Why Montessori?

When parents first contact us, they often have heard of Montessori education, but don’t really know much about it.

What is Montessori? Are all Montessori schools alike, or are there differences? Why do children have so much freedom in your classrooms?  How come they are so focused—and not as wild and loud as children at other schools?

We love it when parents have these and many other similar questions: it’s our opportunity to show you just how different and wonderful Montessori, when done right, is for children!

Continue reading to discover the four attributes of a high-quality, authentic Montessori program. You’ll learn what to look for in a Montessori school, and why finding a good Montessori school can, quite literally, change your child’s life for the better.

When n most daycare centers and schools (including many that bear the Montessori name), children are grouped by narrow age ranges: there’s the two’s class, the three’s class, the pre-k class and so on. Every new school year, each teacher starts over with a whole new group of children in her class.

That’s not so in an authentic Montessori school.

In Montessori, children stay with their teachers for 18 months (infants, toddlers) to three years (preschool/kindergarten and elementary). This has many benefits: these mixed-age communities make individualized, self-motivated learning possible, and support the development of mature, pro-social skills.

  • A trusting, long-term relationship between teacher, parents and child.
  • The opportunity for each child to be optimally challenged, no matter where she falls on the ability scale. Cognitive, social, and emotional development vary tremendously from child to child. Some four-year-olds are strong readers—but may struggle with social skills. Others are totally psyched to learn about rocks, plants, and animals—and may not yet be fascinated by literacy skills. As our primary teachers are trained for ages two and a half to about seven, and as classrooms have materials for all these ages, every child can work in her own “zone of proximate development” (that magical space when a task is difficult enough to stretch, but not so hard that it  frustrates the learner), all the time!
  • Mentoring and mentorship between children: peer learning.

In most preschool settings, children get shuttled by adults from one scheduled activity to the next: art time, followed by activity centers, followed by read-aloud, circle, snack, etc. This never allows children to truly immerse themselves in any one activity, to forget about everything else and just live in the moment, for the pure enjoyment of doing whatever they are doing. Children, like adults, need time—time to decide what to do, and to do it themselves, at their own pace, slowly, on their own terms, without the constant threat of being told to stop before they are all done, and to move on to the next thing.

This luxury of uninterrupted time to explore is what authentic Montessori offers—and it’s a main reason why children love coming to school at Council Oak!

In most preschools, for example, there’s a set art time. The teacher prepares an art activity, and the children come together as a group. After a demonstration all the children work on the art project simultaneously. Maybe 30-45 minutes later, it’s time to move on to the next activity—and the teacher cleans up, while the children may head outside to play.

In Montessori, by wonderful contrast, art is something that is available throughout the day. When a Montessori child decides she wants to paint, she sets up her easel with paper, paints, water and brushes. She puts on an apron and goes to work, and keeps at it until she determines that she is done. She hangs her painting to dry and cleans up her work area and ensures that it is ready for the next child.

Why is this child-initiated, self-directed approach better than the adult-led, group approach? Here’s why:

  • Autonomy fosters engagement, and ignites the spark within. Research shows that all humans learn best and work best when they have autonomy. This is especially important for children!
  • Freedom and responsibility encourage the development of critical executive function skills. Middle school teachers note that many children can’t persist in difficult tasks for extended periods. College students drift, unable to set goals and accomplish them. Researchers assert that many of these challenges can be traced to poorly developed executive functions skills—such as the ability to self-regulate, to control impulses, to acquire a strong working memory, and to practice cognitive flexibility. Montessori is the perfect environment for children to practice these essential skills daily! An infant is allowed to persist in pulling up on a bar as long as she wants—instead of being interrupted to join a group snack time. A toddler would love to have the material another child has—but learns to wait for his turn, standing patiently with hands-behind-back, while observing, instead of impulsively snatching the material away, or demanding that the other child “share.” A preschooler comes to school wanting to build the pink tower—but a friend is using it, and she needs to move on to her second choice.
  • Real learning and doing things yourself is fun—but it takes time and doesn’t conform to adult-imposed schedules. Independence and deep engagement takes time, and can’t be fit into 30-minute increments of adult-led group activities. Children in our Montessori programs love having the time to do things for themselves, to get into a flow state, to do their thing at their own pace, on their terms. Just come and observe a class and see for yourself!

