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Frequently Asked Questions about Montessori Education


Why Do Montessori Classes Group Different Age Levels Together?

Sometimes parents worry that by having younger children in the same class as older ones, one group or the other will be shortchanged. At FSMA, we teach children at the academic level they are ready for. We know that each child learns at his/her own pace and will be ready for any given lesson in his/her own time, not on the teacher’s schedule of lessons. In a mixed-age class, children can always find peers who are working at their current level. Children normally stay in the same class for two years. With half of the class returning each year, the classroom culture tends to remain quite stable. Also, working in one class for two years allows students to develop a strong sense of community with their classmates and teachers.


Why Are Classes at FSMA Larger than Those Found in Many Other Schools?

Many schools take pride in having very small classes, and parents often wonder why Montessori classes are so much larger. At FSMA, our classes commonly group together 24 – 26 covering a two-year age span. Schools that place children together into small groups assume that the teacher is the source of instruction, but we believe that children learn in many ways. Our incredibly talented teachers are watching our children and creating learning opportunities for them to work with the teacher, with their peers and on their own. And, don’t forget that in each classroom, there are two certified teachers so the ratio is actually quite small.


Is Montessori for All Children?

The Montessori system has been used successfully with children from all socio-economic levels, representing those in regular classes as well as the gifted, children with developmental delays, and children with emotional and physical disabilities.

There is no one school that is right for all children, and certainly there are children who may do better in a smaller classroom setting with a more teacher-directed program that offers fewer choices and more consistent external structure. Each situation is different, and it is our goal to work with families to help them understand this educational model so that they can determine if it is the right place for their child.


Is Montessori Opposed to Homework?

When homework is assigned, it rarely involves page after page of “busy” work; instead, the children are given meaningful, interesting assignments that expand on the topics that they are pursuing in class. Many assignments invite parents and children to work together. When possible, teachers will normally build in opportunities for children to choose among several alternative assignments. Sometimes, teachers will prepare individually negotiated weekly assignments with each student.


Is Montessori Unstructured?

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

Montessori teaches all of the “basics,” along with giving students the opportunity to investigate and learn subjects that are of particular interest. It also allows them the ability to set their own schedule to a large degree during class time. At all grade levels, students are taught how to use some sort of formal system to help them keep track of what they have accomplished and what they still need to complete. This is typically called a “work plan.”

What is a work plan? Elementary Montessori children normally work with a written study plan for the day or week. It lists the tasks that they need to complete, while allowing them to decide how long to spend on each and what order they would like to follow. The items on the work plan are follow-up from individually tailored lessons given by the teacher. When children complete the required tasks in each curriculum area, they may explore topics that capture their interest and imagination and share them with their classmates.


What if a Child Doesn’t Feel Like Working?

While Montessori students are allowed considerable latitude to pursue topics that interest them, this freedom is not absolute. Within every society there are cultural norms; expectations for what a student should know and be able to do by a certain age.

Experienced Montessori teachers are conscious of these standards and provide as much structure and support as is necessary to ensure that students live up to them. If for some reason it appears that a child needs time and support until he or she is developmentally ready, Montessori teachers provide it non-judgmentally.


Are There Any Tests in Montessori Programs?

Montessori teachers carefully observe their students at work. They give their students informal, individual oral exams or have the children demonstrate what they have learned by either teaching a lesson to another child or by giving a formal presentation. Montessori children usually don’t think of assessment techniques as tests so much as challenges. Students are working toward mastery rather than a standard letter grade scheme.

Standardized Tests: Most Montessori schools regularly give elementary students quizzes on the concepts and skills that they have been studying. Many schools have their older students take annual standardized tests. At FSMA, our students will be taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment as this what all Delaware public school children take. This assessment is a way for us to see if children are mastering the standards we have taught and may identify missing skills that we need to go back and reteach. It is meant to be one more way we gather information about what children know and have learned.


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

There is nothing inherent in Montessori that causes children to have a hard time if they are transferred to traditional schools. Some will be bored and others may not understand why everyone in the class has to do the same thing at the same time. But most adapt to their new setting fairly quickly, making new friends, and succeeding within the definition of success understood in their new school.

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


How Do Montessori Schools Report Student Progress?

