Montessori Words

Where people share their Montessori stories

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Welcome to Montessori Words!

Posted by Mark Berger on | No Comments


So many parents talk about their love of Montessori – either because they were Montessori children themselves or because  they simply appreciate what their child gets from their daily experiences at their Montessori school.

This is a site where you can all express these thoughts.  Feel free to post your story in the box above.

Parents from around the world will write in, telling all of us about their appreciation for Montessori.  We await all those  stories.

So post anonymously, or use the links to the right to register and post.

Let the sharing begin.

I graduated from college with a B.S. in Education …

Posted by ama83 on | No Comments

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I graduated from college with a B.S. in Education and knew little to nothing about Montessori. It was not until years later that I obtained a position as a tutor in a public school that was in the process of becoming a Montessori Magnet School. The teachers were still completing their training and I was intrigued by the materials and work they were implementing which was all new to me. I was inspired to begin the training myself. My son was three years old at the time and he began attending a new school in Cleveland while I was in training. The following year I began teaching at this same school. After spending 10 years in the classroom, I am now in my sixth year serving as head of school. My son completed his elementary years at The Montessori School at Holy Rosary and is in his sophomore year in college. Subsequently, my three daughters are at various stages in their education from elementary to middle school. I can not imagine any other educational choice for them. Montessori changed my career path, changed my parenting and provided a solid foundation for each of my children. I am confident that they have (or are continuing to build) a foundation that will serve them well throughout their life. From both an educators and parents viewpoint, Montessori has made a significant impact on me and on my family. I am amazed every day at the joy of learning and the creativity that comes from both the students and teachers with whom I work. What a privilege it has been to be part of this world-wide community!

From Creeping to Leaping: the Kindergarten Year As…

Posted by sarahrichards on | No Comments

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From Creeping to Leaping: the Kindergarten Year

As April approached during our daughter’s last year before Kindergarten, my husband and I began the same process many Montessori preschool parents engage in every Spring: making the decision about where she would go for Kindergarten. We loved the Montessori preschool, and had really seen our daughter thrive there for the past two years. And we knew the mantra about kids in the program ‘leaping’ in their learning during their third year. On the other hand, when we moved to Redding, we researched potential schools for our kids, and chose our house based upon where we intended them to attend school – a wonderful charter school that really seemed to cater to our daughter’s personality and to specific curricular offerings that were important to me and my husband.

When we thought about our daughter’s progress at Montessori in particular, we discussed how much progress she had already made – we were amazed by her burgeoning math skills, her beginning writing, her ability to select work and focus…we thought perhaps the ‘third year leap’ was something she was already experiencing. She had been so prolific and learned so many new and diverse things, how much more could she grow in the following year?

We decided to go through the lottery process at the charter school and make a decision later, if we were successful in securing her a spot. As it turned out, we were not successful. I was surprised at what a relief that was! We were please that she could continue to hone her skills and talents in her own time, according to when she was ready, both in terms of interest and development. We appreciated that she would be able to develop more ability to concentrate on her work over ever longer periods of time, and that she would learn to be responsible for progressing through her own education – that she would learn that her rewards (learning new information, skills, etc.) would be a direct result of the effort she decided to invest.

Fast forwarding to the beginning of her Kindergarten year at Shady Oaks, my husband and I were blown away at the changes we observed in her. We thought she had been ‘leaping’ in her learning the year before – she hadn’t even begun!! She went from writing her name and the names of a few items around to developing whole sentences, and then stories, in a matter of a couple of months. From reading a handful of words in beginning reader books and signs around town, she suddenly (within a period of a few weeks) moved on to reading whole stories by herself – and within a couple of months, again, she progressed to books several levels above what we have expected from a traditional 1st grader! She’s moved from adding single digits together to delving into large addition, subtraction, and multiplication – we’re not even sure what work she’s doing in the classroom that relates to this (she doesn’t tell us a whole lot about what she does); it just comes up at the dinner table or while we’re baking together. And, being a Kindergartner this year, she is really getting the opportunity to explore her leadership skills. It’s been wonderful to watch her give lessons to the ‘new friends’ in the classroom, or hear about things the younger children are working on that she can sit near and watch, while she does her own work, and help with if they’re struggling with something. A great side-benefit to that, she’s become extraordinarily helpful in the same way with her little brother at home as well.

