Staying the Course: Montessori and the Kindergarten Year


Parents whose children are in their second year of a primary classroom are faced with a big decision: should their child remain at their Montessori school for the final year of the cycle or attend kindergarten at their local public school?

We understand how tough this decision can be.  Many parents ponder the cost of private kindergarten when there is a free option available.  Other families talk about the fact that their child won’t be able to stay in Montessori forever, so why not switch now?  Then again, the thought of leaving their Montessori school is difficult, because they know there is something different and special about this style of education.

Learning for Mastery

Montessori schools are intentionally structured utilizing a three-year cycle.  There are many great benefits to this, but one of them is to provide third year students with opportunities that they will not have in other environments.

Having spent the previous two years learning a multitude of skills in their classroom, the third year is about mastery.  The Montessori curriculum is a series of carefully developed lessons and materials that are meant to cycle back to a culminating experience during the final year.

All that time spend grasping knobbed cylinders, tracing metal insets, and practicing sandpaper letter formation?  The kindergartner uses all that knowledge as they begin to write with paper and pencil.

The years of early mathematical preparation?  Now they get to use the golden beads (or perhaps the stamp game material) to learn to add and subtract numbers into the thousands (yes, as kindergartners!).

Montessori’s early focus on teaching children sounds in lieu of letter names leads many children to begin reading by the time they are in kindergarten.

Children as Independent Leaders

Not only do guides observe children mastering these skills independently, but the children have the chance to teach to others.  Educators across many settings will agree that once the student becomes the teacher, we can surmise that true mastery has been attained.

So while your kindergarten child is teaching younger children how to do something, they are showing us just how well they know how to do it.  Not only that – they are gaining confidence in a truly authentic way.  No one needs to tell the child how well they are doing because they feel it themselves.

When children teach children, it’s not just about knowledge being shared, but also about cultivating world citizens.  Teaching each other is an act of kindness, and a way for children to practice helping others around them.

Fueling the Spark

In Montessori classrooms one of our greatest tasks is to keep the fire burning inside children’s minds.  We structure our work so that children may follow their passions and learn deeply about things that matter to them.  We see each child as an individual and think one-size-fits-all educational approaches tend to extinguish the joy of learning.

Instead of drilling facts into children, we place materials before them so that they may discover the truths of the world themselves.  Rather than asking them all to do the same thing at the same time, we value their choices and trust their educational process.  It is the guide’s job to keep them on track, but they offer children the freedom that lets them deeply explore the learning that calls to their souls.

Five Key Differences Between Montessori and Conventional Education

Conventional Montessori
Frequent and standardized testing starting at a young age. Teachers assess through careful observation and record-keeping.
Assigned seating, often at desks arranged in rows or small groups. Flexible, child-chosen seating, with options for individuals and groups, using both tables and the floor.
Use of external rewards, including praise, sticker charts, prizes, and grades. Reliance on internal motivation, or the belief that the joy of the work itself is all the motivation the child needs.  Offering beautiful, compelling materials will draw the child’s attention without the need for unrelated rewards.
The teacher is the head of the classroom. The children are the main focus of the classroom.  The guide delivers lessons unobtrusively and stands aside when the child is able to learn independently.
Main goal is to deliver a standards-based curriculum. Main goal is to cultivate curious and empathetic world citizens and lifelong learners.


Montessori Basics: The Planes of Development

Maria Montessori based her entire educational philosophy on the idea that children developed through a series of four planes.  Each of these planes is easy to recognize and has clear, defining characteristics.  If we study and understand these stages, we can approach our interactions with children with a new perspective.

Learning about the planes of development isn’t just for Montessori educators.  Understanding your child’s development can help at home, too.

The First Plane: birth-6 years

During this stage children absorb everything like sponges.  They are, indeed, excellent examples if what Montessori called ‘The Absorbent Mind.’  This is a time in which we are able to utilize what Montessori called sensitive periods of learning.  While each child is different, there are typical patterns that emerge in regards to brain development and general readiness to learn particular skills.

During the first three years of this plane, all learning is done outside of the child’s conscious mind.  They learn by exploring their senses and interacting with their environment.  During the second half of the plane, from about 3-6 years, children enter the conscious stage of learning.  They learn by using their hands, and specialized materials in the Montessori classroom were developed with this consideration.

