The goal of Montessori education is to support the development of the “whole child”. The best way to achieve that is through individualized approach, since no two children are alike. The traditional model of education was born in the industrial age with an emphasis on “one-size-fits-all” solution. It is a teacher-directed approach mandating the same curriculum for everyone and evaluating every student using the same criteria. In comparison, in a Montessori environment, children are in the center stage of learning and follow their own needs and interests. Such “active learning” protects and encourages children’s thirst for knowledge so they truly become learners for life. Today’s society values qualities such as executive functioning, independence, problem solving, creativity, self-regulation, leadership, compassion, resilience, confidence, concentration, teamwork, and respect. Although a method over 100 years old, Montessori education fosters all of these qualities in children. It is an educational approach that truly responds to the natural development of the child, and thus prepares the child not only for today, but any challenges the future may bring. Our Montessori webpage expands more on the philosophy/pedagogy.
HOW DO I KNOW WHETHER MY CHILD IS RECEIVING AUTHENTIC MONTESSORI EDUCATION?
Since Dr. Montessori never trademarked, copyrighted, or patented the name “Montessori”, anyone can use it, and in fact many child care centers do. It is important to know that a classroom full of Montessori materials alone does not translate into a Montessori learning environment. A daily uninterrupted three-hour work cycle and certified guides are also among key elements. Properly trained adults are not only able to beautifully present the materials, but more importantly are familiar with the purpose of and interrelationships among the materials, understand how to observe children’s interaction with the environment, and know when to protect children’s concentration and when to step in to support. For parents with untrained eyes, it could feel overwhelming having to identify characteristics of an authentic Montessori education. Our goal to obtain the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) accreditation within the first two years of school opening is aimed to provide you with assurance and confidence that we strictly adhere to the highest standards in Montessori education.
WHAT IS SO IMPORTANT ABOUT AMI-CERTIFIED GUIDES? HOW ARE THEY TRAINED?
There is a variety of Montessori trainings available, including 10-week courses and online certificates. The academic year-long Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) Montessori trainings are graduate-level and the most comprehensive and rigorous. Such high quality training ensures that the graduates demonstrate the understanding of educational theories, child development, observation techniques, the purpose and presentation of the Montessori materials, as well as the ability to connect children with appropriate materials/activities. Our AMI-certified guides are dedicated to the education of children and commit a significant amount of time creating and maintaining a prepared environment for the children. Not only is order, cleanliness, and beauty of the environment maintained on a daily basis, many materials in the environment are hand-prepared and tailored to specific interests of children. For example, if a child shows intense interest in insects, sets of insect language cards will be prepared to satisfy the child's curiosity and enrich vocabulary. Such evolving process of observing and addressing the needs requires commitment that could only emanate from passion.
MONTESSORI SEEMS TOO SERIOUS AND ACADEMIC DRIVEN. SHOULDN’T THE PRIORITY OF A PRESCHOOL BE ALLOWING CHILDREN TO EXPLORE AND HAVE FUN WHILE THEY ARE YOUNG?
There is no argument that it is young children’s nature to explore and play. What’s often not realized is that in a carefully prepared environment, children are capable of an extraordinary amount of learning through very playful and enjoyable activities. With Montessori education, the “fun” factor is often overlooked or misunderstood. Just because children’s activities are called “work” or the fact that there are tremendous developmental benefits to the activities does not mean children do not experience them as fun. In fact, the deep satisfaction and pleasure children feel from concentrated and purposeful “work” is psychologically exactly the same as how they feel when they are having “fun” through playing.
Early childhood is an incredible period during which certain skills could be acquired effortlessly (e.g., concentration, memorization, appreciation and concrete understanding of math, reading). If missed or delayed to a later phase (such as elementary school), these skills require much more deliberate commitment and effort to learn. In a Montessori environment, rather than being forced to learn, children gravitate towards activities serving their developmental needs. These activities are freely chosen by the child and are experienced as fulfilling and joyful. Isn’t this the true spirit of “fun”?
We would be doing children a disservice by assuming that joy should not be associated with long-term developmental benefits. Children having received authentic Montessori education typically stay curious and motivated to learn. This is the best proof that such education provides joyful experiences that benefit the child for life.
DO CHILDREN GET TO DO ART PROJECTS IN MONTESSORI ENVIRONMENT?
We don’t ask all children to sit together and produce adult-determined “art projects” that are nearly identical. We believe that art is an expression of one’s inner world. The need to express one’s feelings arises haphazardly and the feelings being expressed vary from child to child. For this reason, we don’t teach art. This is not to say that art does not exist in our environment. Quite contrary, artistic expressions are very much encouraged, appreciated, and protected. See our Montessori webpage as well Children’s House webpage for more information regarding our approach to creativity and art.
