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What are Montessori Preschools?

Preschools and Kindergartens

Montessori preschools rely on a specific approach and philosophy borne out of the observations and writings of Dr. Maria Montessori of Italy in the early 1900s. Montessori's ideas about how young children thrive in a classroom setting were quite different than traditional preschool notions at the time. Her writings became more popular in the 1950s, leading to the steady establishment of Montessori preschools throughout much of the United States.

Basics of Montessori Preschools

Montessori, the first woman in Italy to earn a medical degree, was appointed to posts by Italian government officials to work with young children with learning disabilities and then with larger groups of 3- to 6-year-old children with impoverished backgrounds. In her writings, she concluded that children had so-called moments of creativity and sensitivity in which they were highly motivated to learn. However, Montessori believed that normal classroom settings actually hurt many kids by repressing these important moments of learning. By being forced to follow a strict schedule and without any room for spontaneous learning moments, preschool-aged children would not learn as well or as quickly.

Traditional vs. Montessori Preschools

In a traditional preschool setting, the curriculum for that day, week - and in fact - for the entire year is developed in advance and carefully followed. For the most part, kids spend much of their day at their desks listening to a teacher go through the pre-determined learning plan for that day. The goal of traditional preschools is to prepare the child for the transition from the freedom of play time at home to the structure of the classroom learning environment in kindergarten. Montessori preschools, on the other hand, allow children to make their own play and learning choices - deciding what they want to do - resulting in a much less structured setting.

Main Focus of a Montessori Preschools

Independence is a big feature of a Montessori classroom as preschoolers learn to handle snack time and lunch, including cleaning up whatever mess they have created during an activity. There are a number of centers in Montessori preschools and the children are allowed to pick the activity that interests them at that moment. By making this choice, instead of being forced to follow a rigid routine, children are able to go with what fascinates them at the moment. This leads to leaps of learning, according to Dr. Montessori. The independence - the teacher helps facilitate the child's learning but does not control what each child decides to do - is believed by Montessori supporters to help with self-confidence and self-esteem.

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