During this time, children have a wonderful sense of order.  They are methodical and can appreciate the many steps involved in practical life lessons in their classrooms.  The organization of the works on their classroom shelves is intentional, which appeals again to this sense of order.

The first plane is a time in which children proclaim, “I can do it myself”; it is a time of physical independence.

The Second Plane: 6-12 years

During the elementary years children begin to look outside themselves.  They suddenly develop a strong desire to form peer groups.  Previously, during the first plane, a child would be content to focus on their own work while sitting near others.  In the second plane, a child is compelled to actually work with their friends.  It is during this time that children are ready to learn about collaboration.

During the second plane there is a sudden and marked period of physical growth.  This may be a contributing factor to the observation that many children of this age seem to lack an awareness of their body, often bumping into things and knocking things over.  Children begin to lose their teeth around this time as well.  Their sense of order and neatness tend to fade a bit during this plane.

Throughout the second plane, children’s imaginations are ignited.  Since Montessori education is based in reality, we find ways to deliver real information to children through storytelling and other similar methods.  For example, when teaching children about the beginnings of our universe, Montessori schools use what is called a Great Lesson.  The first Great Lesson is a dramatic story, told to children with the use of props, experiments, and dramatics (think: a black balloon filled with glitter is popped to illustrate the Big Bang, with bits of paper in a dish of water used while talking about particles gathering together).  This lesson is fascinating for children in the way it is presented, but gives them basic information about the solar system, states of matter, and other important concepts.

Children in the second plane have a voracious appetite for information, and are often drawn strongly to what we in Montessori call the cultural subjects: science, history, and geography.  While we support their rapid language and mathematical growth during this time, we are also responsible for providing them with a variety of rich cultural lessons and experiences.

It is important to note that children develop a sense of moral justice at this time.  They are very concerned with what is fair, and creating the rules to a new game is often as important (if not more so) than playing the actual game itself.

This is the period of time in which children are striving for intellectual independence.

The Third Plane: 12-18

The third plane of development encompasses the adolescent years.  During the second plane, children become aware of social connections, but in the third plane they are critical.  During this time children rely heavily on their relationships with their peers.  They feel a strong desire to remain independent from adults, although they are not quite ready to do this entirely.  It is our job to find ways that allow them to experiment with independence while also providing a safe structure in which they may do so.

Children in the third plane tend to require more sleep, and they sleep later than when they were younger.  They long for authentic learning experiences, and Dr. Montessori imagined just that.  Her ideas of Erdkinder (children of the earth) led her to contemplate a school setting that would support children’s development during this time.  She imagined a farm school, in which children would work to keep the farm operational, but also contribute to planning and decision making while doing so.

During the third plane children are refining their moral compass while developing a stronger sense of responsibility.

The Fourth Plane: 18-24

The final plane is a time in which young adults are striving for financial independence.  They are often living away from home for the first time, and use this time to figure out where they fit into their society.  Many make choices to further their education and/or explore career paths.

It is during the fourth plane that people begin to develop a truer sense of who they are as individuals.

Each plane of development should be mindfully nurtured.  If a child is able to experience one developmental phase in a rich and carefully prepared environment, they are ready to fully take on the next phase when it is time.



Intrinsic Motivation is Sustaining

We are often amazed at the capabilities of Montessori children. They bounce home from school each day excited about their learning. As adults, they tend to be driven and innovative. How does one cultivate such an attitude toward the world? How might we guide our children to want to learn? To want to discover? To always pursue more without being told they must? The key lies in what type of motivation we utilize.

Rewards and Punishments
In most traditional education settings around the country teachers use systems of rewards and punishments to drive desired behaviors. Most of us grew up experiencing this type of system, and it can be easy as parents to occasionally rely on these tactics as well. These are extrinsic motivators, and they’re more common than you might think.

Rewards are positive and external. For example, a teacher might give a child a gold star sticker or a special stamp on their paper if a child does well. They may let children have extra playtime for following directions or a pizza party in exchange for getting their homework done. Rewards can take many other forms, too, including verbal praise or good grades on a report card.

