The Montessori Method
A Whole-Child Approach To Education
By Phil Keeling
Looking at Atlanta’s educational landscape means realizing thereare many types of schools with descriptions that may sound somewhat familiar: magnet, charter and special needs, just to name a few. One type of school that’s gaining more popularity in the metro area is Montessori education, named for Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator. These independent schools are ingrained in the concept that children learn best through hands-on exploration that they follow at their own pace.
While they are perhaps best known for educating children in the preschool and elementary levels, Montessori schools and methods have been implemented up through the high school level. At each level, the focus is as much on social, physical, and emotional development as academics. Life skills, responsibility and respect for the environment are taught alongside more traditional subjects, such as science, mathematics, history and language, creating a student that is truly well-rounded in both academic studies and emotional maturity.
Learning objectives are accomplished through experiential, practical and sensory activities in an organized setting.
Combining Structure and Freedom
Unlike traditional public or independent schools, Montessori schools operate in different and unique ways. Generally speaking, classrooms are less rigid, and the student, not the teacher, is the focus. Instead of seeing rows of children sitting at desks, you’ll see pupils grouped by age ranges rather than grades, and they’re allowed to work and think independently. Montessori students are given the chance to learn from their own mistakes and grasp concepts at their own pace.
Essentially, this comes down to the child learning, understanding and using specific skills, rather than focusing on tests and forgetting that information the moment the exam is finished. Instead of giving a lecture or handing out assignments, teachers work one-on-one with students, providing guidance when necessary, like presenting a new topic or a new challenge to meet when a child is ready. No grades are awarded, and there are no limits on how long a child follows a particular area of interest.
At Johns Creek Montessori School of Georgia, children work in one of three classroom community age groups. These groups range from 8 weeks to 15 months, 12 months to 36 months, and 2 and a half to 6 years old. Children are free to explore activities that interest them and may work on as many activities as they like.
That mix of freedom and structure allows teachers to pay attention to changes in the development of their students and to adapt their lessons accordingly. It’s an approach that helps students grow not just academically, but personally.
Allowing young students to choose the activities that interest them most has led to many misunderstandings about Montessori education—specifically, that it lacks the structure and out-of-school opportunities that students in public or private schools receive. This couldn’t be further from the truth, says Lucy Bennett, director of communications at Arbor Montessori.
“There’s a common misconception that with Montessori education we let them be completely independent; that there’s no discipline or guidance,” she says. “But we give freedom and limits.”
One of the main foundations of the Montessori experience is the concept of educating the whole child. That extends to topics that may not be part of a textbook curriculum.
“Maria Montessori observed children scientifically based on her background and experiences as a doctor,” said Debra Markham, Johns Creek Montessori’s director. “She was not looking at just the academic or cognitive development of the child. She was looking at how a child achieves independence, autonomy and resilience.”
Part of that understanding comes from learning and emulating positive character traits such as respectfulness, kindness and helpfulness.
“Maria Montessori would say those children already have that,” Markham said. “It’s just they haven’t been given the opportunity. They have not yet become ‘normalized.’ The ‘normalized’ child is their true self. They have been given the opportunity and freedom to develop in ways that help them achieve what she believes was intrinsic to every child.”
In addition to cultivating children’s minds, Montessori schools make physical activity a priority, as well. Instead of taking in information from textbooks or computers, students learn by working with materials in a tactile, hands-on environment. That may involve stacking blocks, organizing movable letters or learning to count with tiny animal figures. Montessori materials engage children’s different senses, helping them to comprehend through activity and experience.
Montessori students learn across a wide range of subjects, just like their counterparts at more traditional schools. At Arbor Montessori, “We have art, music, Spanish, and an athletics program,” says Bennett. “Montessori schools in the area are very robust in the same way independent schools are.”
Selecting a School
One question parents may ask is: Will this approach be the right fit for my child? After all, every kid learns in his or her own way. Montessori educators encourage parents to ask questions and talk about their child’s learning style, habits and home environment when visiting a school. Does your child learn better in a group setting or on their own? Do they like to stay in one place or do they need to move around? Children who operate with few boundaries at home may not flourish within the structure of a Montessori school, and children used to very strict guidelines may have trouble adapting to a self-directed setting that allows them the freedom to explore on their own.
When considering a Montessori school, it’s important to understand that not all of them are the same. Since the term is not trademarked, any school can refer to itself by that name. Some may claim to follow an “alternative” or “hybrid” Montessori program, or offer Montessori instruction for just part of the day.
The most reliable sign of a school’s adherence to Montessori principles is certification: Montessori teachers are trained and certified in the Montessori method. What’s more, schools that have been accredited by organizations such as the Association Montessori International (co-founded by Maria Montessori) and the American Montessori Society have been determined to operate in accordance with Montessori standards.
What Lies Ahead
In the end, says Julie Strickland, assistant to the head of school and communications director at Springmont School, the Montessori approach helps prepare students for the rigors of high school and higher education in ways they might not learn in a more traditional setting.
“I think the most important thing is we teach the students here to build relationships with their teachers,” she said. “They don’t see them as adversaries or so authoritarian. They see them as people that can help them with difficulties in learning. They see them as collaborative and helpful. It just feels different.
“It’s really unique to the Montessori environment that the students work with their teachers for three years or at least two years. They have a very strong relationship with their teachers. They trust them and respect them. It’s just a different style with working with a grownup in a school.”