In November of her Kindergarten year, we received a phone call from the charter school that there was an opening for her for immediate placement. My husband and I struggled with the thought at that point. We were really starting to see our daughter leap at Montessori, and we knew how much we and she both valued her self-direction, independence in learning, and the benefits of the multi-age classroom. Still, we had been invested in the idea of this charter school, and it was difficult to just let go of that. We decided to observe the classroom she would be placed to make the best-informed decision we could.

That morning, we talked to our daughter briefly about the task before us. We wanted to know what her thoughts and opinions about this were and let her know we valued her input, though we were careful to explain that this was a decision that we were ultimately going to be making based on our assessment of the options. She asked what some of the differences would be. We talked about the whole class doing the same work at the same time. We explained that she would be required to stay in her seat, and raise her hand if she wanted to ask a question or needed to get up for a drink or to go to the bathroom. She looked at us like we had sprouted horns.

What if I want to do reading and someone else wants to do writing? Well, that’s not how other classrooms work – you’ll have to read when the class is reading, and write when the class is writing. What if I’m not done reading and it’s time to write? You’ll have to save your place in what you’re reading and come back to it next time, or maybe do it on your own after school. What if I haven’t had the lesson the class is working on yet? Well, everyone gets the same lesson all together at the same time, so when it’s time to work, everyone’s had the lesson for that work. And I can’t get up to go to the bathroom without raising my hand and asking? That’s right – but they’ll let you go, we promise!

The more we talked it over, the more ludicrous it seemed to us also, given the environment that Montessori provides. Still, we went to our observation with open minds. The children seemed happy enough. The teacher was kind and engaging. They were working on a math set while we were there, counting sides of a hexagon, drawing the shape repeatedly in columns on a worksheet, coloring it yellow (the hexagon tanagrams they used were all yellow), and writing six in the next column showing the number of sides for each hexagon they drew. About five minutes after we got there, the teacher stopped that lesson and had the class move to a story rug to work on some reading comprehension. This consisted of her holding up flashcards with common words (cat, hat, it, I, we, can, etc.) for the kids to say in unison three times, then the next card three times, and so on. This lasted another 10 minutes, maybe, before they moved back to their desks for a new lesson.

The teacher had explained to us that the children needed a break from the math exercise, because they really couldn’t concentrate on it for more than about 15 or 20 minutes at a time. This was the beginning of the end for us. We knew from our experience at Montessori, our daughter (and many others children in our classroom) had no problem working on a project for long periods of time, because they chose work they wanted to do and were interested in. They didn’t have to stop working because other students (who weren’t really interested in the work at hand) got restless.

In fact, this classroom’s whole day was scheduled out in 30-minute increments (or less) for various subjects. Then they lost about 4-5 minutes each time they moved from one lesson to the next as they waited for the entire class to simultaneously finish one project, move, and settle in to the next. While this allowed the children to move a little between tasks, it seems strange, having the Montessori experience to relate to, that kids who need to move aren’t allowed until it is time for the whole class to do so. And that kids that might not be ready to finish the task at hand are required to because others are, or the schedule says it’s time.

We made our decision as we walked out the classroom door from our observation that this was simply not an environment that was best for our daughter. She was clearly thriving with the Montessori method, and we didn’t see anything that seemed it would provide her with a greater educational benefit. We were happy to have the opportunity to make this decision ourselves, and know now that it really is the best choice for our family. It means we will be driving out to Middle Creek Montessori twice a day every school day for nearly the next decade, between our two children. (The charter school is less than a mile from our house – an easy walking or biking distance.) Still, the opportunity this affords them is clearly worth it for us.

