Myth Busters: Montessori Edition

Most people hear the term Montessori and generally have some preconceived ideas of what the philosophy is all about; sometimes the ideas are accurate and other times they might be less so.  All too often, many parents base their ideas on misinformation handed down from sources outside of a Montessori school.  

Here are the 5 most common Montessori myths debunked.

1) Montessori students do whatever they want

When you peek into a Montessori classroom, you may see each child doing something different.  This might seem like mayhem but under closer scrutiny observers see that students are operating with self-direction and purpose.  Teachers are experienced in guiding a student’s momentum and allowing the appropriate level of freedoms.  In truth, there is an enormous amount of structure…but it follows the passion of the student.  

It’s important to note that choosing what you do is not the same as doing whatever you want.  While the children in a Montessori classroom do have freedom, they have freedom within boundaries and it is expected that the children will be making meaningful work choices throughout their day.  These choices are made under the watchful eye of their teacher (guide) who carefully observes to ensure each child is receiving a well rounded education.   

‘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!’”

E.M. Standing

Maria Montessori – Her Life and Work

2) The children in Montessori classrooms don’t learn how to do things right because no one corrects them when they’re wrong

While it is true that you won’t see red ink all over a Montessori student’s work, that’s not because the student is never corrected.  In fact, one of the amazing and unique features of many Montessori materials is that they are self-correcting, allowing the child to discover their error on their own using what is known in the Montessori world as The Control of Error.  When a guide notices a child making a mistake in their work, rather than mark it with ‘x’ and hand it back to the student, the student is invited to work with the teacher to find and correct their error with a little scaffolding from the teacher.  This fosters independence and confidence in a way that red ink just cannot.  

3) Montessori is just for preschool

That is a very common misconception and many people are surprised when they learn that Maria Montessori Academy spans from preschool to grade 12.  The philosophy is something that can be catered to the ages and the materials range from concrete for the younger students to more abstract as they grow and get older.  The Montessori philosophy lends itself well to all of the ages, including the middle and high school years.  Our program prepares the students for the ‘real world’; the children learn how to manage their time, prioritize projects and work collaboratively with others.

4) Montessori is too structured

Although every material in a Montessori classroom is very intentional and the environment is prepared with careful thought and purpose, there is freedom within the structure that allows the child to choose from a vast array of work choices.  The materials are meant to be handled carefully and used in a certain way in order to optimize learning.

5) Montessori is not structured enough

A successful Montessori classroom strikes a balance between structure and freedom of choice.  The structure is quite different from conventional school because it is based on the belief that children have an ability to concentrate on their tasks deeply and do not need to transition after short periods of work time.  In the Montessori classroom, each child creates their own work cycle based on individual interest and ability.  The cycle of self-directed activity lengthens the child’s attention span and ability to focus.  Structure is created by each child selecting their work choice, completing it and returning it to the shelf.

Instead of directing the whole group of children in one activity, the teacher moves quietly from child to child, giving individual lessons with materials.  

Maria Montessori observed that children naturally tend to use self-selected and purposeful activities to develop and refine existing skill sets.  The prepared environment in a Montessori classroom is structured to promote this natural process of human development.