FAQ for New Families

Why do you call the activities ‘work’?

We call the activities work because the children put effort and concentration into getting a result, and that is, of course, what Montessori is about. Most importantly, though, the children always choose to put in that effort and concentration, and it is amazing what a child, even as young as 18 months, can do when given choice and opportunity! Why not book a tour or observation today, and experience personally the level of engagement and activity you will see in a Montessori classroom?

Is Montessori the same as play-­based learning?

No, they are quite different things. The children don’t play with the very specific Montessori materials they use each day; they use them to develop and reinforce each part of the curriculum. For example, if a child started to construct a tower out of the pieces of the Trinomial Cube , the director would gently remind them how that material should be used. There is usually very little need for this, as the materials, the prepared environment and the culture in the classroom naturally encourage the children to use materials appropriately and enjoy every moment of it. If you would like to see this in action, please enquire about a tour .

What makes Montessori different from other education?

There are many special elements of a Montessori education, which are explained in more detail in our ‘Why Montessori’ section. But as a summary:

  • Children are self­-directed in the classroom, choosing from among the available materials according to their own need to learn and work individually, or in small groups, as the children choose, rather than the whole class working on the one activity/focus for set periods of time. This results in highly engaged, confident and self-­motivated students.
  • The materials themselves are designed, on the basis of close observation of children, to suit different stages of learning needs. They provide a self-­correcting path from a concrete, sensory understanding of each subject to abstract knowledge.
  • Montessori teachers are trained to have confidence in your child’s ability to direct their own learning. They take the time to observe each child at work, and intervene with gentle direction when necessary.
  • Our multi-­age classrooms create a culture of respect and knowledge sharing while also providing a very broad range of educational materials for each child to work with.
  • ‘Grace and Courtesy’ is a key principle of a Montessori classroom, with a strong emphasis placed on social skills (e.g. greeting each other individually, personal manners), respect for the environment and materials (returning equipment to its correct place, keeping the classroom clean and tidy) and the way you share the space with others (moving considerately around the classroom, control of your own actions)

At what age do the children start?

Our Parent­ Toddler group starts at 18 months, which is a Saturday 2-hour session that you attend with your child.

Children may begin Cycle 1 (preschool & kindergarten) at or near their third birthday. The earliest they can be accepted into the class is 2 years & 9 months. The children then naturally transition to Cycle 2 (Years 1 ­- 3) at around the age of 6 and to Cycle 3 (Years 4 – 6) when approaching 9 years of age.

If you are interested in your child joining Canberra Montessori, whether for Parent ­Toddler, the start of Cycle 1, or for a later Cycle, please look at ‘Welcome to your CMS Journey’.

Do Cycle 1 children attend every day?

Yes, they do attend every day. 3 and 4 year olds will attend from 8:30 -­ 12pm, Monday to Friday. This is the first Work Cycle of the day. 3 and 4 year olds may commence ‘Early Extended Day’ at any stage, and they then stay for the second Work Cycle with the older children, and finish at 3pm each day. Mats are provided for children if they need a rest.

Children attend every day because this allows them to fully participate in all facets of a wide and rounded school life. They become community members rather than visitors and they achieve continuity in their work and that of the class.

How do children cope moving to a traditional school from Montessori?

Experience shows that children cope very well. One of the outcomes for our students that we are most proud of is how independent, self-­directed and confident they are at the end of their time with us, which is excellent preparation for the larger peer group and different style of workload they will find at high school. They are also usually extremely relaxed talking to any adult, which means they are able to engage with their many new teachers very effectively.

The education they have received at CMS ensures that they have a very concrete and fundamental understanding of concepts, as rote learning has absolutely no place in a Montessori school. Often, because we cover such a broad range of topics and allow children to follow their interests and passions within the curriculum, our graduates have already been introduced to subject material that many other high school students are meeting for the first time.

Our graduates move to a variety of secondary schools, whether that is their local government school, a grammar school or another independent schooling option. We regularly hold ‘Life After Montessori’ sessions, at which past families and graduates come back to talk to current and prospective families about how their time at CMS has prepared them for their next journey.

If your are interested in attending, please look at our Calendar of Events for more information.

Why is there a three year age range in each class?

The multi­-year age groups are a core principle of Montessori education, which may be a surprise if you are familiar with other schooling systems which treat composite or multi­-age classrooms as a last resort!

The benefits of a three year age range in our classrooms are enormous. Older children act as role models and instructors for the younger children, reviewing concepts themselves in the process. Patience and confidence are reinforced and practised. Younger children learn to seek help and assistance of those more experienced than themselves. They begin to learn to help themselves. If a child is working either above or below their peer group level, they are able to continue developing at their own pace without it being perceived as a point of difference to their peers (although rest assured the Class Director will be supporting the child at the appropriate level!)

One benefit you as a parent or carer may notice is that your child will become very confident at talking to other children and adults of all ages as they learn that they are a valuable part of a group and respected as an individual.

What is the importance of completing each three year cycle?