On a side note, my husband and I come from the polar opposite ends of the public education spectrum: one of us easily excelled in that environment, and the other struggled to make it through. We’re both intelligent, curious individuals who love to read and have taken many opportunities to further our education outside school. But the system we grew up with, and which seems to have gone to further extremes, catered to good test-takers who don’t necessarily “learn” the information as much as memorize it for quick regurgitation on tests, while punishing those who do not test well by grading them on how they take the test, rather than how well they actually know the subject matter. Both of us have seen how the Montessori method would have made a world of difference for our own educations – for one providing a more engaging, less punitive environment that actually promotes learning, and for the other an environment that promotes actual and intentional learning, rather than simple memorization of facts without actually connecting the facts with long-term knowledge that builds upon itself. I relish the opportunity for our children to be in control of their education; to explore and learn because it’s something that they want to know, rather than something they will need to know for a test; to know that their learning, and not some arbitrary test, is both an objective in itself and a door to their future.

Montessori? … Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. “My hat is…

Posted by Peterintoronto on | No Comments

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Montessori? … Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

“My hat is off to you for knowing to have your children attend (a) good Montessori school” teacher Marty wrote me. Heck, I wish I had been that smart, that well informed; here’s how it actually happened ….

Our eldest son turned two that July and we wanted to move him in September from day care to something more structured where he would be more gainfully occupied and interact with peers.

I’d heard good things of Montessori but knew no details and nothing of the pitfalls of school selection. The era was pre-Internet and we had to rely on signage, “Montessori School”, and on-site word of mouth for our due diligence.

We visited 5 local schools; looked, listened and asked the typical un-informed new-parent questions – I remember seeking a low teacher/student ratio (a mistake in a Dr. Maria classroom!) – and we heard words that the staff must’ve thought that new parents would want to hear.

We ended up choosing the school furthest away and a little hard to get to. I noted that Ellesmere Montessori School classrooms looked like proper school rooms rather than places to park ones child. They were busy orderly places with age-appropriate furniture, mini life-skills paraphernalia, much (to us) peculiar specialized equipment and no student artwork on the walls.

I’m sure we were told it was a strict AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) environment but the significances of that went over our heads. The Dr. Maria “penny” began to drop later after we’d attended a few parent workshops and gotten to see how our son and then his sister excelled there.

Both children graduated from Elementary Class at age 12 and are now doing very well at public school. Their younger brother follows in their footsteps, thriving in Casa. The successes of all three children continue to be striking; for example, they’ve never not wanted to go to school!

Our choice of that particular school could have been “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” but was really a stroke of luck. Now we feel bad for children whose parents likely saw “Montessori” up front but didn’t have the knowledge or the good fortune to pick a real Montessori school.

Thanks be to the (relatively few) stalwarts who are keeping Dr. Maria Montessori’s aspirations alive and well. Are there ways that you, members of this blog, could make the choosing of a Montessori school easier for the uninformed new parent, less hit or miss? …

Montessori-AMI Parent Peter in Toronto,

My son, now in high school, recently wrote the fol…

Posted by varisp on | 4 Comments

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My son, now in high school, recently wrote the following essay. It summarizes what Montessori means to our family.

