FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions
Know More About West Hills Montessori.

General

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 will end up shortchanged. They fear that the younger children will absorb the teachers’ time and attention, or that the importance of covering the kindergarten curriculum for the five year olds will prevent them from giving the three and four year olds the emotional support and stimulation that they need. Both concerns, although understandable, are misguided.

Montessori classes are organized to encompass a two or three year age span for several reasons. First of all, the different age groups work off each other, to the advantage of both. Younger students benefit from the stimulation of older children, who in turn benefit from serving as role models. Secondly, each child learns at his/her own pace and will be ready for any given lesson in his/her own time. In a mixed-age class, children can always find peers who are working at their current level. Finally, children normally stay in the same class for three years. With two-thirds of the class normally returning each year, the classroom culture tends to remain quite stable. Working in one class for two or three years at a time allows students to develop a strong sense of community with their classmates and teachers. The age range also allows especially gifted children the stimulation of intellectual peers, without requiring that they skip a grade or feel emotionally out of place.

Why do Montessori classes tend to be larger than those found in many other schools?

Because many schools take pride in having very small classes, parents often wonder why Montessori classes are so large (Montessori classes commonly group together twenty-five to thirty children covering a three-year age span).

Schools that place children together into small groups assume that the teacher, as the source of instruction, is a very limited resource. They reason that as the number of children decreases, the time that teachers have to spend with each child increases. Ideally, they would have a one-on-one tutorial situation.

At Montessori schools, however, we recognize that the best teacher of a three-year-old is often another somewhat older child. Although in this situation the teacher is not the primary focus, both the ”tutor” and the ”pupil” have a learning experience. The larger group size puts the focus less on the adult and encourages children to learn from each other. By consciously bringing children together in larger multi-age class groups, in which two-thirds of the children normally return each year, the school environment promotes continuity and the development of a stable community.

Why do most Montessori schools ask young children to attend five days a week?

Two and three day programs are often attractive to parents who do not need full-time care; however, five-day programs create the consistency that is so important to young children and which is essential in developing strong Montessori programs. Since the primary goal of Montessori involves creating a culture of consistency, order, and empowerment, most Montessori schools will expect children to attend five days a week.

Why is Montessori so expensive compared to conventional schools?

Montessori programs are typically more expensive to organize and run than conventional classrooms due to: a) the extensive teacher education needed for certification, and b) the extremely high costs of the educational materials and beautiful furniture needed to equip each Montessori classroom.

However, Montessori is not always more expensive. Tuition costs depend on many factors, including the cost of the buildings and grounds, teacher salaries, the size of the school, the programs it offers, and whether the school receives a subsidy payment from a sponsoring church, charity, or government agency.

Why do most Montessori schools want children to enter at age three?

Dr. Montessori identified four ”planes of development”, where each plane, or stage, has its own developmental characteristics and developmental challenges. The first plane extends from ages three to six, and is designed to work with the ”absorbent mind”, “sensitive periods”, and the tendencies of children at this stage of their development.

Learning that takes place during these years comes spontaneously without effort, leading children to enter the elementary classes with a clear, concrete sense of many abstract concepts. Montessori helps children to become self-motivated, self-disciplined, and to retain the sense of curiosity that so many children lose along the way in traditional classrooms. They tend to act with care and respect toward their environment and each other. They are able to work at their own pace and ability. The three-year Montessori experience tends to nurture a joy of learning that prepares them for further challenges.

This process seems to work best when children enter a Montessori program at age two or three and stay at least through the kindergarten year. Children entering at age four or five do not consistently come to the end of the three-year cycle having developed the same skills, work habits, or values. Older children entering Montessori may do quite well in this very different setting, but this will depend to a large degree on their personality, previous educational experiences, and the way they have been raised at home.

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, but Montessori education is designed in such a way that it can cater to everyone. Every child has areas of special gifts, a unique learning style, and some areas that can be considered special challenges. Each child is unique. Montessori is designed to allow for differences. It allows students to learn at their own pace and is quite flexible in adapting for different learning styles. Children who are easily over-stimulated, or those who tend to be overly aggressive, may be examples of children who might not adapt as easily to a Montessori program. However, each situation is different, and it is best to work with the schools in your area to see if it appears that a particular child and school would be a good match.

How do Montessori teachers meet the needs of so many different children?

