The Arbor Blog

Why Montessori Education is Priceless

Why Montessori Education is Priceless

by Sunitha Pailoor

One of my favorite commercials, even though it is simple and sentimental, is the MasterCard ad that shows family time or human interactions and calls them priceless. To me, Montessori education is priceless in the same way. It is beautiful, comprehensive, and, in its most authentic form, a treasure of experiences that leads a child to absorb the wonder and joy of learning. Montessori education is paced to meet the needs of the child. The teacher encourages the child to master a concept, though it might take a week or a month; the child indicates to the teacher when he is ready to move on to the next skill or concept. This individualized, self-paced form of education comes from understanding that each human learns in a unique way.

Montessori is a form of education that respects the child and her desire to learn. The child is not an empty vessel whose head needs to be filled by the allknowing teacher. The Montessori teacher respects the child and engages him as a partner in learning. Students are encouraged to explore and discover for themselves. The teacher presents lessons using concrete materials, but the child discovers the rules. Recently, a student of mine had been using the stamp game to do addition, exchanging ten units for a ten stamp. After weeks of doing this, one day she came up to me and announced that she did not need the concrete materials to do this anymore since she had now figured out how to do addition using numerals. The pride and joy that she experienced and expressed at that moment was priceless. Montessori is a holistic form of education. The physical, social, emotional, and spiritual growth of the child are valued as much as academic progress.

A quality Montessori program creates an environment that encourages the development of all these areas. I’ve heard people say that it is a waste of time for teachers to be teaching art to students when they could be teaching reading or math. I disagree; art supports (among other considerations) concentration, fine motor skills, an eye for aesthetic quality, and stress reduction. A relaxed child learns better and is more receptive to new ideas. Tools that help children learn to manage stress will help them be healthier and happier adults.

Montessori education provides children experiences in learning how to learn. I recently spoke to a parent who was dismayed that her child was not using a textbook at school. I asked her why it upset her so much. Did her child know how to learn? Starting at the Early Childhood level, a Montessori child learns to ask the right questions to learn more about any topic he is studying or in which he is interested. For example, while researching biology at the Elementary level, the child asks how the animal meets its fundamental needs. Through this lens, the child can research any other life-form. In math, the child asks the question, What is the rule that I can discover with this operation? Will this rule be the same with all numbers?

Once the Montessori child knows the right questions to ask, she needs only the guidance of the teacher and the support of the environment to affirm that she is on track. Learning how to learn is a lifelong skill far more powerful than regurgitating facts that may be forgotten after a test. The greatest gift that a Montessori education gives to children is the joy of learning. A quality program is one where students come to school eager to learn, not because the teacher is going to lecture to them, but because in the environment there are many opportunities to learn and discover.

In my class, students have a checklist to keep track of what they are learning each week, but there is no sense that learning is a chore after which they can go have fun. Instead, we celebrate learning by asking the question, What else can I learn or how else can I learn when I have finished my checklist? For one child, art might be her choice; for another, it may be more mathematics. When you have a quality Montessori program, the child, the family, and the school will work as a cohesive unit, and this program is priceless!

SUNITHA PAILOOR, MEd, teaches at Maltby Elementary School in Snohomish, WA. She is AMS-credentialed (Elementary I–II). C

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Enrouraging Phrases for your Child

  • “Thank you for helping with…”


  • “It makes mornings/lunch/outings easier when you_____. Thank you!”


  • “I really appreciate when you_____.”


  • “Thank you for doing that. It means we can now______.”


  • “We did it together!”


  • “Wow! You did it on your own!”


  • “You did ____and then _____ and it worked out.”


  • “That took a long time, and you did it!”


  • “How did you do that?”


  • “You did ____, what will you do next?”


  • “Can you tell me about it?”


  • “What is your favorite part?”


  • “How did you think of that?”


  • “I really enjoy doing this with you.”


  • “I love watching you ________.”


  • “I’m so proud to be your parent.”


  • “Look how happy your friend is when you _______.”


  • “You kept going even when it was hard.”


  • You look so pleased to have done that.”


  • “It makes you feel good when you _______.”

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The Magic of the Sensorial Materials

Our senses effect our perception of our world in so many ways- the color of the sky, the taste of our favorite foods, the smell of our pillows as we lay our heads down at night, the sound of a symphony- without our acute set of senses and sense organs, the world would be a dull and dangerous place. But as important as our senses are to us as adults, they are a hundred times more important in the development of a child.

