Montessori FAQ

What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?

In Montessori learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own individual pace. They are not required to sit and listen to a teacher talk to them as a group, but are engaged in individual or group activities of their own, with materials that have been introduced to them 1:1 or in small groups, by the teacher who knows what each child is ready to do.

Below the age of six, Montessori emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just through listening, watching, or reading.  Above age six children learn to do independent research, arrange field trips to gather information, interview specialists, create group presentations. They also engage in musical productions, science projects, story writing, mathematics and so forth. There is no limit to what they create in this kind of intelligently guided freedom. There are no textbooks or rigid schedules. There is great respect for the choices of the children and they easily keep up with or surpass what they would be doing in a more traditional setting. Through independent choice and exploration, children enjoy their work through discoveries and become truly engaged which is why their learning is so profound and long-lasting. The children observe each other and much of the learning comes from sharing and inspiring each other instead of competing with each other.

If children are free to choose their own work, how do you ensure that they receive a well-rounded education?

Montessori children are free to choose within limits, and are given only as much freedom as they can handle with appropriate responsibility. The classroom Guide and Assistant ensure that children do not interfere with each other, and that each child is progressing at her appropriate pace in all subjects.

Are Montessori schools as academically rigorous as traditional schools?

Yes! Montessori classrooms encourage deep learning of the concepts behind academic skills rather than rote practice of abstract techniques. The success of our students appears in the experiences of our alumni, who compete successfully with traditionally educated students in a variety of high schools and universities.

Are Montessori children successful later in life?

Research studies show that Montessori children are well prepared for later life academically, socially, and emotionally. In addition to scoring competitively on standardized tests, Montessori children are ranked above average on executive functioning skills such as self-discipline, organizing and articulating their thoughts, listening attentively, good reasoning and judgement, critical and creative thinking, asking provocative questions, showing enthusiasm for learning, and adapting to new situations. Read more about executive functions and how Montessori can boost your child’s success.

Why does Montessori have multi-age classrooms?

Montessori class sizes and ratios are set intentionally to help foster independence. Our multi-age classrooms afford us the luxury of adapting the curriculum to the individual child. Each child can work at their own pace, as fast or as slow as they need independent of where their peers are while remaining respectfully in community with their peers. The Montessori classroom respects that each child has their own strengths and the flexibility of the curriculum allows each child to discover and develop them at their own pace while simultaneously supporting the children in shoring up their weaknesses.

In addition, the multi-age format allows all older children to be the leaders of the classroom community, even those children who may be shy or quiet. This mentorship role develops within the child an extreme sense of confidence, responsibility and pride that stays with them throughout their life.

The Guides also gets to know your child very well in a three-year span. They develop a deep relationship of understanding with each child which further allows them to adapt the curriculum specifically to each individual child so that every child can go as far as they can and become the best that they can be emotionally, socially, and academically.

  • Toddler (16 months-3 years)
  • Children’s House (3-6 years)
  • Lower Elementary (6-9 years)
  • Upper Elementary (9-12 years)
  • Middle School (7th & 8th grade)

Is Montessori good for children with learning disabilities?

Montessori is designed to help all children reach their fullest potential at their own unique pace. A classroom whose children have varying abilities is a community in which everyone learns from one another and everyone contributes. Moreover, multi-age grouping allows each child to find his or her own pace without feeling “ahead” or “behind” in relation to peers. Children learn from each other through observation and experience. An environment with diverse abilities and backgrounds allows children to engage in the complexities of what it means to be human.

What does a typical day look like?

When the children arrive they come into the classroom, change into their indoor shoes, put their belongings (lunch box, coat, etc.) away, and begin their morning work cycle. We often refer to this time as the “uninterrupted” work cycle. This is because the children may a choose a material or activity they’ve had a lesson on, or a project they are working on, and engage with it for as long as they like without being disturbed, as long as they are working with it appropriately.

The work cycle is 2-3 hours long, and is a time when the children exercise freedom within limits. After the work cycle, the children set up for lunch, wash their hands, unpack their lunches onto a plate, and enjoy their meal within their community. After lunch, the children go outside to enjoy some fresh air and big body movement. They return to the classroom for an afternoon work cycle, or an afternoon nap if needed. Children who stay for our Aftercare programs go outside a second time later in the afternoon.

How often do the children go outdoors?

Children ages 3-12 go out for recess on our playground for 30-60 minutes every day. Children in our Aftercare programs spend additional time outdoors in the afternoons. The amount of time they stay outside in the later afternoon depends on the time of the year. The toddlers go outside earlier in the morning (around 10:30), before they eat lunch and nap, and then again in the afternoon.

Beyond these scheduled outdoor times, the classrooms have access to our open air courtyard any time of the day (weather permitting). They can engage in activities such as gardening, weeding, and bird watching. Children are also able to bring a classroom activity (such as a math work) to an outside table and work in the fresh air on beautiful days.

Sunstone is also a certified Premier Green School.

What is the parent involvement expectation at Sunstone?