The “Gifted” One

For most of my childhood, I was known as “Josh’s” little brother. I faded quietly into the shadow of the bright lights shinned on my brother, the firstborn, “golden child”. Josh demonstrated his exceptional talents at an early age, reading before his third birthday solving equations before the first day of kindergarden. “He was such a curious child who just loved to learn”, recalls my mother. Then “real” school started. Josh was immediately identified by his elementary school counselor as “highly gifted”. He was given several tests to access his brilliance and all of these came back with a resounding confirmation that Josh was indeed, “a genius”. Josh recalls the day when his teacher announced to the class that “our Josh is SO smart that he’s going to be in a special, very selective program called Gifted and Talented and he will be working with fourth graders for math”. He became and instant celebrity. Kids referred to him as the “math whiz” and older students would walk up to him in the hallway and ask him questions like, “What’s 234 times 32?” to which Josh would quickly answer, satisfying their need to confirm his status as the elementary school Einstein. Being three years younger, I remember Josh coming home from school and tossing his backpack on the couch, exhausted and grumpy. Each day, he seemed more agitated until one night he burst into tears. I peeked over the couch,watching as my parents tried to find out why he was so very unhappy. “School is no fun. Everyone thinks I’m so smart. I’m scared that one day I will get an answer wrong and then no one will like me anymore!”. I HATE being smart!” he cried. I ran off, hoping no one realized I was listening. I made a mental note of that conversation and decided then and there, life in the shadows of my big brother wasn’t a bad thing at all.

Before long, it was time for me to start school. My father had been transferred overseas and my parents enrolled me in a small Montessori school nestled quietly in English countryside, aptly named “Cherry Trees” as it was surrounded by an orchard. I clutched my mom’s hand tightly as we walked into my new classroom. My teacher, Miss Pesch, was young and cheerful, welcoming me as a clung even tighter to my mom. I finally summoned the courage to glance around and saw shelves full of interesting items; smooth beads, blocks, and lots of books. In this school, there were no grade levels. Instead, my class was called “Koalas” and there were children ranging in age from three to six-years-old. I wandered about the classroom, intrigued by the environment. I found a book about fossils and began reading intently then glanced up quickly to see if the teacher had seen me. I was barely four and had been reading for nearly a year but, to my relief, my parents had not seemed to notice. They were focused on Josh, the child prodigy, and spent a great deal of time and energy making sure his “potential” was being met and ensuring that his teachers kept him “adequately challenged”. Thus, I remained free to learn and explore on my own. I read anything and everything that amused me from Green Eggs and Ham to The Guardian’s of G’Hoole with no concern for lextile level or Accelerated Reader incentive points. So, it must have seemed a bit odd to see me, tiny for my age anyway, to be pouring over a science book while others my age were sounding out the letter “B”. My faced flushed as Miss Pesch approached. I was certain that the secret was out and my reading ability would be cause for an immediate trip to the guidance counselor for further evaluation. To my great relief, however, Miss Pesch smiled and asked me in a soft voice if I would care to join the others on the rug when I was finished reading. I nodded shyly and then very quietly finished my book and sat down next to a round-faced boy named Joe and a girl named Olivia who looked at me with big, brown friendly eyes. Joe and Olivia become good friends and the rest of my time at Cherry Trees School was spent exploring and learning at my own pace. Despite my fascination with math and a voracious appetite for books, no one ever referred to me as “smart” or “gifted”. My teachers only guided my along to new learning activities and applauded my effort and hard work. I tried many new things, sometimes failing miserably at first, but since no one expected perfection, I didn’t mind trying again and again until the new challenge was mastered.

Over the years, Josh continued to hate school. He feared failure more than anything else but also worried that hard work and studying might prove that his his “genius” IQ was all a mistake. Josh believed that, being gifted, nothing should be hard for him. What he didn’t understand is that no matter how easily a person learns, failure, hard work, and persistence are essential ingredients for success. For a long time, I was referred to as “the younger sibling of Josh, the math genius.” However, as time went by, I became known more and more as simply, “Zach”, not Zach the computer genius (I have learned several programming languages for fun), or Zach the artist (I love to draw, paint, and sculpture). No one ever gave me a label. I consider this to be the greatest “gift” of all.

  • Mark Berger

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    I love this! Would love to meet you one day Zach- sounds like you’re doing just fine. Nice work. I hope Josh is hanging in there too.