Punishments include any negative external motivator. These include bad grades and removal of privileges, but sometimes include harsher examples.

Believe it or not, there are even more ways to impart subtle, nuanced external motivators. Any time we make a statement or even use a facial expression that conveys our own pleasure or displeasure with a behavior or action, we are utilizing external motivation. While these tactics may sometimes work in the short term, research shows they do little for long-term motivation success.

Intrinsic Motivation
Some forms of motivation don’t come from an outside source at all, but from within the individual. The good news is, children are born wanting to learn. We are curious beings and have the innate ability to work for our own joy.

Think of a time you accomplished something great. How did you feel afterward? Were you thinking about how others would perceive your accomplishment or were you satisfied with your work for its own sake? In Montessori schools, we often guide children to reflect on their own feelings after they complete a challenge. They may come to us, excitedly showing or retelling. We may be inclined to say, “Good job!”, but those types of statements are better off unsaid. If we reward a child with our approval, they will work to seek that approval in the future. If, instead, we ask a child how they feel about the work, or comment on something factual we notice, the drive will remain within them. We might say, “I noticed you kept trying even when that was challenging. How do you feel now that you completed it?” or “It seemed like you enjoyed that work. What will you do next?” These types of statements make it possible for us to acknowledge a child without placing our own judgements on their experiences.

Research suggests that while external rewards may work occasionally, intrinsic motivation is much more effective. In one study, preschoolers who loved to draw were divided into three groups: one was told they would receive a reward for drawing, one was told they would not, and a third received an unexpected reward afterward. Not surprisingly, the group that expected a reward drew for much less time and created less aesthetically appealing drawings. There was little difference between the other two groups, although they far outperformed the first. []

Driving Forces in Academics
So how do Montessori teachers guide children to want to do their work? As we mentioned before, that’s the easy part. The desire to work is innate in children. Our job is to nurture and honor it. Even the terminology we use is intentional. Our youngest students aren’t asked to play during the morning cycle, but to work. We let them know we recognize what they’re doing is important. It’s work, and we are there to support them in doing that work.

As Montessorians we also believe that a beautiful environment full of enriching materials can serve to motivate children. We consider what the children before us need, and we carefully select and place appropriate materials on the shelves for them to discover.

Montessori materials are typically autodidactic. This means that the learner is able to self-correct their work while they are in the process of completing it. For example, a child placing wooden cylinders into holes will know they need to adjust their work if the final cylinder doesn’t fit into the final hole. These built-in corrections allow the child to work and learn directly from the materials without teacher input, essentially furthering the child’s independence and internal motivation.

Montessori guides are also adept at utilizing children’s interests to help them succeed in areas that challenge them. A child who is reluctant to read but loves dinosaurs may just need a basket of books about dinosaurs. A child who resists math but adores their friends may need to work cooperatively to find success. Knowing what sparks a child’s enthusiasm is the key to opening a whole world of academic content.

There are other structures built into the Montessori day that support intrinsic motivation. The three hour uninterrupted work cycle is one, as is allowing for ample student choice. The strategies allow children to select work that is meaningful to them, and to spend time really getting deep into that work. We allow them to fully explore their interests, which is where real creativity and lasting learning take place. Children feel empowered by their independence, and this in itself drives them to explore deeper learning.

When we teach children to follow their own instincts, even when it comes to learning, we are preparing them for a lifetime of success. School won’t just be a place they have to go and have information delivered to them; it becomes a place where they look forward to going so that they may discover the world for themselves.



The Top 7 Benefits of Self-Directed Play!

Perhaps you’ve heard about self-directed play, also known as open-ended play. The concept is nothing new and has, in fact, existed as long as children have been playing. It is the ‘original’ style of play its benefits remain timeless.

Self-directed play embraces many Montessori ideals and helps your child develop crucial skills to succeed in school and life every time that he plays.

Once you understand the reasons for encouraging children to engage in self-directed play and you have a basic understanding of how it works, putting it into practice at home is simple!

What, exactly, is self-directed play?

If your child is using simple toys in creative ways with no adult-directed outcome, there’s a good chance they’re already engaging in self-directed play.

