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v. Traditional Education

While organizing my files, I came across several charts comparing Montessori education with traditional education. One of the differences arises from the viewpoint of the educational system: child-centered or teacher-centered

Montessori  Environment: Child Centered

Children complete works

Children learn by doing

Self-correcting materials

Children choose  their materials

Children set  their own pace

Children work out  of joy and curiosity


Children  stimulated by curiosity and love of learning

Children free to  work independently

Children help  each other

Emphasis on  self-control and self-discipline

Traditional Environment: Teacher-centered

Children interrupted by teacher or end of period

Teacher lectures

Teacher as source  of answers

Teacher chooses  curriculum

Teacher sets pace  for entire class

Teachers tells  children to work

Teacher motivates  children

Teacher stimulates children to learn

Teacher guides  children

Teacher helps  children

Teacher as  disciplinarian

When working within a Montessori classroom, the teachers are trained and reminded to think of ways to remove themselves as obstacles to the child’s learning; whereas in traditional classrooms teachers are the bearers of the information to be learned.

The way traditional schools are set up, with textbooks, testing, grades and traditional modes of implementing and thinking about education; can lead to teacher-centered classrooms. The way that Montessori schools are set up, with manipulatives, self-paced learning and individualized work; can lead to child-centered classrooms. However, I have been
in Montessori classrooms that are teacher-centered and in traditional classrooms that are child-centered. These black and white comparisons leave little room for the reality of teaching: It is always a mixture of the two types of systems. 

Please keep this in mind when thinking about the

As we continue into our second year as a Montessori, child-centered school, I witness the ways that the teachers are
quickly making the adjustment from teacher-centered to child-centered education. A large part of this has been due to the training they received over the summer. As some parents have realized, this training is intense. During the summer it
was three weeks of 8 hour days and has continued for four weekends with many more weekends and another three weeks next summer to come. 

Part of the training is learning the use of the materials, the sequencing of lessons and the mechanics of Montessori. The deeper part of the training shapes one’s thinking to enable teachers to create materials for student use and how to touch the inner spirit of each child to enable them to re-awaken their own motivation. Additionally, we have daily conversations about how to be “Montessori” and child-centered within our setting and situation.

With many students coming from a more teacher-centered environment and perhaps adult-centered homes, we have seen some students struggle with things like setting their own pace or working independently. As we continue to provide the support needed, students are re-claiming their love of learning, ability to work independently and with a renewed motivation. Additionally, some students struggle because it may have felt or been easier to work in a teacher-centered environment where they didn’t have to make a decision, keep themselves focused on a work or resolve conflicts with each other.

There are many expectations put on our students to be able to have the freedoms offered in a child-centered environment, but as they are able to live up to these expectations, we see the students become what Maria Montessori called the normalized child. The characteristics of a normalized child are:

· Self-discipline
· Focus        
. Independence
. Self-motivation
. Order
. Love of Learning
. Love of Silence
. Concern for Others
. Happiness
. Contentment

These goals can be realized in a Montessori school.

What can you do to help your child in this environment? Look at ways to make your home life child-centered. Just starting
with an awareness of whether the ways things are done in your home promote the goals listed above can begin to change your thinking, routines and daily life. As always, I stress the need for balance. Allowing your children the freedom to be independent should not abdicate your own right to make family decisions and your role as the parent; just as we, as teachers, don’t turn over control of the classroom to the children in all situations.

Many people learn visually. We invite you to observe and witness our child-centered environment over the course of the year. I think you will find our staff and students continuing to move from one end of the spectrum to the other, but keep in mind, that nothing is static. At times, and in certain circumstances, we may move closer to the teacher-centered
characteristics, when the situation calls for it. Throughout the year, we discuss among ourselves and with the students how we maintain a balance between the needs of each student within the community of the classroom. 


 During a few of the conferences on which I sat in on, spelling
came up as a topic of interest. There is a Montessori spelling component in our training and albums; however, I have found that every school teaches spelling a bit differently. And, as with most things, these differences vary along a spectrum of structured spelling workbooks by grade level to leaving spelling abilities to develop naturally without instructions. I believe a balance approach is necessary and based on some basic research with Joe Keegan, a colleague in Ohio, we are implementing spelling in the following manner. I will first discuss the basis for what we do and then describe the process. 