Our classrooms are arranged in Cycles, with each Cycle having children from 3 age groups/school years in it. Within each cycle, a carefully planned and sequenced body of information and skills are presented to your child. Much of their success in the cycle depends on the repetition, at successive stages of development, of similar exercises, so that their understanding of the curriculum is full and complete. In most schools, the only opportunity a child has to work through, for example, the Year 1 curriculum, is in Year 1, and so on for Years 2 and 3. In a Montessori school, we give the children three years to complete each cycle, so during their three years in Cycle 2 they will work through the curriculum for Years 1, 2 and 3 over that time. Of course, at the end of the first year in Cycle 2, your child will have covered all the curriculum that is expected of any 6 or 7 year old child doing Year 1 in any other school. The difference is that they may also have started looking at some elements of the Year 2 curriculum, and then in Year 2 or 3, they may be revisiting the curriculum of previous years to consolidate their knowledge and understanding of the subject material. So it’s not a matter of just spending Years 1, 2 and 3 in the same classroom; your child will be completing a full 3 year program designed to give them the maximum benefit in each curriculum area.

In addition, the three year cycles have been matched to specific periods of development in each child, and the classroom delivers not only the academic education required for children of that age, but the emotional and personal development and support best suited to that three year span. The three year cycle ensures the completion of all work necessary to the development of the whole child at that particular age.

Why should my child remain in a Montessori school?

Each cycle of the curriculum equips your child with the foundation for the next. Just as the repetition of exercises within each cycle serves to consolidate your child’s learning, so too the following cycles revisit and expand your child’s knowledge and understanding. This gives them a consistent path from the concrete to the abstract . The similar classroom environment, cooperative manner of working and style of guidance offered by the Montessori director provide a secure framework in which your child can confidently apply the skills and approaches to learning acquired in the previous three years. Consultation between cycle directors at the time of transition ensures that your child’s particular needs are well understood at each stage.

Completing all three cycles offered by Canberra Montessori gives your child an excellent preparation for life at high school.

What is the difference between concrete and abstract understanding in the classroom?

Concrete knowledge comes from physical manipulation of the Montessori materials. For example, a child using the Racks and Tubes to learn division and place values can see from the material how they can physically exchange ten Unit beads for one Tens bead, but they may still need to use the material to arrive at the correct answer for the maths problem they’ve set themselves.

Abstract knowledge is when the child is so confident in using the concrete materials that, in the case of the example above, they no longer need to swap physical beads to represent place values. Effectively, they are simply using the process they learned from the Racks and Tubes, but entirely in their head. They have abstracted the knowledge from the concrete materials, and can now apply that to any situation they require.

In a nutshell, your child won’t just know that 2 + 2 = 4, they will fully understand why 2 + 2 must equal 4. Many of the Montessori materials your child will use are designed to let them make the transition from concrete to abstract, sometimes repeating the process to add a new level of understanding each time.

Who was Maria Montessori?

Maria Montessori, doctor, educator and feminist, was one of the most brilliant and original thinkers of the early 20th century. Montessori was a passionate advocate for the welfare and rights of the child. Her work in education was revolutionary at the time and her influence continues today in countries all around the world.

Born in Chiaravalle, Italy in 1870, Maria Montessori became, in 1896, the first woman to graduate in medicine from the University of Rome. After graduating, her first work as a doctor involved research with the Psychiatric Clinic at the University and this brought her into contact with children who were physically and intellectually disabled. Dr Montessori was quick to realise that their needs were as much educational as they were medical and from here developed her interest in education.

She furthered her study in the areas of philosophy, psychology and anthropology, and became a professor of anthropology at the University before directing her attention more fully towards the education of all children. This then became her lifelong work. Maria Montessori worked with children of diverse social and cultural backgrounds. She developed her educational ideas through close observation and experimentation as well as freely using ideas from contemporary education. By 1909, she had become a public figure, spending her time lecturing, writing, travelling and establishing schools and training centres. She died on 6 May 1952, aged 81, leaving a legacy of education that is carried on in thousands of schools around the globe.

How does any work get done if the children are left to their own devices? Isn’t it chaotic?

This is, perhaps, the most wonderful thing about Montessori education, and shows the real legacy of the decades of research that Maria Montessori put into how children learn.

The work gets done because the children are required to make their own choices. When children are provided with a carefully designed environment that:

  • is full of materials tailor­made for the age range of the children in that classroom;
  • has a culture of respect for the abilities, intelligence and independence of each child;
  • encourages questions, enquiry and exploration;
  • understands that children naturally want to learn; and
  • is supervised by a Director trained to help each child get the most out of themselves;

they become fully engaged with every aspect of their education. The atmosphere in the classrooms is peaceful and calm, yet filled with the energy of children getting on with learning.

Visitors to our classrooms are often astounded to see that it is entirely possible to have a class full of, say, 3, 4 and 5 year olds, all choosing their own work, moving around the classroom as required, preparing food, cleaning up after themselves and each child is demonstrating grace and courtesy to their classmates. When you make it easy for a child to learn and be a valued member of a community, the work is its own reward, and the classroom is a happy, enjoyable environment for everyone.