ARE CHILDREN REALLY FREE TO DO ANYTHING THEY WANT TO IN A MONTESSORI ENVIRONMENT? HOW DO YOU ENSURE THEY LEARN ALL NECESSARY SKILLS?
Freedom is perhaps one of the most misunderstood characteristics of Montessori education. The fact that children in our environment have the freedom to choose work does not mean that they have the freedom to do anything they want. Freedom is not possible without limits. We set very firm and consistent limits in the environment for the very purpose of protecting freedom. Our goal is to cultivate self-discipline in children by engaging them in purposeful work. While children are free to choose their work, their choices are naturally limited by their knowledge and materials prepared by the guides. For example, a three-year old child entering the environment tends to choose things that immediately catch his/her eyes and often out of impulse - a picture book, a puzzle, or bead stringing. As children receive presentations and become familiar with more materials, their knowledge of the materials increases, and their selection of choices widens. Gradually, children transition away from impulsive choices, and start making educated, constructive, and developmentally appropriate choices.
We encourage such freedom because children are more genuinely interested in the work they choose and tend to be more motivated to overcome obstacles. They gain a sense of satisfaction from such learning, which encourages them to continue learning more. Too often, in traditional classrooms, children are forced to follow instructions of adults and gradually become convinced that their own interests and thoughts are of little importance.
Our trained guides observe and keep records of each child’s progress, and ensure that during the 3+ years in the environment, the child is connected with all necessary materials/areas of learning. Not every child chooses to work with each and every material, and that is okay. There are many ways to gain the essential skills, and we recognize that not every child reaches the goals the same way. An individualized progress evaluation report is shared with parents during semi-annual parent guide conferences.
WHY MIXED AGE GROUPS AND WHY LARGER CLASSES THAN TRADITIONAL PRESCHOOLS?
Since Montessori education is self-directed, once a child has an understanding of a particular material, he/she may choose to work and practice with it whenever he/she likes while the guide works with other children. Children develop and master skills at different pace, just as they start walking or talking at different times. Dr. Montessori observed that an environment with mixed age groups spanning approximately three years allows children to progress in accordance with their inner timetables. This setting allows the older children to help younger children, thus becoming confident leaders and caring mentors. A larger classroom is thus ideal to foster concentration, repetition of work, as well as peer teaching.
WHY IS YOUR PROGRAM FIVE DAYS A WEEK?
Children thrive on routine and consistency during this formative age. Attending school five days consecutively every week provides predictability, and thus frees children from having to re-orient themselves day to day. Children who attend school five days a week are able to continue along the progression of materials at their own pace more easily compared to children who experience gaps in between school days. There is also more time for becoming familiar with new materials and more time for repetition with materials until mastery is achieved. For these reasons, five days a week, three-hour uninterrupted work cycle each morning and two to three-hour uninterrupted work cycle each afternoon are among Standards for Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) Schools.
IS THE PROGRAM ONLY FOR CHILDREN THAT ALREADY HAVE CHINESE EXPOSURE AT HOME?
Absolutely not, and in fact, it is one of our goals to bring bilingual opportunity to children from monolingual families with no prior Chinese exposure!
It is expected that children will not understand Chinese at first, and it is common for them to communicate with each other in English. The Chinese speaking adults will consistently use Chinese and other methods of communication such as body language, gestures, facial expressions, visual aids, and objects to actively engage children. Children will begin to understand basic instructions in a very short period of time.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN IMMERSION AND TRADITIONAL LANGUAGE LEARNING?
In immersion language learning, language is the medium of instruction. In traditional language learning, language is the subject of instruction. We do not teach Chinese or English as a foreign language, we use them to communicate and facilitate learning.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO LEARN ANOTHER LANGUAGE FROM SUCH A YOUNG AGE?
Young children are in the prime time of acquiring multiple languages effortlessly. They gain the authenticity of the language(s) they are consistently exposed to very quickly, and at a level that is nearly impossible to achieve later in life. In addition, acquiring multiple languages from a young age helps increase brain plasticity (thus increased capacity for learning), favors developing intercultural aptitudes, and raises sensibility to social and communication needs of others.
WON'T LEARNING TWO LANGUAGES SIMULTANEOUSLY CONFUSE MY CHILD?
Not at all. On the contrary, studies show that receiving a bilingual education from young age heightens cognitive development. The intellectual stimulation that arises from the regular and balanced use of two languages facilitates abstraction, conceptualization, and the understanding and use of symbolism.
IS MONTESSORI OR YOUR SCHOOL RELIGIOUS?
No. Montessori education is aimed to aid the development of all children and does not serve or favor any particular religion. Our school does not have any religious affiliation and welcomes children of all cultures and religious backgrounds.