For more information
American Montessori Society
Association Montessori International USA
Arbor Montessori School
Johns Creek Montessori School of Georgia
Special Advertising Section
ENDEAVOR MONTESSORI IN DUNWOODY is a new school that offers a modernized Montessori approach for infants through lower elementary-aged children. With an innovative curriculum designed by early childhood education experts, Endeavor Montessori focuses on providing an education that enables children to reach their full intellectual and personal potential.
Child-Centered Approach To Learning
The staff at Endeavor Montessori believes a child’s education should include exploration of what interests them, so they learn about themselves and their own mind. In an Endeavor Montessori classroom, teachers take the time to understand how each child learns best to accommodate their learning style and interests. They then create a plan for children that enables them to thoroughly grasp subjects while enjoying the learning process. Full of confidence and curiosity, children are excited to move onto the next subject.
Combining Montessori With Steam
Endeavor Montessori offers a learning environment where children are exposed to appropriate levels of technology, integrated seamlessly into an enhanced Montessori curriculum. This approach, along with a Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math (STEAM) program, addresses the demands placed by modern education, while also strengthening children’s innate desire to seek knowledge on their own and find the answers to their own questions.
Shaping Future World Citizens
One of Endeavor Montessori’s main goals is to develop self-directed citizens of the world. In addition to extensive foreign language training, culture and diversity will be celebrated through a global approach to learning. This fosters cultural awareness and builds a sense of connection with all human beings, no matter their differences. Students at Endeavor Montessori view the world as a place to make connections and build bridges for a better tomorrow.
Endeavor Montessori invites you to learn more about how its expert educator staff and modernized Montessori curriculum will prepare your child for the future you want them to have.
Endeavor Montessori is located at: 48 Perimeter Center East, Atlanta, GA, 30346. Please call 770-637-1242 or visit endeavormontessori.com for more information.
SPRINGMONT, THE OLDEST MONTESSORI SCHOOL IN THE SOUTHEAST, offers students 18 months through middle school an integrated, experiential learning opportunity that is extraordinary by design. Classrooms are large, light-filled and thoughtfully prepared while the campus’ many natural areas, class gardens and farm animals afford rich outdoor life science lessons.
Multi-aged classes allow younger children to learn from older ones and older students to mentor younger classmates. Speciallydesigned Montessori materials, designed to support children’s developmental needs, offer students a wide variety of hands-on activities that concretely reinforce skills, lessons and concepts. Highly-experienced teachers guide students through an individualized curriculum that develops the whole child—socially, emotionally, and academically.
Physical Education, Spanish, Art and Music are important parts of each student’s experience. At Springmont, each student is challenged to reach his/her fullest potential and is empowered to help steer his/her own education. Students’ innate curiosity grows into a lifelong love of learning and a quest for meaningful discoveries and deeper knowledge.
Middle school students run micro-economies, participate in internships and compete in regional academic competitions. They have opportunities to hone time-management skills, experience active leadership roles, articulate complex ideas and work both independently and in diverse groups.
Springmont graduates are confident, collaborative, engaged learners, prepared for success in Atlanta’s premier high schools as well as life beyond academics. Springmont School— Extraordinary by Design. For more information, call 404-252-3910, or visit springmont.com.
EXCELLENT MONTESSORI SCHOOL recognizes that the world is changing all the time, and that educators need to prepare children to be critical thinkers and not just mindless thinkers. Excellent Montessori’s unique lesson plans create critical-thinking children. A critical-thinking child is a child that can actively and skillfully conceptualize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize and apply information to reach an answer or conclusion. Start your child’s educational adventure today.
Excellent Montessori School is located at 1828 Stephenson Road, Lithonia, GA, 30058. Please call 678-526- 0160 or visit excellentmontessori.org for more information.
MONTESSORI KIDS ACADEMY offers a traditional Montessori student-focused, constructivist teaching style. This growing school teaches children from 18 months to 3 years of age in its pre-primary classroom, 3 to 6 years of age in its primary classrooms, and 6 to 12 years of age in its elementary classrooms. Montessori Kids Academy strives to maintain a low student-to-teacher ratio in each classroom.
The school is housed in a 20,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art building complete with a children’s garden, outdoor classroom, spacious library, learning kitchen, computer lab, indoor café, outside picnic patio, two music rooms and traditional Montessori furnishings.
The following daily enrichments are offered as part of the Montessori curriculum at no additional cost: French, Spanish, Music, Art, Cooking, Coding and Robotics, P.E. and Organic Gardening. Students enjoy daily yoga in their classrooms and the computer lab.
Montessori Kids Academy is an AdvancEd-accredited school and a member of the American Montessori Society. It currently participates in the Georgia Student Scholarship Program, a tax-savings program created to enable parents to use their money tax-free for education. Located at 3034 Old Atlanta Road, Cumming, Ga., 30041. 678-208-0774. montessoricumming.com.
OAK MEADOW MONTESSORI SCHOOL is an independent school nestled on 10 wooded acres alongside a beautiful lake. The school has served children from 15 months to 12 years in an accredited Montessori program since 1993. Oak Meadow’s experienced and dedicated teachers are committed to providing a loving place for children. Oak Meadow Montessori School fosters respect for self, others and the environment. The Montessori Method has offered families around the world a solid foundation for life-long learning for over 100 years. Join one of the premier Montessori schools in Gwinnett County and awaken your child’s natural desire to learn.
Oak Meadow Montessori School is located in the heart of Gwinnett County at 2145 Collins Hill Road in Lawrenceville, GA, 30043. Please call 770-963-8303 or visit oakmeadowmontessori.com for more information.