Through her years and years of observations of young children, Maria Montessori learned how sensorially motivated they were and thus created her beautiful sensorial curriculum- a quintessential part of the Montessori program.

The materials can be broken down into 6 categories- basically, the 5 senses plus an extra category for geometry: touch (haptic), sight (visual), sound (auditory), taste (gustatory), smell (olfactory), and visual geometry. Within each category are materials artfully crafted with that certain sense in mind.


Within each material lie certain characteristics:

-Isolation of difficulty: each set of materials remains identical in all aspects aside from the concept being highlighted (for example, the pink tower consists of 10 cubes equal in every way except for their size). Because of this, the child is able to focus on that one notion whether it is size, length, taste, weight, shape, pitch or color.

-Serration: the ability to put materials in a certain series according to the characteristic being highlighted, we call serration. By being able to sort the red rods for instance according to length, the child is not only able to better understand the concept of length, but is also being prepared for such later activities in math, science, reading and writing wherein serration becomes of the utmost importance.

-Control of error: because the materials are designed to be explored independently, their very design lends the learner to determine an error just by looking at their work carefully- for instance when stacking the pink cubes to build the tower, the tower will not look quite right or will not stay up if the cubes have not been placed in the correct order.

-Opportunity for extensions: Once the child has reached a level of mastery with a set of materials, an extension can be introduced. Building other creations with the materials, making a beautiful rainbow with the color tablets, seeing how the pink tower and the brown stair can be built together, creating our own smelling sachets- the list could go on forever. As with anything in the Montessori classroom, the materials can move up with the children and opportunities for new learning experiences abound.


The academic advantages of the sensorial materials are abundant. Not only are the children learning each concept through their use, but because the materials are always used from top to bottom, left to right and are arranged on the shelves as such so they become an indirect aid for reading and writing. And both because of their serration as well as most of the materials being rooted in the base ten number system, they become another aid in later mathematical concepts.

Similar to the practical life are of the classroom, the sensorial materials also help fine motor skills and pincer (writing) grip. And because in every lesson we teach, we highlight care of the environment- the sensorial materials are always treated with tremendous care. They are handled carefully, dusted, polished and nurtured by the children, always with the rationale that we want them to stay beautiful for everyone to enjoy. And that they will, for the sensorial materials continue to be a favorite to all who use them.

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Please Stay by P. Donohue Shortridge

So, let’s get real. You’ve loved the first two years of the Montes- sori Early Childhood program for your young child. Now, as you look ahead, you are facing a decision about the third, and final, year of the EC program—the capstone year, sometimes known as kindergarten. 

What are your options? Well, your friends’ children attend a pri- vate school, and while it’s not Montessori, it does have the attraction of going all the way through high school. Or there is that non-Mon- tessori public school in your neighborhood that your child could walk to, with the banner outside proclaiming its status as a 5-star school. Or the charter school that needs you to enroll now or your child won’t get a first-grade spot the year after next. 

While tuition-free school is compelling, and maybe you even moved to your neighbor- hood because of their touted great schools, or you believe that charter when they tell you it’s now or never, please also consider staying with Montessori through the capstone year. 

Two hallmarks of Montessori education are the mixed-age grouping and the 3-year cycle. Pulling your child out before he has completed the full 3-year cycle will deprive him of the following benefits. 

• In her first year at Montessori, all those “big kids” seemed so, well, big. They could do amazing things. Your child was in awe of them—in fact, she may have mentioned an older child or children in the classroom, a 5- or 6-year-old she idolized. Just as in real life, children learn from their elders. Now, your child will get to be one of those “big kids.” The capstone year is also known as the leadership or consolidation year, in which your third-year child takes great pride in solidifying all she has learned over the past 2 years and assumes greater responsibilities in the classroom. This happens naturally, because it was modeled for her when she was younger. She will expect to be (and will be looking forward to being) in this new role of “big kid” in the classroom. 

• Your child will have the same teacher for 3 years. The teacher truly knows your child. And you get to know the teacher over the longer cycle; the relationship between school and family builds on trust and mutual respect. 

• The 3-year cycle allows your child to acquire skills and academic knowledge at his own pace. Perhaps reading came to him more quickly than math, or fine-motor skills seemed second nature while gross-motor skills took longer. The Montessori Early Childhood 

environment has no set timetable for mastery but instead offers him 3 full years to acquire capability. Not all 51⁄2-year-olds are expected to be fluent readers or understand multiplication. Would you be comfortable being held accountable for a skill simply because a statistical model or a test stated you “should know this by now”? 