  • varisp

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    A couple of weeks ago I asked Zach to write down some of the projects he’s been working on. He sent me this link:
    I asked him how he learned how to code etc, he said, “From playing around. I just like learning stuff”. Hallmark of the Montessori child:)

  • Grace

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    I loved Zach’s perspective. It also goes to the tune of recent research on child development which says that praising children as smart all of the time, or merely stating praise like “good job,” falls short of teaching them to try and try again. This praise can actually have the opposite effect, causing children to give up on tasks that don’t come exceedingly easy to them. It happened to me as a child and I fear it has the potential of happening to my daughter. I had a high proclivity for language and expressed myself early and completely, which was above my peer group. I did well at other academic subjects as well. However, I quickly labeled myself “not an artist” and “not good at sports” upon first attempts. I also didn’t learn to tie my shoes until third or fourth grade. Really. Everywhere my daughter (3-years) goes, people remark on how smart she is. I picked up the book Nurture Shock which talks about this recent research on the negative effect of general praise (you’re so smart) as oppose to specific praise (I like how you kept trying until you got that or I love how you are thinking about things from different perspectives). I also grew up hating school. I wasn’t so much afraid of failure, but stifled by the social climate. I felt bored or awkward socially. Sometimes it felt like all students were suspects to teachers. Lengthy time was spent on behavior correction of students and the rest of us had to suffer through it, as a group. I witnessed many events of an adult harassing or humiliating students. I always did well and became passionate and engaged in some classrooms, but totally bored or annoyed in others. In general though, it was a dreadful, prison-like place to be. Now I am almost done earning my degree in education, even though I hated my public school education, because I have dreams and ambitions that education can be better. Looking into Montessori training as a next step. My goal is to have my daughter in a Montessori school that I also teach in, so that I play a big role in her education and know exactly what is going on. So, as I said, I loved reading Zach’s perspective. I would like to know though, varisp, about your perspective as his parent. Why did you choose to enroll your second child in Montessori school when you had chosen public school for your first child? What were your memories feelings surrounding the experiences, dynamics of the family, and events he described? That is, if you don’t mind sharing. Thanks.

  • Nadia Filan

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    Zach you have made me cry! You are my 2nd son who is also 3 years younger than his gifted older brother. Just as genius in his own right! However only points off on “paper”! Your writing is enlightening, poignant and heart felt! I have four boys, each gifted in so many ways. We are also on a quest to provide them with and education that meets their needs. One that nurtures their interest and desire to learn without placing restraints on their creativity, excitement and curiosity about learning and the world around the.
    Please continue to share, we have so much to learn from you! Thank You!

Washing the frog leads to aerospace engineering

Posted by MarshaFamilaroEnright on | 2 Comments

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I remember when my son, now 30, was 2 1/2, attending Beverly Montessori. I would often volunteer for Language Table, and every time I did, all I ever saw my son doing was washing a plastic frog with a toothbrush. But he was a funny kid, not much interested in toys or machines, and given to sitting around and staring into space sitting on the front porch. If I hadn’t read Montessori’s work and been convinced that children tend to choose those activities they need to work on the most, I might have been worried. Instead, I was just curious about why the repetition with that work. He attended BMS for almost four years, and then went on to the Montessori School of Southwest Cook County until third grade, and after that, Council Oak Montessori School, where he did love to work on math materials but balked at writing.

When he went to Morgan Park Academy, a small, private college prep school for high school, all he wanted to do was be a basketball star. Again, I figured he’d find his way. Sure enough, one day he came home from school very excited and told me: “Mom, you know why I love physics?” (which I didn’t even know he loved!) “Because it explains everything I’ve always wondered about! Now I understand angular momentum!!” And it dawned on me that all that time he spent staring into space, he was observing and thinking about the motion of objects around him – but he had had no words for what he saw as a kid.

He first majored in Physics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, but then switched to Aerospace Engineering, in which he is happily employed. Truly an example of the “Mystery of the Child” – how we simply cannot know what’s going on inside the minds of children and must have confidence that if we give them a properly prepared, rich environment, they will follow what they need and discover a productive path in life.

