Book Reviews :: a parent’s guide to the montessori classroom

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published every Friday. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

A brief description of the learning that occurs in a Montessori classroom. By Aline Wolf.

A brief description of the learning that occurs in a Montessori classroom by Aline Wolf.

This little booklet was ‘one of many’ lifesavers during my first year as a new Montessori teacher. I was still learning how to facilitate, guide and present the materials to my students and there were days when I found the effort to be futile. Looking back, I still had a lot to internalize – both as a parent and as a teacher. This guide was a short, easy way to reinforce my Montessori purpose – and a great recommendation for parents who were considering the question, “why Montessori?”

Although I love the clear information it gives, prospective parents in today’s landscape might question the seemingly strong focus on “academics.” And, I will admit that I believe unstructured play to be very, very important for young children. Fortunately, I like to think that Dr. Montessori might have felt the same way. She just felt children should do that sort of free play at home – not at school.

The children she “honed her skills with” were poor children who were left to their own devices because their parents worked, in a reckless version of the free-range movement. Slightly older children teaching younger children to roam the streets. Yet Dr. Montessori found that they were craving this intellectual knowledge. They had gotten their fill of free play and were looking for other intellectual outlets. Of course, she did reject those children who could not settle down after a set amount of time, so we can’t exactly trust the ethos that Montessori is for everyone.*

Practical Life activities are an important part of a Montessori primary classroom.

Practical Life activities are an important part of a Montessori primary classroom.

Wolf’s slim book presents such compelling arguments for the practical life and sensorial “works” in a classroom that many parents will happily pay the high price tag of private school to let their children learn how to carefully pour water! The focus and lengthy concentration that three and four year-olds devote to these activities lend themselves to other pursuits. If anything, I think this extreme focus is the value of a Montessori education. The ability to lose oneself in a task – and to repeat it for the sheer joy of learning – is one of most beautiful things a teacher (or parent) can witness.

The focus of this book is the primary classroom, ages three to six, but Wolf briefly mentions the value of a Montessori education for both elementary-aged students and toddlers. She focuses on many of the different aspects of a Montessori primary classroom and to an uninitiated parent, it would seem as if your child will master all of these skills – geography, botany, reading, writing and advanced mathematics. That does set the bar rather high and I would caution perspective parents to view it more as a buffet of choices for your child.

If they are interested in botany, there are a number of materials to support a child’s interest, but most children will not delve deeply into that area. Parents need to understand that there is only so much time in the day and these materials are intended for a 3-year cycle of education. If your child only comes to Montessori at age three and leaves at age four, their education will look different. If they need an extra year to “settle” down, then they will need extra time to cover the other materials.

If you are considering a Montessori education for your child, grab a copy of this book and peruse the aspects of a good Montessori classroom. Not all schools that call themselves “Montessori” are true to her vision or even her philosophy. The very beautiful Montessori school near our area is only a “true” Montessori school through kindergarten. At that point, the children are given homework and the didactic materials disappear by second grade. That’s not to say that it isn’t a high-quality school, just that it succumbs to the pressure of being compatible with the local public schools.

Hopefully, this book can help you to determine if your prospective school is truly a Montessori school – and if you actually want your child to receive a Montessori education.

* If you have the time, check out the “unauthorized” biography by Rita Kramer for a more neutral take on Dr. Montessori and her method of education.

The teacher plays an important role - not for disseminating information, but for guiding a child has they follow their interests.

The teacher plays an important role – not for disseminating information, but for guiding a child as they follow their interests.