A great teacher is one who helps his or her students get to the point where their minds and hearts are open and ready for learning. Montessori teachers do just that, by leading children to ask questions, think for themselves, explore, investigate, and discover. Their ultimate objective is to help their students to learn independently and retain the curiosity, creativity, and intelligence with which they were born. Montessori teachers don’t simply present lessons; they are facilitators, mentors, coaches, and guides.

Traditionally, teachers have told us that they ”teach students the basic facts and skills that they will need to succeed in the world.” Studies show that in an average classroom, a substantial portion of the day is spent on discipline and classroom management.

Education as viewed through the lens of Montessori, however, is a bit different. The primary role of a Montessori teacher is to prepare and maintain the physical, intellectual, and social/emotional environment within which the children will work. They will not spend much time teaching lessons to the whole class at once. Instead, they usually present lessons to small groups of children and limit lessons to brief, clear presentations. The goal is to give the children just enough to capture their attention and spark their interest, intriguing them enough that they will come back on their own to work with the learning materials.

Montessori teachers also closely monitor their students’ progress. Because they normally work with each child for two or three years, they get to know their students’ strengths and weaknesses, interests, and personalities extremely well. Montessori teachers often use the children’s interests to enrich the curriculum and provide alternate avenues for accomplishment and success.

Will my child be able to adjust to traditional public or private schools after Montessori?

By the end of age five, Montessori children are normally curious, self-confident, enthusiastic learners who honestly want to learn and, in turn, look forward to going to school. At this point, they have spent two or three years in a school where they were treated with honesty and respect. While there were clear expectations and ground rules, within that framework, their opinions and questions were taken quite seriously. Unfortunately, there are still some schools where children who offer opinions and pose questions are seen as challenging authority.

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. Others may not understand why everyone in the class has to do the same thing at the same time, or why they have to ask before using the bathroom. But, most will adapt to their new setting fairly quickly, making new friends, and succeeding within the definition of success understood in their new school. Naturally, there will be trade-offs if a Montessori child transfers to a traditional school, as 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.

There is an old saying that goes, ”If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” This mentality is what leads many families to continue their children in Montessori at least through the sixth grade. As more Montessori high schools are opened in the United States and abroad, it is likely that this trend will continue.

Why are freedom and independence valued so highly at Montessori schools?

Children are taught by everything in their environment. In a sense, the human mind is handmade, because through movement and touch, children explore, manipulate, and build a storehouse of impressions about the physical world around them. Children learn best by doing, and this requires movement and spontaneous investigation. Therefore, 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 given that they will 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, and more. Gradually, they learn to pay attention, which allows them to notice smaller details in the things around them. They begin to observe and appreciate their environment. Instead of showing them what they need to know, Montessori methods point them in a direction where they can discover it for themselves. This is a key in helping children become successful learners. Work assigned by adults rarely results in such enthusiasm and interest as does work that children freely choose for themselves. Our goal is less to teach facts and concepts, and more to help them to fall in love with the process of focusing their complete attention on something and mastering its challenge with enthusiasm.

On the other hand, 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. And on the flipside, 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.

Does Montessori teach religion?

Except for those schools that are associated with a particular religious community, Montessori does not teach religion. Many Montessori schools celebrate holidays, such as Christmas, Hanukah, and Chinese New Year, which are religious in origin, but can be experienced on a cultural level as special days of family feasting, merriment, and wonder.

The young child rarely catches more than a glimmer of the religious meaning behind the celebration. Our goal is to focus on how children would normally experience each festival within their culture: the special foods, songs, dances, games, stories, presents – a potpourri of experiences aimed at all the senses of a young child.

On the other hand, one of our fundamental aims is the inspiration of the child’s heart. While Montessori does not teach religion, we do present the great moral and spiritual themes, such as love, kindness, joy, and confidence in the fundamental goodness of life in simple ways that encourage the child to begin the journey toward being fully alive and fully human. Everything is intended to nurture within the child a sense of joy and appreciation of life.

Does West Hills Montessori offer daily before/after care?