We ask that families make continuing efforts to appreciate and understand the Montessori philosophy and work in partnership with the school to support their children. Sunstone provides opportunities for community participation and a variety of parent education events throughout the year. Additionally, there are parent-teacher conferences twice yearly, and we encourage an open lines of communication. There is a Community Handbook that families are expected to read to gain further knowledge of Sunstone’s policies and practices. When families and Sunstone share a vision and work harmoniously in partnership together, children flourish!

What are lessons?

The basic interaction between the child, the Guide, and the environment in the Montessori classroom is the lesson. Every material, every activity, and nearly every practical or social interaction has a planned or spontaneous lesson associated with it—often more than one. There are lessons in how to use the pink tower, how to have snack, how to walk around someone’s rug, how to do long division with the golden beads, how to use the Pythagoras Theorem, how to find the viscosity of a fluid, and more. The Guide takes careful note of each child’s development in all areas and strives to present exactly the right lesson at the optimal moment. The actual lesson consists of carefully analyzed, gracefully executed movements showing the essence of the activity being presented. Once your child has had a lesson on a piece of material, they are free to take it from the shelf whenever it is available, and to work with it as long as it holds their engagement and focus.

Does Sunstone have science, art, music, and PE classes?

Science, art, music, and movement are integrated into the Montessori curriculum. There are many lessons in all of these areas that are given by the Guide. The Elementary classrooms participate in PE with their Guides on a weekly basis.

Is another language taught at Sunstone?

Our Spanish Enrichment program is run by a fluent Spanish Teacher who spends time in each of the classrooms every week, offering age-appropriate material. For our younger children, this consists of songs, simple books in Spanish, and games. For older children, the teacher is conducting more vocabulary, grammar, and cultural lessons.

Where do children go to school after Sunstone?

Sunstone graduates are curious, life-long learners who are academically, emotionally, and socially prepared for education beyond Sunstone. School choices include a wide variety of private and public middle schools, high schools and colleges.

Currently at the middle and high school level approximately 50% of our graduating sixth years move on to attend private schools such as Northwest Academy (NWA), Catlin Gabel, OES, Metro Montessori Middle School, St. Francis Academy, Pacific Crest Community School (PCCS), and Riverdale K-8, while the other 50% transfer to their local public schools.

We expect this to change in the fall of 2024 when we open our Middle School program at Rusk Road.

Even at the college level, our students continue to thrive in a wide variety of private institutions, state colleges and universities such as:

  • UCLA
  • Goucher
  • Embry Riddle University
  • University of Oregon
  • Oregon State
  • Colorado School of Mines
  • Agnes Scott College
  • Whitman College
  • MIT
  • Willamette University
  • Notre Dame
  • University British Columbia
  • University of Hawaii
  • University of Denver
  • UC Santa Cruz-Rachel Carson College
  • Bowdoin College
  • Portland State
  • Texas Christian University
  • University of Alabama
  • and Western Washington University to name a few

What is the training/education of the staff?

All of our Guides have their AMI certification for the level at which they work. Some are certified at more than one program level, and many have their Masters of Education as well. We ask all staff to participate in continuing education/professional development every year. We look to Montessori Northwest (MNW), the AMI training center in Portland, as well as Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), AMI-USA, the North American Montessori Association (NAMTA), and the Oregon Montessori Association (OMA), for professional development in the realms of Montessori. Additionally, we seek professional development outside the world of Montessori in child development, early childhood education, compassionate communication, Anti-bias, Antiracist (ABAR), and more!

Is Montessori a franchise? Who can open a Montessori school?

The term Montessori is not trademarked and anyone, regardless of training, experience or affiliation can open a “Montessori” school. It is essential that parents researching Montessori act as good consumers and do their research to ensure the authenticity of their chosen program.

Who accredits Montessori schools?

Dr. Montessori founded the Association Montessori Internationale in 1929 to preserve her legacy. AMI ensures that Montessori schools and teachers are both well-grounded in the basic principles of the method and ready to carry those principles forward in the modern educational world. AMI offers teacher training and conferences, approves the production of Montessori materials and books, and, through their AMI-USA branch office, accredits schools.

Montessori classrooms don’t look like regular classrooms. Where are the rows of desks? Where does the teacher stand?

The different arrangement of a Montessori classroom mirrors the Montessori methods differences from traditional education. Rather than putting the teacher at the focal point of the class with children dependent on her for information and activity, the classroom shows a literally child-centered approach. Children choose to work at tables or on floor mats where they can spread out their materials, and the teacher circulates about the room, giving lessons, inspiring and engaging learners, or resolving issues as they arise.

Since Montessori classrooms emphasize non-competitiveness, how are students adequately prepared for real-life competition later on?

Montessori classrooms emphasize competition with oneself: self-monitoring, self-correction, and a variety of other executive skills aimed at continuous improvement. Students typically become comfortable with their strengths and learn how to address their weaknesses. In older classes, students commonly participate in competitive community activities with clear “winners” (auditions for limited play roles, a spelling bee, math fact games, etc.) in which students give their best performances while simultaneously encouraging peers to do the same. It is a healthy competition in which all contenders are content that they did their best in an environment with clear and consistent rules.


More Resources

Sunstone’s Blog: Recommended Articles on Child Development, Parenting, and Montessori

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