children have a short attention span of less than twenty minutes per activity.  At Montessori Day School we observe children spending the whole morning on a work they are excited to master.

Are Montessori Classrooms too structured?

At Montessori Day School, activities in the classroom are referred to as work, and the children are directed to choose their work.  However, the children's work is very satisfying to them, and they make no distinction between work and play.  Children almost always find Montessori activities both interesting and fun.

The Montessori classroom is a vibrant and dynamic learning environment, where structure is created by each child selecting his or her activity, doing it, and returning the activity to the shelf.  This rhythm of activity is called the work cycle.  Stephen Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, refers to the habit of a work cycle as creating an upward spiral of growth and change.  Covey describes a spiraling process of learn – commit – do that empowers us to move toward continuous improvement, both as children and adults.

Do Montessori schools allow for play?

When your three-year-old comes home from school talking about the work he did today, he can sound way too serious for a kid you just picked up at preschool.  What adults often forget is that children have a deep desire to contribute meaningfully, which we deny when we regard everything they do as 'just' play.  At MDS, we observe the child's 'joyful work' and expressions of deep satisfaction as the child experiences 'work as play.'

Can kids be kids in a Montessori classroom?

Many individuals think of children as naturally loud, disrespectful of others, clumsy, disruptive and worse.  In a well-run Montessori classroom, one might be prone to think that kids aren't being kids.

When you see twenty children acting purposefully, walking calmly, talking in low voices to each other, carrying glass objects, reading and working with numbers in the thousands, you might think the only way this behavior can occur is by children being regimented into it.  But, as the children move from activity to activity, day by day their skills and confidence grow.  Children show us the natural state of the child is to be a happy, considerate, and contented person.  A kid is most like a kid when he or she is engaged in the work of the Montessori classroom.

Do children have an opportunity to be social in a Montessori classroom?

Montessori classrooms are set up like small communities, where children are given the liberty to practice social skills that pertain to real life situations.  The children practice skills that lead to inner-discipline.  Children learn to walk in a classroom, talk with quiet voices with someone at their table, and learn patience when teaching a younger child.  At MDS, each classroom is a family that learns to communicate and work together harmoniously.  Montessori children are very social.

If Montessori is so great, why aren't former students better known?

Here are a few well-known people who remember their Montessori school connections and consider their experiences there vital.

Julia Child, the cook and writer, who taught Americans to love, prepare and pronounce French dishes, attended Montessori school.

Peter Drucker, the business guru, who has been said to be one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century, was a Montessori student.

Alice Waters, the chef of Chez Panisse fame and creator of The Edible Schoolyard project, was a Montessori student.

Anne Frank's famous diary was a natural extension of Anne's Montessori elementary school experience.

Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller's teacher, corresponded with Maria Montessori about teaching methods.

Larry Page and Sergei Brin, founders of Google, Jeff Bezos founder of Amazon, and Steve Case of America Online all credit Montessori schooling to their creative success.