Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the basis of Montessori?
It’s a learning method (the Montessori Method) based on scientific findings in the paediatric social and neurological world. Designed to respond to the natural growth and development of children, it’s an approach that values independence, hands-on learning, real-world application and problem solving. 100 years after it was first created and practiced by Dr Maria Montessori, modern research is confirming many of her findings. But at the heart of Montessori is peace. It’s a pedagogy centered on teaching and fostering peace for this, and future generations.
Is Montessori a fun way to learn?
Absolutely. Just look around and you’ll see that the kids are happy, relaxed and engaged. After all it’s their place and space – somewhere where they’re free to do the things they enjoy. Montessori teachers are experts at preparing the classroom environment and providing the children with activities and materials that make learning fun. That’s key to nurturing real joy and an enduring love of learning in the children.
So what do the kids get up to in a Montessori preschool? Watch one little boy's 3-hour morning condensed down to 5 minutes.
(C) Lindsay Palmer Photography: http://www.lindsaypalmer.ca
Does Montessori suit all children?
Montessori was designed to respond to the natural growth and development of children. It’s an approach that values independence, hands-on learning, real-world application and problem solving. Usually it suits a wide spectrum of personalities, temperaments and learning styles. And because we observe and follow the individual child, it’s also highly personalised to the style and pace of learning for each child, not just the average or typical child. Very few children don’t fit or thrive in a Montessori environment and there is ultimate freedom within the classroom for your child to follow his or her own learning journey, in their own way, in their own time.
Why do children attend five days a week?
In a Montessori learning community the children come along and interact and build relationships with the same group of children and teachers each day, ideally starting with five mornings (until 1pm) and when they are ready or older, they can attend up to five days from around 8.30am – 3pm. As your child settles into preschool they may need shorter or fewer days, and your child’s lead teacher is the best person to talk to about this. For the children it offers a safe, secure and consistent place, with people and routines they know well. It becomes their community – the 'Casa dei Bambini' or ‘Children's House’.
Does Montessori suit active kids who like being outside?
Montessori is great for children who like to be outdoors. In each of our classrooms the children have free and unrestricted access to the garden throughout the day (except in very bad weather). They really enjoy doing activities outside, taking care of the gardens where we grow fruit, vegetables and flowers and exploring the natural environment, bird and insect life. For older children who stay beyond five, they have more free access to the outdoors than they would in a traditional primary school classroom.
Why do you have lower teacher-child ratios than some daycare centres?
In New Zealand there is a requirement for one adult per ten children aged over two years of age in any early childhood setting, and we always meet or exceed this. And for children who stay beyond five, there is a much higher teacher ratio compared to a primary classroom, where there would be just one teacher. In a Montessori classroom the real work of learning belongs to the child. The teachers are there to prepare the environment, observe and guide the children. Their role is to support them to be the independent and capable little people they are driven to be.
How is Montessori different to my local kindy or playcentre?
Montessori, Playcentre and Kindergarten all follow New Zealand's National Early Childhood Education Curriculum – Te Whariki. At Capital we combine this with Montessori philosophy to deliver an authentic Montessori learning environment. There are some things you might notice that are quite different. We don’t have a lot of things like toys, play dough, dolls, dress ups etc. but we do have lots of art and craft activities, books, puzzles and games. We have some special Montessori materials designed to support the children’s learning and natural development. And we also create interesting and engaging activities for the children that they won’t find anywhere else. The children also actively participate in practical life activities like taking care of the classroom, food preparation and baking, and tending and harvesting the classroom garden. Some things are very similar. The children have complete freedom to choose what they do while they’re at preschool and we do come together to enjoy kai, stories and songs.
Do you offer a school holiday programme?
Yes. We follow the NZ primary school terms (four each year, approximately 10 weeks each term) with an optional holiday programme for enrolled children in the two-week breaks between terms 1, 2 and 3. We also sometimes run a short school holiday programme in January. Parents can choose which days and sessions (morning or full day) their child attends and there is an additional small fee (currently $15) per child, per day.
Do children do activities alone a lot? Do they make friends?
Montessori classrooms are very social places with lots of opportunity for the children to talk, work and build relationships with each other and their teachers, as they freely go about their day. We also model and guide the children on grace and courtesy, helping them to learn how to be a good friend and classmate, and treat each other with kindness and respect. And we share stories and song together as part of our day. Children often work together in small groups, but they’re not made to participate in any group activities – that’s their choice. Many strong friendships are formed and the classroom is a very warm, welcoming and supportive place.
Why do children stay until they’re six? Does my child have to?
To complete the full three-year Montessori preschool programme a child starts around 3 years and finishes at around 6. At what age your child moves on from preschool is entirely up to your family. We believe a child gets the full benefit of Montessori by staying on beyond 5, but it is not compulsory.
Mixed age classrooms are an essential part of a Montessori learning community. Our five year olds have a very important and valued role in the classroom. They strengthen their own learning by teaching the younger children, and they gain confidence and get great joy and satisfaction from taking on a leadership role. The younger children are supported and helped by their older peers, as they increasingly learn to do things themselves and eventually become leaders themselves.
Some of our children go on to Montessori primary which supports the learning of children from 6-9 and 9-12 years. Others transition to many of the surrounding local primary schools including Brooklyn, Ridgeway, Berhampore, Island Bay, Owhiro Bay and Lyall Bay. In New Zealand children don't have to be enrolled at a primary school until they are six. The decision on where to next, and at what age, is entirely up to you and what’s right for your child and family, but there is enormous value in staying until six.
Interested in finding out more? Here are two links to commentary on the value of starting primary school later, from one of New Zealand’s leading experts in education and child development, neuroscience educator Nathan Mikaere-Wallis.
Montessori Parent Guide
Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand has produced a useful Parent Guide to help parents better understand Montessori education and find answers to your questions about Montessori.