• The 5- to 6-year-old generally has more command over her body and is able to work longer, with more concentration, on academic subjects. To her delight, a work she may have struggled with last year is now manageable. She says to herself, Well, that was fun— what else can I now do that I couldn’t do last year? 

• The social-emotional world of the 5- to 6-year- old evolves into more collaboration with peers: solving problems, working out conflicts, and coming to understand the other person. This happens naturally in Montessori because stu- dents have been together for all this time and know each other well—and they know this classroom, this environment. 

• Because the 5- to 6-year-old is more confident in himself, he watches out for the younger chil- dren. Acts of benevolence toward the younger child not only endear that younger child to his older classmate, they allow that older child to open his heart to the needs of others. Most of the time, this all happens without the teacher saying a word. It’s inherent in the Montessori culture. 

Over the years, we Montessorians have observed children who, having completed the full Early Childhood cycle, matriculate confi- dently into first grade in a non-Montessori program or into Lower Elementary in a Montessori school. There is research to back this up as well; see Suggested Reading below. 

Consider this an appeal to offer the gift of time to your child. 

P. DONOHUE SHORTRIDGE is a Montessori school consultant based in Little- ton, CO. Visit her website at 

Suggested Reading Lillard, A. & Else-Quest, N. (2006, September 29). Evaluating Montessori education. Science 313(5795), 1893–1894. Retrieved from 10.1126/science.1132362. Marshall, C. (2017, October 27). Montessori education: A review of the evidence base. NPJ Science of Learning 2(11). Retrieved from doi: 10.1038/s41539- 017-0012-7. 

Teachers and administrators, please feel free to copy this page and distribute it to parents. It is also available online at Resources/Family-Support-Materials.  68 MONTESSORI LIFE

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Practical Life

Practical Life is the beginning of all other areas of the classroom. It is here where the children begin to become the independent, orderly, concentrated, and coordinated individuals we strive to create not only in our classroom environment, but in their everyday lives.


The materials themselves aim to be attractive in the sense that they are familiar. They mirror exercises children see in their daily lives-spooning, tweezing, cleaning, food preparation, etc. Through the manipulation of these materials, the children gain practice in controlled movement, hand-eye coordination, autonomy, confidence, and care for both themselves and their environment.


In the practical life area, you will find a variety of exercises that strengthen the hands in preparation for writing. Most of the materials force the developing hand to hold items like spoons and tweezers using the “pincher” fingers- the three fingers required for the writing (or pincer) grip. Materials in this area are also always transferred from left to right; another preparation for writing.


Not only are the children gaining practice for later writing exercises, but they are also gaining autonomy and confidence, for which they have a burning desire at this age. Practical life work focuses on independence in many ways. The first is the ability for them to choose what work they’d like to do and where they would like to work on it. The work itself tells them when they’ve made a mistake (such as when there is a spill or some beans have been left in the bowl after spooning) so they are able to correct their own mistakes without teacher intervention. The materials also aid in independence in daily tasks such as utensil manipulation, getting dressed, cleaning up messes, and preparing food. Achieving mastery of these materials allows for the glowing confidence that comes with mastering their own environment.


The practical life area also stresses care for others and care for the environment. Through the grace and courtesy lessons (the handshake, serving each other food, eye contact, waiting patiently, etc) the children are able to practice social concepts and situations that will allow them to convey the care they have for others and their environment. By working with materials like plant watering, table scrubbing, sweeping, pencil sharpening, and returning their work to the shelf where they found it, the children are gaining an important sense of respect for their shared classroom environment while also gaining a sense of community-both such important concepts to have not just throughout childhood, but as they continue on into the adult world.