Children Are Empowered to Acquire Executive Function Skills

In most preschool settings, children get shuttled by adults from one scheduled activity to the next: art time, followed by activity centers, followed by read-aloud, circle, snack, etc. This never allows children to truly immerse themselves in any one activity, to forget about everything else and just live in the moment, for the pure enjoyment of doing whatever they are doing. Children, like adults, need time—time to decide what to do, and to do it themselves, at their own pace, slowly, on their own terms, without the constant threat of being told to stop before they are all done, and to move on to the next thing.

In most preschools, for example, there’s a set art time. The teacher prepares an art activity, and the children come together as a group. After a demonstration all the children work on the art project simultaneously. Maybe 30-45 minutes later, it’s time to move on to the next activity—and the teacher cleans up, while the children may head outside to play.

In Montessori, by wonderful contrast, art is something that is available throughout the day. When a Montessori child decides she wants to paint, she sets up her easel with paper, paints, water and brushes. She puts on an apron and goes to work, and keeps at it until she determines that she is done. She hangs her painting to dry and cleans up her work area and ensures that it is ready for the next child.

Why is this child-initiated, self-directed approach better than the adult-led, group approach? Here’s why:

  • Autonomy fosters engagement, and ignites the spark within.Research shows that all humans learn best and work best when they have autonomy. This is especially important for children!
  • Freedom and responsibility encourage the development of critical executive function skills. Middle school teachers note that many children can’t persist in difficult tasks for extended periods. College students drift, unable to set goals and accomplish them. Researchers assert that many of these challenges can be traced to poorly developed executive functions skills—such as the ability to self-regulate, to control impulses, to acquire a strong working memory, and to practice cognitive flexibility. Montessori is the perfect environment for children to practice these essential skills daily! An infant is allowed to persist in pulling up on a bar as long as she wants—instead of being interrupted to join a group snack time. A toddler would love to have the material another child has—but learns to wait for his turn, standing patiently with hands-behind-back, while observing, instead of impulsively snatching the material away, or demanding that the other child “share.” A preschooler comes to school wanting to build the pink tower—but a friend is using it, and she needs to move on to her second choice.
  • Real learning and doing things yourself is fun—but it takes time and doesn’t conform to adult-imposed schedules. Independence and deep engagement takes time, and can’t be fit into 30-minute increments of adult-led group activities. Children in our Montessori programs love having the time to do things for themselves, to get into a flow state, to do their thing at their own pace, on their terms. Just come and observe a class and see for yourself!

“Council Oak has given my daughter the greatest and most rewarding experience in Montessori education.  I remember bringing her to COMS 9 years ago when she was only 4 years old, and I have seen her flourish academically and socially. The family atmosphere has always been a draw for me and only gets better. In addition to the fabulous education available at COMS, the personal touch comes from having a principal and staff who genuinely cares about the students and their well-being, even outside of the classroom. I’m so glad we are a part of the COMS family!”

K. Gamble
parent of a Middle School graduate 2018

Our teachers guide and nurture students through motivating them and individualizing lessons.

When interviewing candidates, in addition to their credentials, we look for even more. We want our teachers to inspire – through their own love of learning, interests and hobbies they are passionate about sharing, and a commitment to creating a space for each member of the school community to thrive.

Early childhood workers vary widely in their qualifications. In most states, the legal requirements are minimal: Along with minimal qualifications often comes low pay and poor working conditions, which lead to a high staff turnover at many childcare centers.

Montessori teachers generally have at least some additional training. But even within Montessori, training can vary significantly. As Montessori is not a copyrighted term, anyone can offer “Montessori teacher training”.

That’s why at Council Oak, we are very selective on who we hire. We actively recruit the best candidates with an AMS or AMI Montessori credential from a MACTE-Certified teacher training program. These programs ensure the following:

  • A graduate-level course. Teacher candidates at a good Montessori training program like AMS and AMI need a Bachelor’s degree to be admitted to the program.

  • An in-person, year-long training program. We hire teachers from high-quality programs that are the equivalent of a full academic year program. Students attend classes in person, interacting with other students, experienced trainers, with the materials, and with children.

  • An in-depth exploration of early childhood development and the full range of Montessori materials.

  • Experienced master teachers as trainers.

  • External written and oral exams to graduate. Teacher candidates are examined by outside trainers. This helps ensure quality, and makes it all but impossible for training centers to graduate teachers who have not mastered the skills required to become excellent teachers.

Council Oak Montessori School