Introduction

When parents start looking for childcare they often come across the term “Montessori” for the first time and as a result have a lot of questions about Montessori, Early Education and Childcare. It’s important to understand what you’re signing up for when you enrol your child in any kind of childcare so this article is intended to help parents looking at childcare and early education options, and maybe considering a Montessori setting for their child.

When you’re choosing a childcare setting it’s important to consider not just whether it will be a good fir for your child, but whether it will be a good fit for your whole family. Whilst the child is the one spending the most time in the setting, the interactions between both parents and staff are important too, and should you go on to have more children it is likely that they will end up attending the same setting as their siblings so you as parents may end up signed up for the long haul!

Here are some of the frequently asked questions about Montessori childcare that might help you in your journey to find a childcare setting that suits your whole family. If you want to search for local Montessori nurseries then you can filter the results of our childcare search to look for Montessori settings in particular.

What is Montessori?

‘Montessori’ is an approach to Early Years Education based upon the work of Maria Montessori. Maria is extremely well regarded in the Early Years world; s was an Italian medical doctor who set up schools for disadvantaged children and observed how young children learn best. From this she devised an approach to Early Years Education that is now used all over the world.

Much of Maria Montessori’s work was with children of a preschool age (3 years and up) but her followers have advocated applying these principles to under 3s too, and Montessori settings are a popular choice with many parents due to it’s evidence-based approach.

It is worth noting that Montessori is not a protected title, and can be used by any school and setting so parents will need to be discerning in making their choices. A good way to check whether the setting or school is in line with Montessori principles is to look at what affiliations they have with professional associations.

How is it different to “mainstream” education?

The Montessori approach is quite distinct from ‘traditional’ or ‘mainstream’ education in the UK, and if you visit a setting you are likely to see the difference for yourself. Montessori is a holistic approach to education and seeks to develop each child as a whole. Freedom is a highly valued principle and children are encouraged to develop independence from a very young age.

The role of the teacher is very different to ‘traditional’ school and teachers in Montessori settings are often described as ‘guides’. Often in ‘traditional’ or ‘mainstream’ settings teachers are seen as knowing more, and teaching children knowledge, children’s knowledge is then tested and work is judged against an external set of guidelines.

In the Montessori classroom learning occurs through all 5 senses, and is largely self-directed. One of the main differences noted by parents upon visiting Montessori settings is the ordered environment. Montessori classrooms are often a hive of activity, but calm and purposeful. On the whole teachers do not grade or correct work but value it in and of itself and use their knowledge of each child and development to gently steer them to the next learning opportunity. This fits well with the Early Years Foundation Stage, which also places a huge emphasis on individual children.

Discipline is approached very differently; for example, Rewards and punishments are not used, instead teachers focus on developing social and emotional skills, and helping children to regulate their behaviour for themselves. Though again, this is something that is growing in popularity with many early years settings, not just Montessori nurseries.

What kind of activities are taught in Montessori settings?

A Montessori classroom is set up for the child; all the furniture and equipment is the right size for the child to be able to use it in the way it is intended. Each classroom is specially prepared by the teacher to meet the needs of the children, determined by observation and their age and stage of development. 

There is no focal point of the classroom; no teachers desk or chalk board, instead there are plenty of “work areas” which children can use in a variety of ways. This is not unusual in UK Early Years settings however, as most operate on what is called a ‘continuous provision’ model where children are able to access the areas and resources that they choose.

Extended periods of self-directed activity are the norm within Montessori settings and children are free to move about the classroom selecting the activities that interest them. In the Montessori classroom, learning is hands-on and achieved through physical activities rather than abstract conceptualising. Some specific Montessori equipment is used, though often in conjunction with other resources selected by the teacher. Montessori does differ from other approaches to the Early Years Foundation Stage, in that, Montessori equipment is often intended to be used in a specific way, and is therefore less open ended than other resources favoured by non-Montessori settings.

The areas of learning in the Montessori approach are; practical life skills, sensorial activities, mathematics, language and cultural studies.

In the UK Montessori settings must be registered with Ofsted in the same way as any other nursery, and are inspected under the same framework. They are subject to all of the same statutory requirements, including staff qualifications, ratios, learning areas and developmental checks, and many choose to follow the non-statutory guidance, known as the ‘Development Matters’ too.

Is Montessori right for my child?

Many parents express concern after visiting a Montessori classroom that their child won’t “fit in” often because their child is livelier, or has been diagnosed with a special educational need. The Montessori approach has been used successfully with children from all sorts of backgrounds, with a huge array of personalities and specific needs.

Since Montessori focuses on the child as an individual, and on developing them holistically, there is no reason to think that Montessori is only for a certain type of child. Whilst it may be true that naturally independent and self-motivated children will easily slot into a Montessori setting, other children will excel in other aspects of the Montessori setting. If Montessori fits with your family’s goals and styles then it’s worth giving it a go, most children get used to the routine of Montessori, or indeed any other setting, fairly quickly.

How will my child benefit from a Montessori setting?

In terms of academic results, research published in 2006 found that five-year-olds in Montessori classrooms had higher maths and reading skills than their counterparts in public schools. 

More importantly though for most parents who choose Montessori, children learn how to learn. Instead of providing children with ‘knowledge’ Montessori focuses strongly on skills and through careful preparation of the environment, provision of activities and gentle instruction children become independent, self-motivated learners.

The world is moving faster than ever before and knowing a set of information is not enough, the jobs our children will do have not even been invented yet so we have no idea what they need to know. Instead we need to equip our children with transferable skills and most importantly, the skill of learning. The Montessori approach builds these skills from early in childhood.

Is it more expensive?

No, generally the cost of Montessori settings is in line with other local settings in the UK. Montessori schools on the other hand are private and fee-paying so this is something to bear in mind if you think that you may wish to continue with Montessori beyond the Early Years.

Do we need to practice Montessori at home to use a Montessori setting?

The quick answer is: No, not necessarily.

The longer answer is that as you learn about the Montessori approach you may well find that you wish to incorporate some aspects of it into your home. If you do end up selecting a Montessori setting for your family’s childcare, you will probably do so because some of its values resonate with your own, and so you will already naturally be incorporating them into your home life. Values like independence, and having children join in with real-life activities are easily translatable to home life and in-line with Montessori teaching.

Will my child transition to a mainstream primary school ok?

Yes, many children who have attended a Montessori childcare setting transition to a ‘traditional’, ‘mainstream’ primary school and do very well.

However, it is also worth noting that private Montessori schools are also available should you wish to continue following the Montessori approach throughout your child’s education. Montessori primary schools continue to build on the Montessori education that your child has already received.