Practical Life Exercises

1. Basic Exercises

Carry a chair

Walking around a rug

Preliminary transfer of dry goods

Introduction to sponging

Pouring dry goods

Wet pouring





2. Care of Self                


Opening and closing containers

Putting on a coat

Snapping frame

Zipping frame

Button frame

Lacing frame

Buckling frame

Bow tying frame

Hand washing

Sequence of food preparation


Banana slicing

Vegetable chopping

Sewing sequence

Large bead stringing

Card sewing

Button sewing






3. Care of Environment               



Polishing glass or metal

Table scrubbing

Cloth washing

Plant watering



4. Grace and Courtesy               

Greeting and handshake

Walking on the tine

Offering assistance

Serving food

Silence game










Ways to incorporate practical life into the home


having your child help with…


  • setting the table
  • cleaning (dusting, scrubbing, sweeping, mopping, doing dishes etc)
  • plant watering and gardening
  • cooking/making play dough
  • polishing (silver, wood, plant leaves, shoes, mirrors)
  • laundry (separating clothes, adding detergent, folding)




  • independence
  • order/tidiness
  • grace and courtesy
    • looking in the eyes
    • pleases and thank yous
    • greetings (hellos and goodbyes)
    • sharing responsibility
    • helping others
    • inside versus outside bodies and voices
    • gentle hands
    • tucking in chairs
    • cleaning up messes





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The Montessori Family's Role

The Montessori Family’s Role


by P Donohue Shortridge


Tips for Daily Life…


Routine, routine, routine!

Your child can do just about everything for himself.

“Every useless aid arrests development.” Maria Montessori

Everybody does chores/show him how.

Hands on activities are best.

Limits are needed for your child’s optimum development.

Your child shows you he needs more limits when he acts out.

Unstructured, slow time in nature is crucial every day.

Tv/movies/dvds, organized sports and computer skills can wait.

Do not negotiate what is not negotiable/ “OK?” at the end of a sentence.

Slow down; your child cannot move, think, talk or transition as quickly as you can.

Together, sort through your child’s books and toys then remove many of them.

Each possession has a place.

Be present; your child does not understand “later.”

More conversation and laughter, less badgering.

Your word is your bond/your child is learning to trust from you.

Enjoy and accompany your child through his development.


Parenting is the biggest work you will ever do. Your child needs you to do it well.


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Praise in the Montessori Classroom

A Montessori Approach to Praise

By Deb Chitwood

New research in the book Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman shows what Maria Montessori saw years ago – that we don’t need to praise our children for everything they do. We don’t need to continually reward our children or tell them how smart and talented they are.

As a matter of fact, telling our children how smart and talented they are can create the opposite of what we want. It can make our children afraid to attempt new things, afraid of failure, afraid they won’t meet everyone’s expectations.

What does the research suggest? When we praise, it’s best for the praise to be related to the effort our children made. For praise to be effective, it also needs to be specific and sincere.

So, how exactly does the research fit with Montessori philosophy?

1. In Montessori education, there aren’t rewards and punishments. Maria Montessori believed in the child’s inner need to do productive work. Sensitive periods provide an internal urge and stronger reinforcement than any rewards or praise could do.

“The essence of independence is to be able to do something for one’s self. Adults work to finish a task, but the child works in order to grow, and is working to create the adult, the person that is to be.” Maria Montessori

2. Montessorians don’t give children lavish praise. The child’s work is highly valued in Montessori education, and praise that is given is typically specific praise emphasizing effort. “You really worked hard at that.” “You did that activity four times in a row!” In an article at Maria Montessori, Bobby and June George give the idea of saying simply, “You did it!”

3. Montessorians try to give encouragement rather than praise or descriptive rather than evaluative praise. Instead of saying, “You’re a good boy,” a Montessorian might say, “It really helped when you put away all the dishes.”

4. Montessorians try to help children do things themselves and gain self-confidence. Many of the Montessori materials have a control of error so that the child can tell immediately if an activity is done correctly. An external source of approval isn’t necessary.

 5. Through Montessori practical life activities, children develop order, concentration, coordination, and independence. Those are all qualities that make children self-confident and capable of listening to their own inner voice.

Have you seen Montessori ideas on praise work for your child?

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Separation Anxiety in Toddlers and Preschoolers


