All About Montessori

Our early years expert Jenny Mollon digs into the Montessori curriculum to ask what makes it special, and why it could be exactly the right fit for your child...
All About Montessori
By David Westley
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As you navigate the maze that is choosing good childcare, you may come across the Montessori curriculum and wonder just what exactly it is? Surely all nurseries are simply places where children are free to make a lot of mess, noise and chaos thus saving your home, ear drums and sanity?

Whilst it may seem this way on the surface, there are many different approaches to learning for children under five. Here we explore what sets the Montessori curriculum apart from the rest. 

The Montessori Method is named after the founder of the system, Dr Maria Montessori.

Developed in Rome more than 100 years ago, the curriculum reflects Dr Montessori’s own child development theories. Montessori believed that children learn best through independent exploration and discovery in an environment that had been carefully prepared by the teacher.

Learning is supported by the use of Montessori specific materials (often wooden puzzles and sensory play resources) and class groups should be multi-age (most commonly 3-5/6), to allow for the important role that other children play in development and learning.

Without these materials and multi age groups, it is doubtful whether an establishment can really call itself Montessori at all – parents be aware!


The Role of Teachers in Montessori

“The teacher, when she begins to work in our schools, must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work. She must free herself from all preconceived ideas concerning the levels at which the children may be. (…). So what must she look out for? That one child or another will begin to concentrate.” —Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 276

Montessori had wildly modern ideas about teaching for her time. Her belief that teachers must at all times “follow the child” must have seemed bizarre in a world full of rote learning and traditional teaching methods. The Montessori curriculum today still reflects this as a fundamental principle – a teacher is there to guide and facilitate rather than to lead and instruct. Parents should look for teachers who create cleverly engaging activities, then step back and allow children to draw their own conclusions.


The Montessori Classroom

The design and layout of Montessori classrooms is seen as critical to the successful implementation of the curriculum. Parents who are viewing a Montessori Nursery should look for the following features:

  • Areas that allow for both individual learning and group work
  • Areas for quiet time
  • Easily accessible resources, stored at child height
  • Thoughtful, age appropriate activities that can be undertaken by children with minimal adult guidance
  • Age appropriate books, accessible without adult help
  • Inspiring wall displays, often including maps and pictures of animals and nature


Montessori for Special Needs Children

Montessori nurseries may offer a number of interesting benefits to children with special or additional learning needs. In particular, the nature of the multi age class groups can provide each child with peers who are both ahead of and matching their particular stage of development.

The “follow the child’ principle supports children in learning at their own pace and Montessori learning materials are often designed with sensory learning in mind, allowing children to explore and learn with their hands and senses.


So should we choose Montessori?

Montessori is extremely popular all over the world. However this popularity can mean that the “Method” can be mis-interpreted or diluted in some settings.

As always, would advise you to do your homework and trust your gut. Some commonly cited criticisms of the style include:

- Parents may find the “multi age” factor an issue. Seeing little Ted jostle with tall-for-his-age Ali for materials and an opportunity to learn is certainly hard and requires careful (and gentle) intervention by staff. Group sizes can be large and the classrooms themselves big. Will your child thrive in this environment – or would they benefit from being in a smaller group of children closer to their own age?

- Montessori is a highly structured method, despite advocating freedom of exploration. Activities are created or chosen by the teacher – does it really leave open the opportunity for your child to follow their own interests?

- Given the Montessori emphasis on children learning at your child’s own pace, will any Special Education Needs be picked up in time for an (all important) early intervention?

- How well does Montessori prepare your child for a “regular” curriculum school? What will the transition be like? 

There are many great Montessori nurseries. Look for teachers with Montessori specific qualifications, thoughtfully laid out classrooms and specialised Montessori curriculum materials. Remember to ask all the questions you would of any other nursery – ultimately the health and safety of your child is paramount above curriculum choice. 

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