Ask an Expert. We've got answers!

We invited our Age of Montessori Facebook community to ask any question at all.  Here are our answers.  Didn't get to ask your questions? Feel free to post a question below.  We would love to hear from you.  

Q: What is the Montessori recommended method for potty training?
A: In Montessori, we prefer to use the term “toilet learning” rather than “toilet training.  The key with helping children use the toilet independently is to make it a gradual, natural process and to not force it or get into a power struggle in any way. It is best to start early (by age two) and not to use rewards or punishments. Simply invite the child to sit on the “potty chair” or small seat on a big toilet whenever the mom or adult uses the bathroom.

Starting even with younger infants, talking about what you are going to do, whether it is putting a coat on before going outside, getting ready to pick the child up to go out or changing a diaper, is great for communication and vocabulary long before you are ready for the child to use the toilet. Consistently refer to the process every time you change a diaper, "Your diaper is wet (or soiled). You went pee (or poop) without any emotion or negative energy. Let's sit on the potty to see if you need to pee, etc."

Here is an article that focuses on how to make sure you don’t get in a power struggle over toileting. The author emphasizes, “Giving your child control over the issue is the secret... The more parental interference, the more complications.”

Q: What can you do to easily have non-Montessori children make a smooth transition into a Montessori environment? I'm a Montessori teacher and need advice. There are 8 yr olds coming to our school who don't have any Montessori experience. Thank you!

Part of what makes for a smooth transition falls within the preparation. Maria Montessori spoke extensively about the Prepared Environment, and as a teacher, I believe that includes creating an atmosphere of emotional safety and trust for the students and their families. If possible, I would include the new eight year-olds into some small, social activities at the school as soon as possible to get to know the teacher and perhaps even some of their classmates better. On the first day of attendance, set up an older child to be a guide/mentor to the younger child. Have the mentor greet the new child and involve the new child in a Practical Life activity (ie. preparing a snack), to help them to feel welcome/included in the classroom community. Food is the universal way to build culture.

Some schools arrange for home visits during which the teachers can meet with the child and their family on the child's home turf. This can be very educational for the teacher in terms of forming an authentic connection with the student before their first day of school. When meeting with the parents, gather information that will help you to be sure you understand the family’s expectations and understand any unique needs this child may have. Some good questions are, “How did he do in his last school/classroom? What is causing you to want to transition to Montessori? Is he struggling academically or with behavior? If there are challenges discussed, make sure you a chance to set up a plan with the teachers to meet any of those specific concerns. As you talk about parental expectations, make sure to education them on Montessori learning.
Children learn to make educated choices in a Montessori classroom and for children who are accustomed to following directions of a teacher for every task, may take a while to really understand how to make choices. Parents can make this easier by setting up choices at home in whatever situations allow for it. This act of making educated choices is a major factor in contributing to the development of the executive functions of the brain.
You Might suggest parents watch some of our AOM webinar replays for better understanding of Montessori learning. We also recommend you watch our AOM webinar on Transitions.

Q: What ages did Maria Montessori develop her program for? My daughter is going into 5th grade and it seems harder for her to stay motivated and on task with the Montessori method than in years past. She has been in Montessori school since she was 3.

A: Montessori developed her learning for children of all ages. Her understanding of the stages of development go from prenatal development through age 24. Our first recommendation is to ask the teacher if she/he has any thoughts on what might be shifting for the child. Together, get curious about when this change started for your daughter and look for any potential correlations (ie. Did she begin puberty? Did a new student start in the class? Is she having new social issues with her peers?) In addition, we recommend that you talk with the teachers to make sure she is doing enough hands-on learning and whether she is getting to do extensive projects in areas within which she is interested.

Is she having adequate opportunities for movement and self-direction? Is she getting behind in any specific area? She might be needing more sleep, more movement, or more support on navigating middle school peer issues. Ask your child about how she feels about school, her teachers and friends. What is she liking the most/least in her school? Montessori learning is designed to meet the needs of the child and you and your child’s teachers are the best team to try and identify and work on any problems that arise.

Q: Would it be beneficial to modernize some of the materials for this time period? Keeping the same method and principal behind the way of learning but making the materials more modern.

A: Yes, and No. Many schools and teacher training program are modernizing the materials used for curriculum development. Age of Montessori is already doing that with our language curriculum. In the Royal Road to Reading, we have modernized Montessori’s ideas from what they taught in Italy at the turn of the century. We are also working on potentially having apps that will supplement the physical materials for our Royal Road to Reading.

On the other hand, we value the time-tested lessons from Maria Montessori. She introduced many materials to children that we don’t use today because she filtered out those not compelling to children. 100 years later the lessons she decided were most effective are still compelling to children today. Human nature likes to explore!

Montessorians are following the research on the impact of media screen time on brain functioning in kids of all ages. We agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics that children ages two and under should be exposed to no screen time. Preschool children should have very limited screen time and elementary aged children, while learning keyboard skills and some basic research skills online, are primarily encouraged to utilize books and hands-on materials for their learning.
Many schools that survey their families find that children are already getting more than the recommended amount of screen time at home not only through watching favorite TV programs, but also through video games, computers, and hand held devices. These schools tend to see it as their mission to offer a balance through providing real life experiences with hands on learning.

Children need concrete, before abstract. Also, our classrooms want to prioritize social-emotional development which happens when children work/interact together. Language, collaboration, and working in small groups are important. Technology isn’t as supportive of meeting those goals.

Q: Should the 3 hr work cycle include lunch and group time?

A: The 3 hour cycle for the early childhood classroom generally does not include lunch but may include classroom group time. We want extended periods of time for children to be independent and working in small groups, uninterrupted the bulk of their morning time. This is most conducive to concentration and developing sustained interest in learning. Montessori wrote about a two- to three-hour work period during which children are allowed to freely explore the classroom and make independent choices. When children are not herded about or hovered over by well-meaning adults, they are free to develop a sense of initiative, organizational skills and independent learning.
For this reason, the work period is largely based on free choices, while teachers regularly introduce new lessons and activities for individual children as they show signs of needing the nest step forward. Ideally children may choose snack when they are hungry, and they may even help set up the lunch area by setting the table at the end of the work period. The work period may end with circle time for stories, songs and introduction of cultural materials as well as or some other dismissal exercise, and transition to lunch or outside time.

At the elementary level there is more academic direction as to skills but there are still plenty of choices of different hands-on materials used to accomplish specific skills.

Q: What academic "expectations" should we have of primary children transitioning to lower elementary.

A: We are assuming you are wanting to know if children have reached certain bench marks. If this is correct, some of the goals for primary classrooms are: reading, working with some of the 4 operations, social skills that lead to comfort in group settings, functional independence with taking care of clothing, lunch, transitions, and the ability to work in groups or independently.

These are general guidelines, but each school has its own set of expectations, so be sure to explore them with the school you may be considering for your children.

More Blog Posts