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I have visited a number of Montessori schools as we consider a placement for our 3 and 4 year old children next year. I see the children all busy on different projects, and it all looks great. But can it really work? How can one teacher, even with an assistant, really keep track of who did what and be sure that each child is progressing and getting what she or he needs? All those children—all those needs. I can see it more for younger children, but I really get concerned in the Elementary grades. Does this method really work?


Dear Concerned Parent,

I am so glad you are looking at Montessori schools for your children and that you have started the search so early. Many schools have rolling admissions and are open to admission at times other than the start of the school year or semester.

The Montessori Method works, as it is truly an individualized approach to education. Each child spends his or her school days in a carefully prepared environment with a group of multi-aged learners and a guide. A child chooses activities that call to her from within that environment while her guide watches her interests and offers lessons. From there, she develops a set of skills upon which to build. She practices the lessons she has learned and asks for new lessons as soon as those are comfortably mastered.

Children in the Montessori prepared environment also have the opportunity to watch others work and are often enticed by the work of those older children, aspiring to do what they do. This leads to more and more advanced work within the classroom as a whole and by your child individually. No child needs to wait for another child to have mastered a skill to move on! She has a new lesson as soon as she is able. Children also assist others younger than themselves, often teaching lessons they have already mastered. The child teaching lessons is one of the best ways to ensure mastery and confidence about something they have learned. It also leads to a kind and caring community.

Children have a say in what parts of the curriculum with which they engage and when they do so—always with awareness and support from the guide and other adults in the room.

Guides spend time observing the class to see which children are working at the mastery level on certain skills and are ready for a new lesson, which children need re-presentation, and which children need social

encouragement. They carefully chart these observations on paper or on the many computer programs that are now available and used in schools. While the classroom may look free flowing and easy going, it is actually a skill and data-driven environment, even though students do follow their own interests and work on projects and activities of their choosing. Their connection with their guide—often for three

years—enhances this relationship and connection and allows for learning to happen more easily from year to year. They offer carefully timed lessons to children as they are ready. These lessons are often one on one, but can be executed with the whole class or small groups. It is often hard to find the guide in the classroom as she is working with only a few children at a time.

In answer to your question, yes, the Method can and does work!

Children have a say in what parts of the curriculum with which they engage and when they do so— always with awareness and support from the guide and other adults in the room. Children learn initiative, self-control, and discipline while mastering basic skills. This method truly parallels the expectations and skills needed as a child grows and faces more adult challenges.

Enjoy your journey looking at schools! Montessori schools truly are unparalleled! •

Cathie Perolmanis a reading specialist, elementary educator, author, consultant, and creator of educational materials for primary and elementary students. Check out her new downloadable materials on her website

For more than three decades she has dedicated her energies to improving reading for all youngsters.

She is the author of Practical Special Needs for the Montessori Method: A Handbook for 3-6Teachers and Homeschoolers published by the Montessori Foundation (available She is a regular contributor to Tomorrow’s Child and Montessori Leadership magazines.

Cathie Perolman holds a BS in Early Childhood Education and a MEd in Elementary Education with a concentration in reading. She is credentialed as a Montessori teacher. She is married and has two adult children and two adorable granddaughters. Cathie lives in Ellicott City, Maryland with her husband.