An important concept in Montessori education is “freedom within limits.” Dr. Montessori’s observations showed that children are more motivated to learn when working on something of their own choosing. At MSR, a student may choose their focus of learning on any given day, but their choice is limited by the materials and activities the teacher has prepared and presented to him. Beginning during the second semester of the kindergarten year, students set learning goals and create personal work plans under their teacher’s guidance.
I am first and foremost a Montessori parent. One of the primary outcomes I am thankful and attribute to my children’s Montessori experience is their love of learning. Dr. Montessori realized that children’s play is their work and out of respect she used the term “work” to describe all their classroom activities. MSR students work hard, but they don’t experience it as drudgery; rather, it’s an expression of their natural curiosity and desire to learn. Approaching learning in this way associates joy with learning and creates life-long learners.
Although students are free to work at their own pace, they’re not going it alone. Our Montessori teachers closely observe each child and provide materials and activities that advance their learning by building on skills and knowledge already gained. This gentle guidance helps them master the challenge at hand—and protects them from moving on before they are ready, which is what actually causes children to “fall behind.”
Montessori School of Ruston teaches the same basic academic skills as traditional schools, and offers a rigorous academic program. Most of the subject areas are familiar—such as math, science, history, geography, and language but they are presented through an integrated approach that brings separate strands of the curriculum together.
While studying the continent of Africa, for example, students may explore the art, history, and inventions of several African nations. This may lead them to examine ancient Egypt, including hieroglyphs and their place in the history of writing. The study of the pyramids, of course, is a natural bridge to geometry. This approach to curriculum shows the interrelatedness of all things. It also allows students to become thoroughly immersed in a topic and to give their curiosity full rein.
Our Montessori certified teachers are educated as “generalists,” qualified to teach all sections of the curriculum; however, Montessori School of Ruston also employs specialists to teach spanish, music, art, woodworking, outdoor education and physical education.
A cornerstone of Montessori philosophy is intrinsic motivation. Montessori educators are trained in careful observation of the child. They are always watching in order to nurture the motivation that comes from within, kindling the child’s natural desire to learn. In this way, assessments are happening in real time throughout the day. Grades are viewed as an external motivator and therefore are not useful to the Montessori teacher. Our seventh and eighth grade students do begin using a grading system as preparation for the potential transition to a traditional high school.
Montessori School of Ruston administers the IOWA exam to all students annually in 2nd through 8th grade. The results are used by the school to assess our school’s academic program overall and guide necessary adjustments as needed.
An advantage of the Montessori approach, including multi-age classrooms with students of varying abilities and interests, is that it allows each child to work at their own pace. Students whose strengths and interests propel them to higher levels of learning can find intellectual challenge without being separated from their peers. The same is true for students who may need extra guidance and support: each can progress through the curriculum at his own comfortable pace, without feeling pressure to "catch up."
From a Montessori perspective, every child is considered gifted, each in their own way. Every child has unique strengths—it is all a matter of perspective. Each child is evaluated and approached individually, which is why a one on one visit to the school is necessary prior to enrollment.
Montessori students typically do quite well in life. Most of our students report being accepted into the high schools and colleges of their choice. Many successful grads cite their years at Montessori when reflecting on important influences in their life.
Internationally, there is a new interest in research comparing Montessori educated students to those in traditional education. The findings thus far suggest that in academic subjects, Montessori students perform as well as or better than their non-Montessori peers.
In one study, for example, children who had attended Montessori schools at the preschool and elementary levels earned higher scores in high school on standardized math and science tests. Another study found that the essays of 12-year-old Montessori students were more creative and used more complex sentence structures than those produced by the non-Montessori group.
I like to tell people I didn’t choose Montessori for the academics. My children have thrived academically but it is the social and spiritual development that has been the outstanding difference. Current research shows Montessori students to have greater social and behavioral skills. They demonstrate a greater sense of fairness and justice, for example, and are more likely to choose positive responses for dealing with social dilemmas.
There are many noteworthy people who were Montessori educated. They include author Anne Frank, Former First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Chef Julia Child, Larry Page and Sergey Brin (founders of Google.com), Princes William and Henry, Katharine Graham (former owner/editor of Washington Post), and Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon.com). Other noteworthy people associated with Montessori include Bill and Hillary Clinton, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Fred Rogers (i.e., Mister Rogers), Jean Piaget, and Alice Waters.
[Adapted from the American Montessori Society Website]