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Montessori Myths, Part 1

Maria Montessori began her first school, the Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) in Rome on January 6, 1907. It is therefore not surprising that there has been ample time for stories, both good and bad, to be told about the Montessori system. You may have heard a few of them:

There is no structure or rules in Montessori.

  • There is too much structure, too many rules.

  • Montessori education is just for students who cannot thrive in a traditional classroom.

  • Montessori is just for atypical children who struggle learning the traditional way.

  • Students in Montessori don’t really work. They just “play” all day long.

  • And, many, many more.

Part 1 of our “Myth-busting” blog will focus on the first set of myths: that there is no structure and no rules; or on the other hand, there is too much structure, too many rules in Montessori.

We’ve talked a little bit about the structure of a student’s day in the Montessori system. The fact that we have consistent and specific expectations for each child is essential for any student to be successful in any system. It is the child’s responsibility to test everyone’s boundaries. You’ve seen it at home.

“Sweetheart, please walk around the pool.” Your child looks at you with a mischievous grin and walks a little faster. You repeat. “You need to walk around the pool to be safe.” Once again, your child walks just a little faster. At this point, you lay down the boundary, “If you do not walk, you will get to sit next to me until you are able to walk carefully around the pool.” Of course, it’s never that easy. At that point, your very strong-willed child runs AWAY from you. You, knowing that this is not one of those things that your child can be ambivalent about, walk calmly to her, pick her up and let her sit right next to you until she lets you know that she can walk.

These are the boundaries that every child is seeking. They want to know when they go too far and they want to push the envelope until they reach those boundaries. A system without very clearly stated boundaries simply confuses the child. So, it is clear in a Montessori classroom, that the students walk in each day, get their work plans out, chooses their first work, and begins working. It is not play time during the morning. We save that for recess. It’s time to focus on our work and every single students understands why.

Now, does that mean that there are too many rules--too much structure in a Montessori system. Walk into any Montessori classroom and the busy hum, the constant movement, the joy in each child as they go from “work” to “work” and you will see that the structure that was put in place is there simply to allow every child to thrive. Unlike in a traditional classroom, no one has to ask to use the bathroom, to get a drink of water, to get up and walk around if it is needed. However, each of us must also respect everyone else’s work time. So, everyone must walk quietly so as not to disturb their classmates. They must observe quietly as well for the same reason. The movement is constant, yet not distracting; essential, yet not required. Their freedom to choose is there; but not the freedom to distract. It’s a perfect balance of just the right amount of structure; rules that make sense and can easily be followed--and often, rules that are made by the students to ensure they are getting all that they need from the classroom.

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