In both the private and public school settings, Joe and I implemented required spelling workbooks. In some instances we were able to designate levels based on student ability rather than grade level. In most instances, we discovered that the good spellers got better and the poor spellers remained stagnant. We also found that students did not retain the correct spelling in their every day use and writing. Test scores in spelling also showed these discrepancies.

In a few settings we also experienced situations where spelling was not taught and students were expected to naturally emerge from phonetic spelling into correct spelling with little to no intervention. We saw the same results: good spellers got better and poor spellers retained their phonetic spelling skills.

Working together in Ohio, Joe and I implemented spellinginstruction using the language material that is now in classrooms here at LMS and by connecting spelling to student writing and work. We found that this approach allowed us to individualize instruction and provide meaning to the task. We saw that students retained the correct spellings in their everyday work and writing as well as saw an increase across all levels on standardized tests.

As the teachers grasp curriculum pieces of a Montessori class and the implementation of this curriculum, they will begin to use these methods for teaching spelling.


As students work with the movable alphabet and begin sounding out their words, Mary and Stella pay close attention to their phonetic spelling. For instance, if the word is “duck” and a student lays out “/d/ /u/ /k/”, they will take one of two routes (or both).

Correction: One route is to gently correct the spelling:“Duk.
Yes, that says duck, but the ending sound is actually spelled “ck”. Often this kind of correction will correspond to the child’s introduction or work with the phonogram in question, /ck/. If there is a control with the word printed out, Mary or Stella may ask the child to check their work and make appropriate

Re-teach: The other route is to leave the letters out and to
allow the child to copy this onto paper, if that is the follow up assignment.  Then, at another time, Mary or Stella will re-introduce the phonogram in question, /ck/ in this instance. As the child continues working with the moveable alphabet, they will observe whether this re-teaching worked or not. 

Lower Elementary: 

Many students are continuing to work with the moveable alphabet in lower elementary and may experience techniques above. In addition to these, the teachers have phonogram work that covers many of the spelling rules and is color coded. For instance, the following phonograms make the long /a/ sound: ai, ay, a_e, eigh. Through exposure and work with these words and phonograms, students absorb spelling words without the need for direct instruction from a workbook or teacher.

In addition and later down the road, students will use the
reading lists / spelling lists (a total of 59) that highlight the phonograms.  For the long /a/ sound, there are four lists, one for each phonogram: ai, ay, a_e, eigh. As students move through this work, the teachers will observe their writing. When seeing incorrect spelling for words which a student has had exposure and experience with, the teachers will either correct or re-teach. 

In addition to the Montessori curriculum and materials, the
teachers use a few traditional tools as well. Students can create their own dictionary for reference. Often students want to know how to spell a word. With the use of an individual dictionary, Quickword, students can turn to this simple dictionary for spelling and add words that they often use to it;
thereby, personalizing it.

As students use the Quickword and work through the Montessori materials, they become aware of spelling rules and exceptions in a structured way.

Upper Elementary: 

Not all students will have spelling rules down upon entering Upper Elementary; although that is a goal we have for those entering Lower Elementary this year. Quickwords can still apply to these students; although they often become self-conscious about pulling it out and using it. 

Through the use of the NEOs, simple word processing laptops, the students can see when they have spelled a word incorrectly and make necessary changes. With written work, an effective tool has been post-it notes. By correctly writing down the misspelled words on a post-it note, the student has
the necessary information at hand. Based on different levels of spelling ability, the words can be written on small post-its next to the misspelled word; or written on a larger post-it in order of appearance on the paper; or randomly. As students increase in their awareness and ability, they can make the necessary changes accordingly. I have used this simple technique for years and seen all students improve their spelling on standardized tests and more importantly continue to use the correct spelling in later work. 


