Montessori FAQ

What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?

For children six and under, Montessori emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just through listening, watching, or reading. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own individual pace and according to their own choice of activities from hundreds of possibilities. 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 by the teacher who knows what each child is ready to do. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning. Above age six children learn to do autonomous research by arranging field trips to gather information, interviewing specialists, and creating group presentations. They also engage in dramas, musical productions, science projects, story writing, and so forth. There is no limit to what they create in this kind of intelligently guided freedom. There are no text books 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 and study 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.

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.

What is your typical class size and student to teacher ratio?

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 his or her 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 his or her own strengths and the flexibility of the curriculum allows each child to discover and develop their own individual strengths while simultaneously supporting them 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: 12 children (1 Lead Guide, 1 Assistant Guide, 2 Assistants)
  • Children’s House: 20-25 children (AYM: 1 Lead Guide, 1 Assistant Guide, 2 Assistants)
  • 10-Month: 1 Lead Guide, 1-2 Assistants)
  • Lower Elementary: 22-30 (1 Lead Guide, 1 Assistant)
  • Upper Elementary: 28-35 (1 Lead Guide, 1 Assistant)

What is the training/education of the staff?

All of our Lead Guides and Assistant Guides have their AMI certification for the level at which they work. 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 Intenationale (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, and more.

What is the parent involvement expectation at Sunstone?

We ask that families have open minds and make continuing efforts to appreciate and understand the Montessori Philosophy, working in partnership with the school to support their children. Sunstone provides opportunities for doing so by holding several parent education events throughout the year that we encourage families to attend, and having volunteer or community participation hours. Additionally, there are parent-teacher conferences twice yearly, and we encourage an open line of communication throughout the year. There is a New Family Information handbook as well as 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 mission, and work harmoniously together, children flourish!

How often do the children go outdoors?

Children in the 10-month programs go out for recess for 30 mins to an hour every day. Children 3-12 years-old are outside together on our expansive playground and soccer field. Children in the All Year Montessori (AYM) programs go outside along with the 10-month programs, and then again in the afternoon around 3:15pm. The amount of time they stay outside in the later afternoon depends on the time of the year. They will stay outside longer in the warmer months and a little shorter as it gets darker earlier and colder. The toddlers go outside earlier in the morning (around 10:30), before they eat lunch and nap, and then again at around 3:15pm with the other AYM children and Elementary children attending Aftercare.

Additionally, the Children’s House classrooms have fenced in outdoor areas that are opened during the morning work-cycle (weather permitting). They include outside activities such as hammering, gardening, raking, 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 and we have an Outdoor Program Director on staff who takes small groups of children (daily) from all the classrooms to do nature exploration and education, plant, maintain and harvest our vegetable and flower gardens, make wildlife observations, do up-cycling art projects such as homemade bird feeders and stepping stones for our gardens, and keep general logbooks on all of the above and more.

What does a typical day look like?

The classroom routines vary slightly based on age group: the toddlers, for example, go outside before lunch and then lay down to nap directly following lunch. The rest of the classroom routines are fairly similar, beginning with arrival (7:30-8:30am for AYM classrooms, 8:10-8:30am for 10-month, with a Beforecare option for Elementary students 7:30-8:10am); the children 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 work they’ve had a lesson on and work on it for as long as they like without being disturbed, as long as they are using it appropriately. The work cycle is about 3 hours long, and is a time when the children exercise freedom within limits, an important piece of Montessori philosophy you will hear more about. After the work cycle the children set up for lunch, wash their hands, unpack their lunches onto a plate, and enjoy their meal sitting with a group of children. After lunch, the children go outside for some fresh air and big body movement. They return to the classroom for an afternoon work cycle, or (if they’re on the younger end) an afternoon nap. Children in the AYM program and in Elementary Aftercare often go outside a second time in the later afternoon.

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, 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 perfect 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, he or she is free to take it from the shelf whenever it is available, and to work with it as long as it holds his or her engagement and focus.

Is another language taught at Sunstone?

Yes, on staff we have a Spanish Enrichment Teacher. Our Spanish Enrichment Teacher spends time in each of the classrooms every week, and offers age-appropriate material for the children. In the toddler room, this consists of songs, simple books in Spanish, and games. In the elementary classrooms, the teacher is conducting more vocabulary, grammar, and cultural lessons.

What about other enrichment activities?

Sunstone has an Outdoor Program Director who does nature work with the children. Other enrichment activities are contracted with outside companies for yoga classes as well as Soccer Shots.

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 Montessori good for children with learning disabilities?

What about gifted children? 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 allow children to engage in the complexities of what it means to be human.

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 well on standardized tests, Montessori children are ranked above average on executive functioning skills such as following directions, organizing and articulating their thoughts, listening attentively, showing responsibility, 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.

Where do children go to school after Sunstone?

Sunstone graduates are competent individuals who are academically, socially and emotionally prepared for life! They are curious life-long learners who are capable of attending any school they wish to attend after Sunstone. These include a wide variety of private and public middle and high schools as well as colleges.

Currently our most recent graduates are attending middle school at Northwest Academy, Metro Montessori Middle School, St. Francis Academy, Jackson Middle School, and OES.

We have former graduates attending high school at Northwest Academy, Lincoln, Catlin Gabel, OES, Lake Oswego HS, Lakeridge HS, and Cleveland (to name a few).

Our college freshmen (class of 2012) are attending UCLA, Goucher, University of Oregon, Oregon State, Agnes Scott College, Willamette University, University of Denver, UC Santa Cruz-Rachel Carson College, Portland State, Texas Christian University, and University of Alabama.

Are Montessori schools religious?

No. Montessori educates children without reference to religious denomination. As a result, our classrooms are extremely diverse, with representation from all peoples, cultures and religions.

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. Do you want to include AMS? I remember reading something that articulates the differences clearly.

Isn’t Montessori just a preschool?

Montessori schools may be best known for their programs with young children, but the underlying educational method describes programs for students up through high school.

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.

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.

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.


See It in Action

The very best way to learn more 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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