  • Grace

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    I really have to applaud you for your ability to step back and let him be on faith. I honestly would be micromanaging, over-thinking, and causing myself all sorts of anxiety in a similar situation. It’s really an amazing story, as you say, of the mystery of the child. I am always reminding myself to relax about behaviors that my daughter has that I feel I need to DO SOMETHING about, when in reality they are often stages that pass or they serve some purpose. Thanks for another reminder.

  • pam staton

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Montessori Changed Our Lives

Posted by donnadh on | 1 Comment

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We started our Montessori journey in 1991 when my older son was 2 1/2 years old.  I walked into a Montessori school, they said, “Five mornings a week,” I laughed in their faces and walked out.  Children go to school forever!  Why would I want my child in school 5 mornings a week at 2??!?  Little did I know what we were missing.  Fortunately, the fates brought us back to Montessori only a year later and that was the beginning of a life journey that would change us forever.

Both our boys attended the Primary program.  We moved from state to state but found that the Montessori experience was virtually the same.  Then came Montessori elementary.  What an eye-opener for me and my husband.  Here we both thought that school is something you just do because you have to.  Yes, we were excelling students, but it was never fun to wake up in the morning on a school day.  For our sons, however, every day was a joy.  They couldn’t wait to get to school and they looked forward to Monday mornings because the weekends weren’t challenging enough!

Our oldest had the wonderful opportunity of staying in Montessori through 5th grade; our youngest only through 3rd—moving again!  But something interesting had already happened in both of them:  the spark and thirst for knowledge was already set.  They cruised through public school as every teacher’s pet–the child who pays attention, wants to ask (and answer) every question, wants to be challenged and lives up to expectations.  Were they perfect children?  Thankfully, no.  But what always struck me is that they were truly individuals who knew what was important to them and to their future.  Straight A’s were nice, but really, who cared?  Wasn’t it more important to know why something happened than the exact date it happened?  Does it matter who is the valedictorian of the class as long as I can get into the college of my choice?  Why do I need a fancy phone or car when all I really want to do is communicate with friends and get from point A to point B?   Our sons could stand in front of 500 people and give a speech or sing a solo because they had confidence in themselves.  They chose to hang out with adults, not because they didn’t have friends, but because they were peers.

So at 21 and 23 are they successful?  Well, let’s just say that every moment of doubt as a parent has been relieved and then some.  For those parents who worry about Montessori students being able to test well–worry not.  Younger son is on a full-ride scholarship (tuition, room, board, etc.) because he tested well.  The older one graduated from college with honors and was the only business major with a job on graduation day.  Why?  Because he learned in Montessori that failure is just part of life.  When one company said, “No thanks,” he just moved on.  He also learned that there is more than one way to approach a problem.  Online applications getting you nowhere?  Start a blog, create a website, turn a marketing newsletter into a method to share information about your profession.  Talk to everyone you meet and actually listen to what they are saying.   Does Montessori work?  OH YES!

And for those of you who are parents, even your lives can be changed.  In mid-life, I changed careers and became a Montessori teacher.  Now I run a school and have the wonderful opportunity to help other families discover the wonder of Montessori.   I have had the chance to meet some truly amazing individuals who are determined to make a difference for children everywhere.  Get involved in your Montessori school and see how your own life changes.

We all look back on our experiences over the last 20 years and think, “Thank you, Maria Montessori!”  We have been blessed with your vision and our lives will never be the same.



  • Scott in Charlotte

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    Great story. Thanks for sharing. Our son is a second year primary student and we look forward to success stories like yours.

My daughter started in Montessori in Toronto when …

Posted by Mark Berger on | No Comments

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My daughter started in Montessori in Toronto when she was 2 yrs and 4 months. Wow. Never looked back. Today she’s a vibrant and confident 12 year old who shows great initiative and comes up with all kinds of ideas. Love what Montessori helped her to become!


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