What I have witnessed over the last nine weeks with all teachers is an understanding of how to take the Montessori lessons, sequence and materials and adapt them to fit each child’s need. This is something usually observed in teachers who have been working within Montessori after 2-3 years at
least. If you find that Mary, Nicole, Ashley or Jennifer are adapting these techniques, rest assured that I am aware of it and that they have most likely hit on a perfect adaption. Or perhaps, one of the assistants, Stella, Marty or Peggy, has hit on it. They are a remarkably talented group who collaborate and cross-pollinate every day!

Lastly, no method is ever 100% effective all of the time with all of the student body. That being said, the structured and meaningful approach found within our school will help all the students improve their spelling skills. It may not seem like work or drudgery (hopefully not); and therefore, at times it will seem that they are not being taught spelling. Rest assured that they are and feel free to discuss this with your child’s teacher or observe!


 A few weeks ago, I mentioned the need for balancing limits and choices through responsibility. As students show that they understand responsibility and use it wisely, their choices increase and boundaries expand.  At home, the same can be true.

Children need to feel important at school and at home. One way to develop a grounded sense of self is through properly executed household chores. At school the students are responsible for classroom jobs. These jobs are explained and modeled by the adults, so the students know what the expectations are and how to complete them. Jobs are assigned and rotated, allowing everyone to know who is responsible for what. Through this process children are allowed to practice responsibility, gain ownership over their environment, and contribute to their school community.

Implementing this at home will provide benefits for your child in both family life and school. I suggest first having a family meeting in which “jobs” are discussed, defined and listed for the family. Then a discussion, with your child(ren)s input, about who does what, when, and if there will be a chance for rotation. There are many tools that families have developed over the years. 

Some examples are:

A bucket or jar with the chores listed from which family members (adults too) draw items

A spinner system with the chores around the circle and family
members spin to determine their chore

Assigning jobs based on desire

Rotating the jobs each week so everyone does each job

Based on the ages of your family and the jobs you would like to see done by the family (as the adult, you do get to veto items or add items), you can determine the best method for this important first step. 

Once everyone is on the same page and expectations are clear, you can determine when the jobs are done. Is it every day? Once a week? 

Then determine who assesses the completion. We often start with the adults doing the assessing and modeling this for the students, but we move toward the students assessing each other. They need some guidance in this but can be very adept at it. 

Joe is responsible for the bathrooms; Sue is responsible for doing the dishes. 
Bathroom and kitchen area will be checked by mom for two weeks. Then, Sue will check Joe’s work; Joe will check Sue’s. Mom or Dad will continue to monitor, and if things start to slip, a family meeting is called to discuss what is going on. It is very important for the children to be able to state how they are feeling and what is going on with the jobs. Once they feel heard, they are more likely to be amendable to continuing their hard work. 

In the above example, I focused on a family dynamic with mom and 2 kids. All families are different, but one rule that should remain consistent throughout the family dynamics is that all family members participate in the discussions and the work based on their responsibilities elsewhere. If someone is working two jobs, perhaps they do less around the home, but they still do something: ensuring there is toilet paper and milk in the house, two items they
can pick up on the way home.

What evolves is a realization that everyone contributes to the
family. Each person’s contribution is important from ensuring there is toilet paper to vacuuming and doing the dishes. When your child feels that his/her contribution is important and acknowledged, he/she is more likely to continue enjoying the work.

How these contributions are acknowledged are grounds for another family meeting. Perhaps you will do allowances or payment for each chore. I suggest that contributing to the household and community is the responsibility of all involved and does not necessitate or require a reward system. In fact, a reward system may detour the real purpose so that chores are done based on the reward instead of an expectation to contribute. Acknowledgement can be nightly or weekly thank-you or acknowledgements. How many of us simply require a
genuine, heartfelt thank you to feel appreciated? Children delight in knowing they have made a positive difference just by being thanked. If a reward system has already been set up, continue with that until you can find ways to move away
from it.

A handout is coming home today with a list of jobs that children can do based on their developmental ability. This comes from Kathryn Kvols, author of Redirecting Children’s Behavior. This is a great read and is used in parenting classes. In today’s parent memo, I’ve only touched on the role parents can play in helping their children learn to be responsible for the home environment and realizing that their contributions are important. You may find obstacles that prevent you from implementing these suggestions. I am happy (really) to talk to anyone about how to help their children becomeresponsible and capable within the home.