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The Montessori Children's House: An Introduction
NAMTA's purpose is to maintain Montessori traditions, and at the same time, to be on the cutting edge of innovative education. Accordingly, we provide the medium for study, interpretation, and improvement of Montessori education.
Montessori cannot be done piecemeal; it is a total curriculum approach that is integrated and sequential. Full benefits can be achieved only if the dynamic of the total program is understood by a Montessori-trained teaching staff that shares a common educational philosophy. Montessori programming should be implemented in its entirety with minimal interruption from auxiliary classes or services.
The name "Montessori" is not copyrighted, and there are many independent Montessori training programs with differing standards. A 1988 NAMTA survey of public Montessori programs indicates that the majority require the credentials of either the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) or the American Montessori Society (AMS). Sponsorship of trainees to national institutes in good standing may be accomplished using sabbaticals and with foundation grants and parent fundraising in addition to district funds. Sponsorships usually cost between $5,000 and $10,000 per trainee for tuition and related expenses. There is a limited availability of experienced Montessori-trained teachers; therefore strategies for recruitment of staff or staff sponsorship require advance planning. It is suggested that school administrations recruit well in advance for trainees, and that funds be set aside for sponsorship. Also, school representation at national Montessori conferences builds national visibility and connections necessary for good recruitment.
The 1988 NAMTA survey indicates that Montessori public schools usually maintain one teacher and one paraprofessional assistant per classroom for preschool levels. Elementary classes, on the average, work with one teacher and a part-time assistant. Class numbers range from twenty-five to thirty students.
Montessori training is intensive and imparts an attitude as well as information. The training includes Montessori child psychology, educational theory, material demonstrations, supervised practice with Montessori apparatus, observation of Montessori classrooms, supervised practice teaching, and extensive written and oral exams.
Montessori training is recognized by selected colleges and universities at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Generally the academic phases require either two summers plus an additional two months or one full academic year to complete. Many districts send existing faculty for Montessori training.
Short, in-service workshop sessions cannot substitute for recognized pre-service training.
Montessori programs conventionally start at age three with multi-aged groups of three-, four-, and five-year-old children. The elementary curriculum builds as the children move through the program one year at a time. Though it is optimal for programs to start at the preschool level, some schools have successfully begun programs at the kindergarten level. In this situation, private Montessori schools may provide some Montessori-prepared students for the public kindergarten. With parent lobbying and financial support, the three- and four-year-old levels should be added as soon as possible.
Orientation of new students at the beginning of each academic year should include the gradual integration of small groups over several weeks—never all at once.
Admission of children over age four without Montessori background should be limited.
Montessori programs group children as follows:
Preschool: Ages 3-6+
Elementary I: Ages 6-9
Elementary II: Ages 9-12
Multi-aged clusters enhance the Montessori dynamic by reducing competition, maximizing curriculum options available to any one child, providing a family atmosphere that plays a vital role in socialization, and permitting older children to model advanced work for younger children. Because one set of materials suffices for three grades, multi-aged clusters are cost effective.
The costs of funding an ongoing Montessori program will not exceed costs associated with the operation of any other elementary school program, apart from the initial set-up costs for each emerging level.
Each Montessori classroom has the following start-up costs and general maintenance expenses:
Montessori materials: $17,000-$25,000
Shelving, small tables, chairs: $4,000-$6,000
Misc. equipment and books: $1,000-$2,000
Annual maintenance (consumables): $800
Materials include practical life set-ups, handmade materials, Montessori apparatus, consumable supplies, and a small classroom library. Montessori materials may seem expensive, but they should be seen as textbook and workbook substitutes that will not have to be replaced, provided the teacher encourages their proper use. View a list of suppliers.
Special budgetary considerations must be made for the start-up and initial implementation of the Montessori program. For example, the special Montessori environments will need two weeks of set-up time prior to the first year of the program. Personnel costs should be set aside for the principal, main teachers, and office staff for this purpose.
Someone in a position of program leadership, whether administrator or "teacher on special assignment," must have experience and Montessori training, ideally at both the preschool and elementary levels. The Montessori specialist is often hired to supervise ordering and preparation of Montessori materials, parent education, expanding levels of Montessori, staff development, program evaluation, and curriculum implementation. It is also important that the district be made fully aware of correlations between Montessori and district curriculum expectations.
Teachers of various Montessori persuasions in the same school need to come to common understanding of their lesson planning and curriculum scope and pace. Expected levels of student achievement should be developed school-wide. The budget should allow teachers to attend at least two local continuing education events and one national conference per year. (Estimated cost: $1000 per teacher per year.)
The Montessori program utilizes a unique approach to education that defines specific skill objectives differently than does district curriculum. Parents and teachers need a reporting and record keeping system that accurately reflects the child's progress within a Montessori environment. Grades and number scores on report cards are not compatible with Montessori philosophy.
Community forums that deal with aspects of Montessori parent education are recurring events for increasing public awareness and keeping parents informed of ways to bring Montessori into their homes. Parent volunteerism is vital to school fundraising and other school-related projects. Research confirms that academic achievement is directly proportional to parent involvement in the Montessori program.
The Montessori private sector should be consulted for its Montessori expertise and guidance. Long-term success of the public school program is based on a policy of mutual respect between private and public Montessori institutions from the start.
Although Montessori children have historically tended to score well on standardized tests, too often the increased emphasis on state and district competency-based testing may permanently alter Montessori attitude and content.
With the increasing availability of alternative assessment instruments, better alignment of assessment and Montessori curriculum can be attained. It is important that Montessori goals and standards be assessed so that newly trained Montessori teachers are given incentives to practice Montessori education.
Assessment should seek to measure external conditions such as parent satisfaction, parent participation, and desegregation, as well as intrinsic Montessori standards and values. Follow-up studies will play a critical role in future recognition of Montessori effectiveness.