Monday, February 19, 2001

Q&A: A Montessori primer

        Question: How did Montessori education get its start?

Answer: Maria Montessori, a pioneering Italian physician, opened the world's first Montessori school in 1907 in Rome. It was called Casa dei Bambini, or Children's House, and was made up of 60 inner-city children.

        Ms. Montessori believed children teach themselves, having a natural tendency to work. So she designed a controlled environment in which children could freely choose from a variety of developmentally appropriate educational materials.

        She continued training teachers and refining her methods until she died in 1952.

        Q: How many Montessori schools exist?

A: No one knows for certain. Montessori is not a trademark, so any school can use the name and methods. There are two major organizations in the United States that Montessori schools can join: the American Montessori Society and the Association Montessori Internationale, both of which offer accreditation. However, many Montessori schools do not join either organization because of high membership dues. Of the estimated 5,000 Montessori schools in the United States, about 20 percent are affiliated with one of the groups.

        Q: What is the Montessori method?

        A: The Montessori approach is holistic, aimed at addressing the social, emotional, physical and intellectual needs of children.

        Montessori allows children to work at their own pace. Students choose their activities, within limits, and work on them as long as they need to grasp a concept.

        Much of the learning is through a multisensory approach, with hands-on materials called manipulatives, that help develop fine motor skills while students learn. Beads, blocks, flashcards, games and other objects are used to help children learn abstract concepts through concrete materials. Textbooks and worksheets are rarely used.

        Students are not graded and few tests are given. Instead, parents get progress reports of how their children have advanced.

        In addition to academic lessons, children do practical work, such as washing dishes, sweeping and watering flowers. When they are hungry, they prepare their own snacks.

        Montessori is aimed at developing self-motivation, self-confidence, self-discipline and respect for others.

        Q: Are all Montessori schools alike?

A: No. In fact, no two are the same. Some pride themselves on being true to Ms. Montessori's vision, while others relish their flexibility and adaptation. Each school reflects its own interpretation of the Montessori philosophies.

        Q: What ages does Montessori serve?

A: Most Montessori programs are for preschool and kindergarten students, ages 3-6. However, there are infant/toddler programs and elementary schools. Some Montessori programs reach into middle and high school.

        Q: What typifies a Montessori classroom?

A: Students are grouped by three-year age spans (3-6, 6-9, 9-12, etc.). Classes usually have 25-30 students.

        The older and younger children work with and learn from one another. Teachers create a noncompetitive environment where students do not feel behind or ahead of their peers.

        Q: Are Montessori students more successful later in life?

A: Research has shown that Montessori children are prepared academically, socially and emotionally. They typically score high on standardized tests and rank above average on things like following directions, listening, adapting to new situations and meeting deadlines.

        Q: How much does Montessori education cost?

        A: Tuition varies, depending on students' ages, whether the program is half-day or full-day and other factors. The cost for private Montessori schools in Greater Cincinnati ranges from $2,000 to $8,000 a year. Public school programs are free to students in those districts.

        Q: How has Montessori education developed in Cincinnati?

A: The Tristate is known as a leader in Montessori education. Montessori was first taught in the city in the 1920s by the Sisters of Notre Dame at “The Alpha” school in Hyde Park where Summit Country Day School is now.

        In 1965 there were 100 private Montessori schools in the nation and two of them were in Cincinnati — at Summit Country Day and Cincinnati Country Day in Indian Hill.

        In 1967, the Reading Community School District started the first public Montessori program. Cincinnati Public Schools followed in the mid-1970s.

        Xavier University was one of the first to offer Montessori training for teachers, beginning in 1965. That program teaches educators from across the world, making Cincinnati and Montessori synonymous in places like Korea.

        - Lori Hayes


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