Many of the toys available today are intended for a specific purpose. Let’s consider, for example, a doll.  Sure, a child can embark on some imaginative play with it, but a doll will always be a doll.  The same goes for a small toy train or a plastic dinosaur.  This is not to say there is anything wrong with these toys, but the ways in which children can use them are limited by their nature.

Now let’s consider a cardboard tube.  The possibilities are endless!  The tube could be a telescope one minute and a megaphone the next.  It could be a log, a bridge, or something to guide a ball through.  Materials we offer children for self-directed play are simple.  Think balls, cardboard tubes, sticks, scarves, playdough…the list goes on.

When children embark on self-directed play, it’s important for adults to remember that the children are the ones calling the shots (within safe boundaries, of course!).  It’s our natural tendency to have pre-determined ideas of what the outcome of a certain activity should be.  We often, instinctively, feel the need to jump in and teach children the “right way” to do things.  Give yourself permission to step back.  When we observe the the way in which children discover their own outcomes, it can be magical to see the process from a new viewpoint.

How does self-directed play embrace Montessori ideals and benefit children?

  • It builds self confidence. By exploring on their own, children realize there is so much they can do for themselves. They make their own games with their own rules, and they feel successful.
  • It encourages independence. Isn’t our ultimate goal for children that they might be able to get along just fine without us? Self-directed play lets them experience independence from a young age, all while in a safe, prepared environment.
  • It stimulates imagination. Children can’t help but be creative during self-directed play. By giving them these opportunities, we are allowing them to flex their creative muscles; they will see possibilities no one else has imagined, and they will develop their own story lines as they play.
  • It teaches problem-solving. Coming up with one’s own rules naturally leads to problem solving. Children will have to figure out how to make something work the way they want it to.
  • It allows children to learn at their own pace. With self-directed play, there is no timeline and there are no benchmarks to meet. Kids have the opportunity to build on their own knowledge, day after day, in ways that make sense to them.
  • It cultivates internal motivation. Without adults defining the success of an activity, children will be compelled to find the innate joy in their play. They will naturally tend to challenge themselves to try new, innovating ideas, and they will find their own personal delight in doing so.
  • It develops social and communication skills. Children who engage in self-directed play with peers must interact with each other and in doing so learn a vast array of social negotiation skills like fairness, turn-taking, co-operation, understanding social rules, seeing and incorporating other points of views, a sense of ‘give and take’, patience, perseverance, and a sense of belonging.

Getting started at home

Consider these tips to encourage self-directed play in your home:

Materials/Toys should be simple.  As an added benefit, simple toys tend to be much easier to obtain and far less expensive (and often free!).  If possible, toys should be made of natural materials.  Think wood, fabric, and items found in nature; avoid plastic if possible.  As mentioned above, collect toys that can be used for any number of possibilities.  Things like balls, scarves, blocks, boxes, sticks, or clay are great.  Some people like to collect trays of loose parts to leave out for children.  Loose parts trays might include pebbles, seashells, buttons, bits of string, pieces of tree bark…whatever looks (and feels) interesting!

Prepare the Environment Make sure children have a safe, open space in which to play.  Depending on your home and the weather, this could be your living room, backyard, or whatever space works for your family.  It’s important to make sure children have flexibility in their movement though, so make sure they can sit, stand, jump, roll, and explore!

Sit Back and Enjoy! Another great benefit to self-directed play is that because children can engage on their own, you are free to spend time checking off your own to-do list.  But feel free to sit nearby or even alongside your child if you wish.  Just remember to let them take the lead and explore their world and imagination.

See It in Action

The very best way to learn about Sunstone Montessori is to see it in action. We encourage you to visit our beautiful and spacious campus, take a tour, observe briefly in classrooms, learn about Montessori education, our programs, who we are, and what we do. Time is set aside at the end for questions and answers.

We look forward to sharing Sunstone with you!

Schedule a Tour




The 6 Reasons Montessori Will Work For Your Child

Perhaps you have a friend with a child in a Montessori program. Maybe you have heard about Montessori at a local playgroup. Or maybe you just stumbled across it online.