West Hills Montessori offers the convenience of a full day facility, with supervised care available from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM. Morning care is individualized to help children transition happily to the start of their school day. Parents are welcome to drop children off with breakfast; a story or access to arts and crafts materials for creative expression prepares your child for a pleasant start to his/her day. At the end of the school day, children are offered healthy snack options while being read to. We offer multiple outdoor playgrounds with age appropriate play equipment. In addition, we have a safe indoor recreational area for use during inclement weather, where children have access to appropriate games and toys as their day winds down. Children are dismissed directly to their parents, or the parent-authorized adults designated on our Parent Pick-Up Authorization Form.

Terminology

Why is a Montessori classroom called a ''children's house''?

Dr. Montessori’s focus on the ”whole child” led her to develop a very different sort of school from the traditional teacher-centered classroom. To emphasize this difference, she named her first school the “Casa dei Bambini” or the “Children’s House”.

The Montessori classroom is not the domain of the adults in charge; it is, instead, a carefully prepared environment designed to facilitate the development of the children’s independence and sense of personal empowerment. This is a children’s community. They move freely within it, selecting work that captures their interest. In a very real sense, even small children are responsible for the care of their own child-sized environment. When they are hungry, they prepare their own snacks and drinks. They go to the bathroom without assistance. When something spills, they help each other carefully clean up.

Four generations of parents have been amazed to see small children in Montessori classrooms cut raw fruits and vegetables, sweep and dust, carry pitchers of water, and pour liquids with barely a drop spilled. The children normally go about their work so calmly and purposefully that it is clear to even the casual observer that they are the masters in this place: The ”Children’s House”.

What do Montessori schools mean by the term ''normalization''?

“Normalization” is a Montessori term that describes the process that takes place in Montessori classrooms around the world, in which young children, who typically possess short attention spans, learn to focus their intelligence and energies for long periods of time, and take tremendous satisfaction from their work.

In his book, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, E.M. Standing described the following characteristics of normalization in the child between the age of three and six:

  • A love of order
  • A love of work
  • Profound spontaneous concentration
  • Attachment to reality
  • Love of silence and working alone
  • Sublimation of the possessive instinct
  • Obedience
  • Independence and initiative
  • Spontaneous self-discipline
  • The power to act from real choice and not just from idle curiosity

What exactly is a ''prepared environment''?

Montessori educational method calls for free activity within a “prepared environment”, meaning an educational environment tailored to basic human characteristics, in which children of several different ages can learn the value of freedom and independence, and ultimately thrive. In addition to offering access to the Montessori materials appropriate to the age of the children, a prepared environment exhibits the following characteristics:

  • Construction in proportion to the child and his/her needs
  • Beauty and harmony
  • Cleanliness of environment
  • Order
  • An arrangement that facilitates movement and activity
  • Materials that supports the child’s development

Misconceptions

Is Montessori Elitist?

No. Montessori is an educational philosophy and approach that can be found in all sorts of settings, from the most humble buildings to large, well-equipped campuses. In general, Montessori schools consciously strive to create and maintain a diverse student body, welcoming families of every ethnic background and religion, and using scholarships and financial aid to keep their school accessible to deserving families. Montessori is also found in the public sector as magnet public school programs, Head Start centers, and charter schools.

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, as the motivation it creates is strictly artificial.

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 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 or her by the school.

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 adults and other children. They make up stories. They imagine. This misguided impression that Montessori children never play 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. It is true that Montessori students 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. However, despite what it may seem, their work is joyful, playful, and anything but drudgery.

Is Montessori opposed to fantasy and creativity?

Of course not; 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 naturally integrated into the rest of the curriculum, and fantasy and creativity endure.

Is Montessori unstructured?

At first glance, Montessori may look unstructured to some, but looks can be deceiving; Montessori 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.

At the early childhood level, external structure is limited to clear-cut ground rules and correct procedures that provide guidelines and structure for three and four year olds. By age five, most schools introduce some sort of formal system to help students keep track of what they have accomplished and what they still need to complete.

Elementary Montessori children typically 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 complete them. Beyond these basic, individually tailored assignments, children explore topics that capture their interest and imagination and share them with their classmates.

Is it true that Montessori's method first developed for children with severe developmental delays?

The Montessori approach has evolved over many years as the result of Dr. Montessori’s work with countless different populations and age groups. One of the earliest groups with which she worked was a population of children who had been placed in a residential care setting because of severe developmental delays. However, the Montessori method is used today with a wide range of children, and is most commonly found in educational programs designed for the students typical of most classrooms.