Because Montessori believes in individually paced academic progress, we do not assign letter grades or rank students within each class according to their achievement. Student progress, however, is measured in different ways, which may include:

Student Self-Evaluations: At the elementary level, students might prepare a self-evaluation of the past their work: what they accomplished, what they enjoyed the most, what they found most difficult, and what they would like to learn in the months ahead. When completed, they will meet with the teachers, who will review it and add their comments and observations.

Portfolios of Student Work: In many Montessori schools, teachers and parents go through the students’ completed work that has been collected. At FSMA, we collected student work and share important pieces with families throughout the year.

Student/Parent/Teacher Conferences:  Parents and teachers meet for at least two formal conferences each year. Additional conferences will be scheduled or requested as needed. At a conference, academic and social levels, as well as goals, will be shared.

Report Cards: Students at FSMA receive a formal written progress report twice a year. It is a standards based report card that is designed to let your child know how they are progressing in each area.


Is Montessori Opposed to Competition?

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

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

In Montessori schools, students learn to collaborate with each other rather than mindlessly compete. Students discover their own innate abilities and develop a strong sense of independence, self-confidence, and self-discipline. In an atmosphere in which children learn at their own pace and compete only against themselves, they learn not to be afraid of making mistakes. They quickly find that few things in life come easily, and they can try again without fear of embarrassment. Dr. Montessori argued that for an education to touch children’s hearts and minds profoundly, students must be learning because they are curious and interested, not simply to earn the highest grade in the class.

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

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


Why Is Fundraising So Important Compared to Conventional Schools?

Montessori programs are normally more expensive to organize and run than conventional classrooms due to the extensive teacher education needed to become certified and the very high cost of purchasing the educational materials and beautiful furniture needed to equip each Montessori classroom.


What are the “Cosmic Education” Great Lessons all about?

The Montessori Great Lessons are a core curriculum topic in any Montessori classroom.  The Great Lessons do not support any specific religion, but it is important to note that Maria Montessori had deep respect for all religions and philosophies.  The Great Lessons are designed to introduce children to scientific theories about our universe, our earth and all living things which leads to the study of human needs, cultures, continents, and biomes of the world.  The purpose of the Great Lessons:

•       To give the child the big picture of the universe and the world they live in
•       To plant seeds of interest for learning about the earth, living things, needs, etc
•       To instill in the child a sense of wonder
•       To discover the diversity of life on the earth – similarities and needs
•       To develop a connection with life and the interconnectedness of living things
•       To introduce cycles – water cycle, plant and animal cycles, season, etc.
•       To build in the child a respect for all living things
•       To give the child an awareness of history and the human journey


Is Montessori Opposed to Fantasy and Creativity?

Fantasy and creativity are important aspects of a Montessori child’s experience. Montessori classrooms incorporate art, music, dance, and creative drama throughout the curriculum. Imagination plays a central role, as children explore how the natural world works, visualize other cultures and ancient civilizations, and search for creative solutions to real-life problems. In Montessori schools, the Arts are normally integrated into the rest of the curriculum.


Why Does Montessori Put So Much Stress On Freedom And Independence?

Children touch and manipulate everything in their environment. In a sense, the human mind is handmade, because through movement and touch, the child explores, manipulates, and builds a storehouse of impressions about the physical world around her. Children learn best by doing, and this requires movement and spontaneous investigation. Montessori children are free to move about, working alone or with others at will. They may select any activity and work with it as long as they wish, so long as they do not disturb anyone or damage anything, and as long as they put it back where it belongs when they are finished.

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

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

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


Is It True that Montessori Children Never Play?

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

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


What is a “Branches” meeting?

At FSMA, we are always looking for ways to do things creatively. One way we do this is by combining the different “branches” of our organization that typically meet each month, and having their sessions run back to back. At 6:00 p.m., we begin with our PTO meeting. This meeting is full of information about upcoming events that our PTO runs and supports. Then at 6:45 p.m. comes what we call a “Montessori Moment.” FSMA teachers share a Montessori lesson with parents… this is a great way to gain insight into the Montessori curriculum. The final “branch” meets at 7:00 p.m. and is the FSMA Governing Board Public Session.

Please know that you are welcome to come for one, two or three parts of the evening to learn more about our “branches.” We look forward to sharing with you the many amazing things our “branches” are doing and having you be a part of our community.

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