It all sounds great in theory, doesn’t it? An environment that fosters a deep love for learning; teachers trained to meet the needs of each individual child; a classroom community that provides an opportunity for all children to develop independence.

But, in the back of your head, a nagging question remains: “Will Montessori really work for my child?”

You Are Not Alone

It’s a common question that most parents ask when researching Montessori education.

The reality is that most of us never had an opportunity to attend an authentic Montessori when we were young. Many of the experiences in a Montessori classroom are the complete opposite our own experiences in school. So, it’s completely understandable to question the efficacy of something so new for your own child!

There are an infinite number of reasons why Montessori will work for your child. But, let’s talk about 6 significant reasons why your child will thrive in a quality Montessori program:

1. Your Child Will Learn by Doing

Your child will be exposed to hundreds of materials that are specifically designed to support his natural stages of development and invite him with hands-on exploration. His individual interests will drive what he chooses to explore creating deep engagement, a love of learning, and strong neural pathways that contribute to the construction of a strong brain.

2. Your Child Will Learn From and Teach Others

Have you ever heard the expression “The best way to learn something is to teach it?” This happens every day in our Montessori classrooms. Children are grouped in three-year age spans, providing ample opportunity for mentorship, cooperation, and confidence building.

Younger children observe older children working with “Bead Bar Multiplication” or writing a story. They look up to and admire these older children who are doing all these incredible things: they want to emulate them and are motivated to learn to be just like them.

3. The Curriculum Adapts to Your Child

Most conventional early childhood programs assume that all children, born within a year of each other, are capable of learning and doing the same thing at the same time. As we all know, that simply isn’t true! When we teach to the whole class, rather than the individual child, many bright children are bored, and others, who need more time to learn, are left behind.

We recognize that your child has his own unique timetable for development and will learn different parts of the curriculum when he is ready.  We teach to the individual needs of your child, not to the entire class or to a group of children.

4. Beautiful Classrooms Inspire Your Child to Learn

Our Montessori classrooms are beautiful and inviting. Materials are laid out on open shelves and call out to your child “Come touch me! Come explore!” Everything in the environment is carefully and specifically selected to support your child’s developing independence and help him gain confidence in himself and his abilities.

5. The Teacher Really Knows Your Child

“Follow the child” is the mantra uttered by all well-trained Montessori teachers. They are trained to observe and to support each individual child. They take the time to get to know your child’s strengths, challenges and interests. They plan lessons for your child based on their observations of him.

Your child will be a member of the same classroom community for three years, which affords the teacher the opportunity to know him deeply, and tailor his education specifically for him. He will feel seen, heard, and appreciated for who he is.

6. Your Child Will Be in Good Company

Many of the most successful and creative people in our modern society are former Montessori students.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin (cofounders of Google)

Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon)

Katherine Graham (Ex-owner of The Washington Post)

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Sean “P. Diddy” Combs

Prince William and Prince Harry

Berry Brazelton (pediatrician and author)

Julia Child

William Wright (creator of “The Sims”)

Anne Hathaway

Chelsea Clinton

Beyoncé Knowles

Peter Drucker (business guru and lecturer)

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Nobel Prize-winning novelist)




How Research Is Proving that Montessori Works

Many parents choose Montessori for their kids because they appreciate how the approach respects their children as people and as learners. We love how the structure, materials, and lessons appeal to the developmental nature of our children. But how does it affect children in the long-term?

Recent research provides irrefutable evidence that the Montessori method of education is powerfully effective in educating children.

When children are developmentally ready and when they get to choose materials that match their individual timetable of development, their learning takes off. They become enthusiastic, confident, joyful learners!

Plenty of people are noticing the positive effects of a Montessori education and researchers are paying closer attention in recent years. For anyone who has been involved with the philosophy for any length of time, the results are not surprising. If you are interested in reading more about current research findings, check out this website:

Freedom Within Limits

“To let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom.” 

-Maria Montessori

One of the more common misconceptions about Montessori education is that we let the children run free to do what they please all the time.  It is true that we let our students make choices for themselves, not just about their work but about their preferences and even care of their own bodies, but those choices are made within carefully crafted parameters.  To give a child (or any human) choice is to give them empowerment. To give them choice within boundaries will assist them in becoming the adult they are meant to be.