Handling Separation Anxiety

Tips for Montessori Parents

  • Make the goodbye prompt and positive. This sounds easy, but can often be one of the most difficult things to do. Giving your child “one more minute” or staying to work on a puzzle together simply prolongs the inevitable. As a parent, the best thing you can do is give your child a hug and kiss, say, “I love you” and reassure him/her that you will be back soon.
  • Establish a goodbye routine. Preschoolers crave routine and Montessori parents who establish a consistent goodbye routine usually have better luck with successful goodbyes. I have seen parents use a secret handshake with their child or a secret hand gesture. Other parents give their child a kiss on the forehead or offer a reassuring thumbs-up or rub noses with their child. By giving your child something he can count on, he is likely to go to school much more willingly and that special moment between the two of you is a great way to start the day and provide that sense of reassurance.
  • Trust your child's teacher. This may be difficult to do when you do not yet know your child’s Montessori teacher that well, but keep in mind that Montessori preschool teachers have chosen this profession because they love children and they have a wealth of ideas and strategies to help settle a child who is feeling upset. The strategies might involve anything from a nurturing hug, redirection, pairing them up with another Montessori student or simply keeping the child close until he/she is ready to engage with an activity. Ask your child's Montessori teacher to step in to help with goodbyes when you give the sign that you are ready to go.
  • Acknowledge how your child is feeling. It is important to accept and respect your child's temporary unhappiness as it is very real and very normal. Say things like "I know you feel sad when Mommy leaves, but you will have a good time, and I will be back very soon.” Avoid the temptation to pressure your child not to cry or to offer bribes for "good behavior". Learning to cope with sadness is an important learning process for your child.
  • Never sneak out on a child. As tempting as it is, sneaking out the door can make matters worse. Although you do not have to stay to witness a meltdown, it may be very upsetting for the child when they realize Mom or Dad has simply disappeared without saying goodbye and it can make the next day even more difficult. The best thing a parent can do is deal directly the situation and before you know it, the tearful goodbyes will be no more. Besides, you want your child to know unequivocally that he/she can trust you.
  • Ask for help. Sometimes stepping back from the drop off routine can make a huge difference in how your child reacts. Often, a child who experiences separation anxiety with one parent is absolutely fine if the other parent does the drop off.
  • Do not linger. As a parent, I know how reassuring it can be to stay to peek at your child through the window. However, for the child, it can be pure torture. As a child, seeing your parent when you are upset, but not being able to be with your parent is not a good feeling. My suggestion to Montessori parents is to leave quickly and if you are feeling really uneasy, call the school in 15-20 minutes to ask how your child is doing. Chances are, he/she settled within a few minutes.
  • Stay calm and be enthusiastic. Modeling the appropriate behavior is key to a smooth transition from home to Montessori classroom, so try very hard to ensure your child does not sense your anxiety. Talk about how much fun Montessori preschool will be, talk about her friends and classmates. Discuss the different works she might want to choose and reinforce how lucky she is to have such a special school and that you cannot wait to hear about her day when you pick her up.
  • Always be on time. Arriving late can often spark separation anxiety. Arriving late can be upsetting to some children as the Montessori class has already begun. Give yourselves plenty of time in the morning. Children often get anxious when rushed, so do your best to give your child extra time in the morning to get ready and to arrive at school on time with the group. Additionally, it is important to be punctual when picking up your child. I know how easy it is to lose track of time, but no matter who is picking your child up, whether it is you or someone else, make sure you are there on time. If you are late, it can cause your child even more anxiety and make dropping her off the next time that much harder.
  • Encourage friendships. Make a point to set up ‘playdates’ for your child. Invite children from the Montessori class over, so your child can make friendships that will in turn make the transition to the new Montessori environment easier.

NOTE: Be prepared for regression. Just when you think your child has conquered his/her feelings of separation anxiety, along comes a weekend or an illness that keeps your child home for a few days and you are right back to square one. As frustrating and upsetting as this can be, it is perfectly normal. Stick to the above strategies and you should notice a significant different in a couple of days.

Taken from North American Montessori Center’s blog at


In a nutshell: 


  2. Make your goodbye short, confident and matter of fact. Hug, kiss, move through the gate or door, wave goodbye and leave. Make it a routine.

  3. Be clear that you are going to leave. Tell your child, “I am going to work now. I will see you… (when you will be returning).”

  4. Do not ask your child’s permission to leave, he or she has a choice to cry or not to cry, but not whether you leave or stay.

  5. Let a teacher know what is going on in your child’s day. For example: “Bella is hungry this morning, she did not have any breakfast today.” Or “We took Harry’s dad to the airport this morning. He will be gone for a few days.”

  6. Avoid bribing with special treats/toys.

  7. It is okay to feel sad or guilty but hanging around and acting upset will make your child feel that it is wrong you are leaving.

  8. Please do not apologize for leaving your child. Let him know he/she is in a safe place and you will see them again soon.

  9.  A teacher is always happy to call you or e-mail you and let you know how your child is doing after a difficult drop-off. Check Transparent Classroom for updates as well.

What have you found helpful with your child's drop-offs?

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