Q: Are parents welcome in a Montessori environment?
A:  Parents are welcome and entitled to observe their child in the preschool environment.  Montessori preschools do not usually need parent help during session time.  One of the aims of Montessori philosophy is to foster independence in the young child.  The more adults that are present, the more the classroom dynamics change.  Specifically when many adults are present, children will rely on them to solve problems and challenges.  However, when there are less adults, children are more likely to have a go themselves, often resulting in success.  This enables the child to develop greater self-esteem and confidence.  Parents are invited to attend a special birthday celebration held for their child.  They are also invited to come and talk to the children about anything of interest, such as their work, culture or favourite hobby.  If a parent would like to spend a session with their child in the classroom, this can be arranged.  Parents are also invited to assist with preschool outings and other special events with the children.

Q: Do children learn to share in a Montessori environment?
A:  YES!  The Montessori environment is set up to facilitate sharing.  As usually only one child can work at an activity at one time, children learn to wait for their turn.  They also learn to negotiate and get the opportunity to practise this every day with grace and courtesy.  Children learn to respect the environment and to be aware of each other.  Therefore we do not so much ask them to ‘share’ but rather to be aware of others and by so doing learn to coexist and cooperate peacefully with others

Q: Why is it that Montessori is thought too structured for some and yet too relaxed for others?
A:  In a Montessori environment children are free to choose, with the guidance of the teacher.  The teacher demonstrates how to use a range of materials appropriate to the child’s age and stage of development.  The child can choose when to have his morning/afternoon tea, or what activity he would like to do.  He can also choose to repeat an activity, or to put it away and choose an alternative.  The role of the teacher is primarily to observe the child, and to then provide opportunities for further learning and development.  Freedom or structure comes from the need to always respect the environment and the materials while retaining an awareness of others.

Q: Is it true that Montessori philosophy doesn’t encourage fantasy play?
A:  Montessori believed that a child between the ages of 0 and 6 is striving to build a solid understanding of the world in which he lives.  Therefore, he seeks experiences which are real and concrete.  Because of this, fantasy can be overwhelming and in some cases even frightening for the young child.  It is important to recognise the difference between fantasy and imagination.  A child can use his imagination but still be grounded in reality.  However in the case of fantasy, the young child can become confused as to what is true and what is not.

Q: Does attending the preschool guarantee entrance into the Otari Primary School?

No. The Preschool is run independently of the Primary School. For those interested in attending the Primary School, please follow the Primary School enrolment process as outlined on their website

Q: Going to Montessori Preschool 5 days per week is too much for my child?

Many parents feel that going to Montessori every day is ‘too much’ for their young child.

Babies begin constructing their personality even before they are born. After birth babies develop alongside the parent who does most of the caring and feeding,; often the mother. As the baby grows they form relationships with more people – the father, siblings, grandparents and extended family and friends. Every relationship in the baby’s life helps develop their brain, construct their personality and provides a map for them to negotiate the world.

The child soon wants to experiment on their own. Initially this within sight or sound of their Mum or Dad, but gradually they are willing to venture further and further away. At around the age of three, sometimes before, sometimes a little after, most children are ready to part with the parents more formally. This often coincides with toilet training, a basic ability to dress, a desire to do things for him or herself.

While the child may be ready to try out a different environment, they still have a real need for this environment to feel very safe. There needs to be familiar adults, children who are known, and routines that are established and predictable.

When all this is in place, a child will settle into a new environment quite quickly. Of course, it is still a wrench parting from Mum or Dad, but once the child knows the routines and gets to know the new people, they quickly settle in. In fact, it is usually the parents who have a harder time separating than the children!

Many Montessori centres provide a learning community that comes together five days a week. Ideally children attend their Montessori learning community every day and interact with the same group of children. Children either come five mornings or full days. This regular attendance is one feature of Montessori that enables the child to build secure relationships and feel safe. When all the children come five days, the group develops a real community feel. The children learn together, the older children help the younger ones and the teachers have a deep knowledge of each child’s interests and needs. The children quickly learn to know the names of the children in their class, they start to make friends, learn the routines and the structure of the day. This is because every day the same children come and the same adults are present. For the young child it is safe and known. This predictability is very important to young children.

When children attend Montessori every day, the community develops together. Children notice when someone is away and enquire after them. They are happy to see them again when they are back. There is no anxiety because of who is or is not going to be there today – children as well as adults. All of this combines to make an environment where children feel safe and secure, able to explore, expand their sense of selves, test out theories about the world around them, and learn step by step, supported by dependable, loving adults. More Montessori may not be ‘too much’ for your child after all.

Jan Gaffney Montessori Voices April 2008

I’ve heard the Montessori environment is too structured and not enough free play. Is this true?

Montessori education is well known for the concept of freedom, but what people often don’t realise is that it is freedom to move and choose the work that will help the child develop him or herself, rather than licence to be destructive (often what people think children will be if left to their own devices).

The freedom given to a child in a Montessori classroom is only possible when certain other things come into play. One of these is structure.
Structure in a Montessori classroom, indoors or out, comes from the way the environment works, rather than from the teacher. The shelves are set out in areas, with activities set out on the shelf in a particular way, usually from left to right, from easier to harder. The same kinds of activities are always there, even though the specific activities are frequently changed. A child knows that if they go to a particular shelf, they can always get a particular activity and engage with it for as long as they like before they put it back.

Structure comes in the way a child is presented with a lesson, slowly and clearly with a minimum of talking. Children know they are free to explore the materials possibilities, and with Montessori materials there are many possibilities. Structure also comes in the control of error in the material. The control of error allows the child to learn from interacting with the material, without an adult having to point out to them they have made a mistake. Children with time and space are often able to work it out for themselves.

Structure comes in the careful and methodical observations the teachers make of the children, so they know exactly where a child is, what they need and when to show them something new. It also comes in the careful training the teacher undergoes to be able to prepare exactly the right environment for a child at his or her developmental stage.

What happens when all of this structure is put together is an environment where it is possible to give children the freedom to interact in it as they wish – and usually they wish to interact in a positive  manner, engaging and exploring with the Montessori materials, excited to share their discoveries with their friends and teachers. I have heard people say that it is too quiet in a Montessori classroom, proving that the children are obviously constrained in both their movements and interactions. That it is, in effect, too structured. If that were the case then the children would surely be unhappy, and it would be a chore to get them to  school, and at the first chance they would be running out the gate. Instead, in my experience, children love to come to school, even when they are sick. They look forward to the end of the holidays and do not want to go home at the end of the day. This is not only the little ones, but primary-aged children as well.

When you sit in a well running Montessori classroom; whether 3-6, 6-9 or 9-12, it is indeed quieter than people normally expect for children of that age. When children are working on their various activities with concentration, enjoying their work, sharing their accomplishments, sharing their friends, welcoming visitors and offering refreshment and conversation, what happens is a busy hum and a gentle and calm atmosphere.

Jan Gaffney, Montessori NewZ June 2007




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