Why give choice?

When we give children the ability to make their own choices, we are letting them know we trust their decisions.  If children know the adults in their lives trust them, they will begin to trust themselves. When a person has confidence in their own abilities, their thoughts and energy can be put into new ideas and making progress.

Decision making is a skill that must be learned just like anything else. From the most basic everyday tasks to major life events, we all need to make choices in our lives.  When we create an environment that allows children to practice this skill and be successful, they are given an opportunity to become successful as they grow older.

Giving choice is also a means of showing respect. We respect that children should have a say in what they want.  While as adults our role is to keep children safe and guide them, we do not have all the answers nor do we understand what is always best for each child.  Giving children a say shows them that we honor their autonomy.

Why place limitations?

While we believe it’s important to give children choices, too many choices can feel overwhelming and be counter-productive. Placing some limitations keeps their decision-making process safe and manageable. Children actually want us to define limits for them as boundaries give them a sense of structure that is critical for their development.

Think about the last time you went to a typical grocery store. Just deciding on a box of cereal can seem like huge task!  There are so many choices, and while it feels good to have options, there can definitely be too much of a good thing.

Another benefit of placing limitations on choices is that we can create a scenario in which any choice made will achieve the desired results. If we want children to practice a specific skill, we can give two or three options that will allow them to do so. If we want them to complete a certain task or meet a goal, we can envision different paths that will lead to the same destination and let them decide which they would like to take.

What does this look like in the classroom?

When it comes to academic work, Montessori children get to make choices about which work they will focus on, where they sit, who they sit with, and in what order they do things. They move about their mornings with a sense of purpose, because they get to call the shots in regards to their own education. In a structure like this, school doesn’t feel so much like a place where you go to receive knowledge that’s being given to you; it’s a place where you go to explore, learn authentically, and immerse yourself in work that’s important to you.

With all those choices, it’s important for teachers to create an environment that sets children up for success. Montessori Guides only give children lessons on materials they are ready for. They only put materials on the shelves that the children as a group are ready for.  The materials they do put out are so beautiful and interesting that the children cannot help but want to choose them.

Even when it comes to taking care of themselves, we want children to be in charge.  We create structures that allow them to eat when they are hungry, use the restroom when they feel the need, and to rest or move their bodies as they see fit.  Most Montessori classrooms have a snack table that children can sit at whenever there is a seat available (limiting this to two chairs is one way guides make snack socializing manageable).  Each classroom has a system in place to ensure that children can use the bathroom when they need to. The furniture in our classrooms are arranged in such a way so as to encourage safe avenues to body movement, individual seating, group seating, floor seating, or table and chair options.  As adults we need variation and choice to be productive and we recognize that children do as well.

Our job as Montessori educators is to create the conditions for children to independently make decisions that will help them grow and develop.  We want them to explore who they are, to learn about each other, and to gain basic academic skills.  We want to cultivate inquisitiveness, leadership skills, and a sense of humble independence.  All of these goals can be met through careful planning of a classroom environment that facilitates choice within limits.

What might this look like in the home?

It can help to observe in your child’s classroom to get ideas. If you are just getting started with offering choice at home, it can help to focus on just a few areas in the beginning.  Food, clothing, and entertainment are good places to start.

While we do not advocate making separate meals for everyone in your home (this can quickly lead to picky eating habits), children can have some say in mealtime choices. Find ways you are willing to be a little flexible and ask their opinion.  Perhaps they can choose some fruits or vegetables at the grocery store, or help decide what gets packed into their lunches. If you have several dinners planned for the week, your child could help decide which one to have on a particular night and then help you prepare it. When it comes time to eat, let your child practice serving themselves, while reminding them about the importance of not wasting food and only taking as much as we expect to eat.

Getting dressed for the day is great time to practice decision making. This tends to be one area that requires the most intentional release of control from us as parents, as young children tend to have quite the eccentric tastes when it comes to personal style! Keeping weather and activities of the day in mind, set some guidelines and let your child pick out their own clothes.  Some Montessori experts recommend only putting desirable options in the child’s drawers. If this isn’t feasible, even young children can follow simple directions such as, “Please choose something with short sleeves and long pants.” Expect combinations you would never choose for yourself and remember that this is an important step in their development and self-expression. How we dress is one way we present ourselves to the world and letting your child make these choices tells them you trust that they know who they are.

When it comes to having fun, children love to give input. If you read stories at bedtime, your child could select whatever number of books you decide, or they could choose from a pre-selected few that you give them. If you let your child watch television, give them a pool of shows that you feel are appropriate to choose from. If you want to get them outside, ask them if they would rather go to the playground or ride their bike.

The key is to consider your true objective, then present multiple ways to achieve that goal.

See It in Action

The very best way to learn about Sunstone Montessori is to see it in action. We encourage you to visit our beautiful and spacious campus, take a tour, observe briefly in classrooms, learn about Montessori education, our programs, who we are, and what we do. Time is set aside at the end for questions and answers.

We look forward to sharing Sunstone with you!

Schedule a Tour



What Are Executive Functions? And Why Are They So Important For Your Child?

As a parent, how important would you rate the following skills for your child?






Critical thinking

Creative thinking

Mental flexibility

Good organization, planning, prioritizing


Good judgement

Pretty important right? 

All of these important skills belong to a complex set of skills called executive functions and they are a direct indicator of your child’s future success in academics, employment, and life! These skills define an intelligent, balanced, motivated person who is self-disciplined, innovative, and doesn’t give up. The good news is these skills can be nurtured during the early childhood years. Interestingly, Montessori is one of the only curriculum models that researchers have proven can improve these skills in children.

Research has shown that early development of executive functions is a better predictor of later academic performance than is early acquisition of academic skills. These capabilities are essential for ensuring rewarding life outcomes. – Dr. Steven Hughes, PhD, ABPdN 

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University defines executive function as the mental processes that support students in their ability to plan, focus their attention, remember instructions and juggle multiple tasks successfully (2016). Crucial for learning and development, these important skills also enable positive behavior and allow us to make healthy choices for ourselves and our loved ones.

Executive function skills are revered by colleges and CEOs as imperative for success, and targeted by leading edge companies when looking for leadership and innovative qualities. The bad news is that children are not born with executive function skills.

The good news is that children are born with the potential to develop executive function skills and will develop them if provided the proper support. If, however, children do not get what they need from their relationships with adults and their environments at an early age, then their executive skill development can be seriously delayed or impaired.

The great news is that Montessori education is superior in fostering executive function!

One of the only curriculum models that has been empirically shown to improve executive function in children is the Montessori curriculum (Lillard & Else-Quest, 2006). In fact, the very essence of a successful Montessori classroom is characterized by the term “normalization,” which showcases the development of executive function in young children.



Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University. (2016).

Lillard, A., & Else-Quest, N. (2006) The early years: Evaluating Montessori education. Science, 313, 1893-1894.



Independence and the Montessori Child

“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” -Maria Montessori

Benefits of Cultivating Independence

You may already know that Montessori educators value and encourage independence in even their youngest students. We believe that nurturing this valuable character trait is both empowering and necessary.  In short, giving a child the gift of independence lets them know we value them and know they’re capable.  Children can grow up feeling empowered and safe in their abilities to make sound choices.  When we trust them, they learn to trust themselves, ultimately becoming happy and productive members of their communities.

Of course, this looks different at different ages.  Children birth to age six want to do things by themselves, while elementary aged children want to think for themselves.  Adolescents seek both physical and social independence while they tread the waters between childhood and adulthood.  It’s important to remind ourselves of these developmental stages, both as teachers and parents.

What Independence Means at School

In the earliest years at school, children focus on what we refer to as practical life skills. This may include learning to prepare simple snacks, putting on their own shoes or coats, or caring for classroom plants and animals.

Children are given endless opportunities to practice these skills both on their own and helping their friends.

Another facet of independence at a Montessori school involves choice within limits.  Children are able to decide what work they are interested in.

Teachers carefully prepare the classroom environment so that all choices are safe and desirable, but within those boundaries the child is free to explore.

As children get older (the elementary years and beyond), they must meet certain academic expectations.  Teachers use a variety of tools to help students work independently while still meeting their goals, including work plans and time management strategies.

Research becomes of great interest at this time, and children are given ample opportunity to deeply explore topics they choose.

How Parents Can Support This Work at Home

How can families continue the cultivation of independence in the home?  It all starts with a shift in the way we view our children’s capabilities.  They are often able to do much more than we realize, and with a little bit of modeling they tend to eagerly accept a challenge.  After all, our children want to do what we do, and if we give them the proper tools and support, they can begin practicing.

The chart below highlights some of the possibilities.  Think of this as an inspiring guide that highlights what children of various ages are typically capable of.  Giving our children tasks such as these builds their confidence while helping them learn how to be contributing members of a community – in this case, their family.

Looking Forward

One of the easiest ways to encourage independence in our children is to be more aware in the moment.  Though it can be a challenge to slow down and let them move at their pace (like when they insist on zipping up their own coat while we’re rushing out the door to get to work), it’s going to benefit them in the long run.  Building a little extra time into our schedules can help!  Some little changes we can make to embed this value into our days:

  • Send your child to put their shoes on 10 minutes before you’d like to leave.
  • Leave child-friendly cleaning supplies within reach.
  • Put pre-portioned or easy-to-prepare snacks on low shelves.
  • Turn spills and messes into opportunities.
  • Let your child pick out their own clothes. For younger children especially, some weather appropriate guidance is just fine. Enjoy the creative fashion statements that ensue.

See It in Action

The very best way to learn about Sunstone Montessori is to see it in action. We encourage you to visit our beautiful and spacious campus, take a tour, observe briefly in classrooms, learn about Montessori education, our programs, who we are, and what we do. Time is set aside at the end for questions and answers.

We look forward to sharing Sunstone with you!

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Montessori Basics: What is the Montessori work period?

You may already know a bit about the Montessori work period, also known as the work cycle. What exactly is it, and why is it so important?

A Montessori work cycle is an uninterrupted block of time. During this time children are able to explore the prepared environment and engage with materials of their own choosing. The time is meant to give them opportunities to enjoy the work they love, while also cultivating basic life skills.

How long?

The length of a work cycle varies depending upon the age group and the school. Most classes typically have a three hour morning work period most mornings. Some other general guidelines to keep in mind for different age levels:

Toddler classrooms: 1-2 hours each day

Children’s House/early childhood classrooms: 2-3 hours most mornings, additional time in the afternoon for 4 and 5 year olds.

Elementary: 2-3 hours most mornings and another 2-3 hours most afternoons

What are the goals?

When we give children this time, we do so in an effort to assist their development. The work cycle helps children:

● Become more independent
● Strengthen their ability to focus
● Find joy with the materials
● Feel deep satisfaction with their work

What exactly do children do during this time?

While it looks slightly different at different levels, there is always some combination of most students working independently while teachers give individual or small group lessons. Great care is taken to not interrupt children while they are working, showing them the respect that this time and their exploration deserves.

In primary/early childhood classrooms, lessons are given mostly to individuals. Children move around the classroom selecting work of their choosing. They may work on a table or the floor, with a special rug laid out beneath them. After selecting a work from the shelves, they bring it carefully to the workspace of their choosing, and use the material as they have previously been taught. Children know they are responsible for putting the materials back neatly and selecting their next work independently. At this age, children are typically focused on their own work and may engage in what is called ‘parallel play’. This can be seen as defined working and playing beside one another while focused on their own individual work.

At the elementary level the basic structure is the same, but teachers honor the developmental need for more socialization in children of this age. Lessons are more often given in small groups, and children prefer to work with one another. While there is a great emphasis on choice and self-directed learning, children in elementary classrooms are expected to meet certain academic guidelines. For example, a teacher may require that throughout the course of the day or week, a child must do work in all academic areas. Teachers check in with students to make sure they are meeting these goals, and gently guide them with strategies to do so.

Regardless of the level, the work cycle gives children a chance to develop autonomy, make choices, and find genuine joy in their work. Teachers hold this time as sacred, and it allows children to dive deeply into learning.

A four year old’s three hour work cycle in four minutes:

Check out this cool time lapse video that shows a four year old’s three hour work cycle in four minutes: