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Our thoughts on Montessori and education

Ask a Montessorian

Help!  My Early Childhood parents often ask, ‘what can we buy or do with our children to support them at home?’  What should I recommend that they purchase or do in their home environments?

Last week, we explored one of the many ways that Paz Montessori offers an emotionally healthy environment. We give children freedom within limits so that children learn to follow their inner guide and feel free to develop at their own pace. We also offer freedom within limits in order to foster self-discipline.

This week, we share a few pieces of advice that parents can do at home to support their child(ren)’s natural and healthy development (as taken from our parent manual):

  1. Read to your child every day.

  2. Have conversations with your child every day.

  3. Include your child in daily activities such as cooking and doing laundry. There are huge developmental, emotional, cognitive and academic benefits to including your child in household activities. For example, your child will feel like an important, contributing and capable member of the family, will feel a connection to you as you do something together, engage in conversation, and work on academic concepts such as classifying the shapes of folded laundry, color and so much more.

  4. Provide regular, consistent routines that help your child get the most out of her/his experiences at school including a reasonable bedtime and enough time in the morning to allow for unhurried dressing and eating.

  5. Nurture your child’s growing independence in taking care of her/himself and others. Find ways to enable your child to dress and feed her/himself. Teach your child how to do tasks independently. When you want to do something for your child, ask if it is for your benefit or hers/his? Parents sometime baby for their own convenience and sometimes to fulfill the parent’s own emotional need. It is much easier to do for a child than to teach a child. And, as a loving parents, sometimes treat our child as younger than they actually are. We recommend that you make sure that when you baby your child, it is meeting her/his needs, not yours.

  6. Limit screen time. Too much can hinder children’s physical fitness and can have a negative effect on social, emotional and academic development.

  7. Offer your child a healthy and balanced diet. Limit sugar intake.



Help! How do we help Elementary students with no Montessori background?

Dear Ask a Montessorian, soon a student will switch from their public school to grade 5 at our Montessori school. How realistic is it to make the transition academically viable? I’m Early Childhood trained and know that hands on experience with the materials is very important in the early years.  Are these materials still required as a foundation in Upper Elementary? What would you recommend that we do to help a new student entering a Montessori class for the first time?  

Dear Upper EL Guide, when I was teaching in an Upper Elementary classroom, we had many students over the years join our class from other schools, mostly traditional, without any Montessori experience. The transition can be bumpy, but there are things that you can put in place to help the child flourish.

In terms of your question about the materials and experiences in the Casa classroom that the child missed, you want to meet the child where they are. This means taking their age into account. I would tend to say that you will not bring in materials from the Casa room for the child to use. You will want to observe and see where the gaps are and present opportunities for the child to gain those skills in a way that matches their developmental level. For instance, you wouldn’t have the child practice a spooning exercise, but you will provide cooking or mealtime experiences for the child to develop the same skills. It is important for the guide to learn about the interests and skills of the child and work to build on those skills to facilitate the building of confidence and comfort in the classroom.

In addition, you will want to meet with the parents and get a clear idea of why the child is moving into your classroom at this time. In turn you will provide parents with as much information as you can about how you will approach both social and academic work. Then you will want to assess the child’s academic standing. You will need to plan for many one on one lessons at the beginning of their transition. For example, they may already know how to do long multi-digit multiplication with pencil and paper, but you will want to show them how to do it on the checkerboard and get them comfortable with using the materials. This is where I have seen the most resistance, but over time it becomes easier and they see that all of the other children are using materials for learning and working, too.

Planning some community building activities for the whole class at the time of the transition is very helpful in bringing the child into the fold and culture of the classroom. It is helpful to talk about what the class as a whole can do to create a welcoming environment for the new student. Preparing the current children for the addition to the community is a necessary component of this process.

I believe that it is important to always be working on building a culture of inclusivity in the classroom. Having grace and courtesy processes in place for welcoming visiting and incoming children and adults is important work that Montessori Guides need to see as a priority in their classroom. These processes take time, thought and effort on everyone’s part. The effort is well worth the positive outcome. Creating this foundation of inclusivity is what will allow the new child to be able to try new things, and be open to getting to know the other children. When a strong culture of kindness, hard work and fun is in place you have a high probability of the new child coming into your classroom transitioning in a positive manner.

You have many skills already that will help guide you in these types of transitions. Observing, planning and connecting are the hallmarks of our approach. Just the fact that you asked this question shows that you are a caring and thoughtful Montessorian!

–Stephanie Pullman, Elementary Level Associate Director at The Center for Guided Montessori Studies

Stephanie Pullman has taught at the Toddler,  Lower Elementary, and Upper Elementary levels in her career.  She has served as a teacher trainer for five years at MWTTP, and currently serves as an adjunct instructor of Child Development at Cerritos College, Cerritos, CA.  Stephanie holds a Master’s Degree in Education with a Montessori Emphasis from St. Catherine’s University and received her AMI 6-12 Montessori credential in 1993.

Located in Long Beach, California, she enjoys visiting museums, movies, yoga, and reading.  In addition to her role as a CGMS Elementary Level Associate Director, Stephanie has served CGMS adult learners as an online instructor, residential session instructor, field consultant, and practicum advisor.


CGMS and Hubbli announce joint partnership

For immediate release

Ontario, Canada. February 28, 2018

The Center for Guided Montessori Studies (CGMS), Inc, and Hubbli, Inc. are excited to announce a new partnership to develop and promote solutions for schools. The focus will be on ensuring Montessori and other schools can leverage the best technology for reducing their workloads, simplifying their workflows, and strengthening their business operations.

CGMS is one of the world’s largest accredited training programs for Montessori certification, and Hubbli, Inc is one of the leading software service providers for schools. The partners agree that Montessori education is at a crossroads and that this partnership can unlock the exponential growth that the community needs.

“We have seen time and again that schools succeed when they can focus on what they do best: education,” said Marc Seldin, CGMS’ Director of Operations. “We know there will be more and stronger Montessori schools if the administration has the support they need to succeed. We have found that Hubbli is the best partner we can work with to support small schools.”

Founded in 2016, Hubbli specializes in solutions that reduce school administrative overhead. Hubbli’s most recent solution, Hands-Free Enrollment Marketing System, simplifies and automates the marketing and enrollment process for schools. It is not uncommon for schools that use the E.M. package to see tour rates increase by 100 to 200%. Hubbli’s initial service, a parent communication platform, has been renowned for saving schools tens of thousands of dollars annually in staff time.

“My passion for empowering school leaders led me to where I am today,” says Jono Landon, CEO, and founder of Hubbli. “I realized that schools were struggling with the things I knew best, the business and technology side of things. I knew that if I built them right, then the solutions Hubbli created would unlock tons of creative energy. School leaders are spending too many hours a week on those tasks they typically don’t like and don’t have the time to learn. But as Hubbli has helped schools, I’ve also seen they are often held back by a need for high-quality teacher training and professional development. That is why we have been drawn to partnering with CGMS, we believe they are the best at what they do.”

CGMS is affiliated with the International Montessori Council (IMC) and was the first hybrid Montessori teacher education program with a significant online component to receive MACTE accreditation. Founded in 2006, CGMS combines the best of traditional Montessori training with the Internet to create an authentic, low-residency program. Today, CGMS is one of the largest accredited Montessori training programs, offering certification for every level from Infant/Toddler through Secondary. CGMS also offers the Early Childhood course in Mandarin and is developing an Administrator certification program, as well as programs in Spanish.

Kitty Bravo, the Education Director at CGMS, was enthusiastic about the partnership. “While we are proud of the work CGMS performs transforming classrooms, schools have business needs as well. Hubbli gets it, and we are excited to work with them to create solutions that are compatible with how we know schools need to be run. That said, our businesses are separate and we are not evangelists for each other.”

Indeed, Hubbli will have non-Montessori clients, and CGMS will happily work with schools that don’t require Hubbli solutions.

To solidify this partnership, CGMS is taking a minority stake in Hubbli. CGMS’ director of Operations, Marc Seldin, will be joining Hubbli as the Chief of Product Development. Mr. Seldin will continue in his role at CGMS as well.

In the future, the partners intend to develop more integrated solutions that will help schools with managing their finances, student records, and fundraising.

Help! How do I introduce history and cultural topics to my students without alienating any particular groups?

Dear Ask a Montessorian:

Help! How do I introduce history and cultural topics to my students without alienating any particular groups?

This is a great question, and one that is commonly shared. Dealing with history and cultural topics can be challenging, and I’d like to acknowledge you for being considerate of all students to make sure you aren’t alienating anyone. There are a few different ways you can approach this.

First, using primary sources allows you to introduce various topics objectively. Pictures, letters, and diary entries to use can be found on the Library of Congress website as well as other collegiate sites. Gettysburg College is a fantastic resource for Civil War primary sources. Because these are first-hand artifacts, you are able to be objective and present the facts. For example, when teaching about the Civil War, it is important to recognize that there were, and still are, two very different views. Requesting that students use primary sources for their research allowed them to learn history first-hand instead of inferring from a secondary source.

Second, you can use literature as a way to discover various points of view. When you look at a particular topic from different vantage points, you can elicit discussions to which the students can contribute. One of my favorite ways is to use historical fiction. For example, when we were studying the Revolutionary War in my Upper Elementary classroom, I used Chains, which is told from the point of view of a slave, and Sophia’s War, which is told from the point of view of a white colonist. Once my students read these two books, we discussed the differences in the two girls’ lives and how their upbringing affected their situations. When putting together my cultural plan, I did research online to find historical fiction that would align with the topic we would study. Your local librarian can assist you in finding books as well.

Third, you could use the inquiry-based method of learning. This allows for students to make a connection in their own lives and their understanding of a particular topic. It is a way for them to begin to ask questions and conduct research to find answers to those questions. During my student teaching experience, I used this method to study the theme of identity. Once the connection was established, the students were able to ask questions and research topics. It was a powerful example of the wonderings of fifth graders, and it was an amazing lesson for me. Kathy Short, a professor from the University of Arizona, created this Inquiry Cycle. More information can be found in the article she wrote (link: http://www.ibmidatlantic.org/Inquiry_as_stance.pdf).

Finally, you can host a parent education night to bring up the topics you plan to discuss. You can let them know that you are aware of the importance of being objective and approach the specific topics with care. They will see the effort you are taking. They may even be able to give you insight about sharing the information.

I hope these suggestions help and that you are able to navigate these sensitive topics with care.

Maria Burke, M.Ed, the Director of Lighthouse Learning, LLC has a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, a Bachelor’s Degree in French, and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum Education. Ms. Burke holds credentials through the American Montessori Society for ages 3-12, and completed the course “Building a World Class Montessori School” through the Montessori Foundation. Maria began Lighthouse Learning, LLC in 2007. The Dollar Board™ was the first material she created. Labeling the ClothPush Pinning Through the Curriculum and The Quiet Book Manual followed. Ms. Burke has presented and exhibited at a number of conferences across the country, and she continues to create uniquely handcrafted educational materials.

Help! How do I help non-readers at the Elementary level?

Dear Ask a Montessorian,  as a Montessori elementary teacher, I try hard to place the Cosmic Curriculum at the core of all of our work. However, more and more students are entering our elementary program as non-readers. How do I teach an authentic Montessori elementary program with students who are not reading or have no previous Montessori experience? -Cosmically Concerned, Baltimore, MD

Dear Cosmically Concerned, the dilemma you are facing is a common concern for many elementary teachers. It is true that Dr. Montessori envisioned the Cosmic Curriculum for students who had been through the Montessori Primary program and who were confidently reading and writing. In her book To Educate the Human Potential,  Dr. Montessori (2007) wrote that a child who has been through Montessori program “knows how to read and write, has an interest in Mathematics, Science, Geography and History, so that it is easy to introduce him to any amount of further knowledge. . . . [The plan of cosmic education] cannot be used with the wholly illiterate or ignorant, but it is received with joy by the child who has indirectly been prepared for it in the Montessori School.”

Many Montessori teachers therefore wonder how to implement an “authentic” elementary Montessori program with students who are not yet fully reading and writing, or do not have prior Montessori experience. While it is certainly simpler to implement the plan of Cosmic Education with students who are already reading and writing, if we carry out the fundamental principles of Montessori education, with some thought and planning, I believe we can absolutely provide a means for all of our students, regardless of their reading level, to benefit from the genius of the Cosmic Curriculum.

Whenever considering the plan of Cosmic Education it is important to remind ourselves of its origin, underlying philosophy, and ultimate goal. The vision of Cosmic Education was developed by Maria and Mario Montessori during the “Kodaikanal experience,” when they were placed under house arrest in India during World War II. During this period the Montessoris were in a period of “forced retirement” allowing them time to work with children, experience nature and reflect on the wider implications of world relations. It is also important to note that, during that time, they had been working with the Theosophical Society, whose philosophy includes a “Universal Brotherhood without distinction based on the realization that life, and all its diverse forms, human and non-human, is indivisibly One” (Children of the Universe, M. & D. Duffy, 2014). For Maria and Mario Montessori, the goal and ultimate purpose of Cosmic Education was both a way to help the child of the second plane develop in an environment structured to meet their needs, and a greater means of achieving world peace. They believed that the needs of the elementary child went beyond that of academic education, to exploring the greater questions of “who am I?” “where do I come from?” and “why am I here?” Ultimately, the child is searching for their place in the world in the form of their “cosmic task.” In Cosmic Education (1976) Mario Montessori wrote that if we, “place [the child] in relation with other men and make him realize what mankind has accomplished, then this will form the first step in the formation of the supraman, toward which humanity tends. . . to the older child we must give not the world, but the cosmos and a clear vision of how the cosmic energies act in the creation and maintenance of our globe”(p.5).

Our aim in presenting the elementary child with the plan of Cosmic Education is to inspire and impress upon her the interconnectedness of all inhabitants of Earth, both living and in the past. It is to show him the beauty and power of the world beyond our mother Earth, and out into the cosmos. It is to help her understand that human beings have a special role, an important task, in connecting with one another as stewards of the Earth. It is to spark her inner desire and motivation to explore these concepts while searching for her own cosmic task. This, I say, without a doubt, can be done regardless of whether a child is yet able to read and write fluently. In fact, it is quite important that we present Cosmic Education to all of our students in the second plane of development, for they are in a “sensitive period” for embracing all that it embodies. Comic Education was created to perfectly match the characteristics and needs of the second plane child. I would argue that not only must we present Cosmic Education to a second plane child who is academically “behind,” we must also refrain from moving a child who is academically advanced into the elementary environment, if she is developmentally still residing in the first plane of development.

A fundamental characteristic of the second plane child is an active imagination and a mind that can (and desperately wants to) reason. The ability to reason and abstract through imagination are crucial elements of Cosmic Education. As highlighted by Allyn Travis in her AMI/USA Cosmic Education Workshop, Theoretical Principles (2008), “we need to hold in mind that abstraction means arriving at understanding, not just using paper and pencil” (p.2). The Cosmic Curriculum begins when we present the child with the Story of the Universe. We present grand stories in the form of Great Lessons, as well as through impressionistic lessons in all areas of the classroom. From there we introduce images and materials designed to capture the imagination and inspire contemplation and curiosity. Materials such as the Timeline of Life, The Clock of Eras, The Long Black Strip, and The Hand Timeline give the child real experiences from which they can build. We present further concrete materials and experiences such as the science experiments, interplanetary distance cord, relative size of planets, impressionistic charts, botany dissection, and so on. Students are able to physically manipulate materials, create diagrams and charts, cause physical reactions, and explore natural specimens. All of these experiences should be open to all of the students in your elementary classroom and do not necessarily require the ability to read.

The role of the teacher in this grand plan is to connect the child with the environment. This is done not only through stories and presentations, but in creating an environment where each child has an opportunity to find and connect with work that speaks to him. The teacher must be tantalizing in her lessons, giving simple information, asking questions, and then providing a way for the child to further explore. For a non-reader the teacher must work a little harder to ensure resources and means for further exploration. This can be done, as described above, through work with concrete and visual materials. Materials can be created for early readers, such as a series of images with simple captions of the Great Lessons, which students could sequence and label. The teacher needs to ensure there is a variety of media, tools, and equipment available. As technology continues to evolve the resources available to us are expanding. There are many wonderful websites through museums, NASA, National Geographic, “The Kid Should See This,” etc., which provide not only images, but diagrams and videos on a great many topics. The teacher herself can be a tool for the student, reading with them, offering dictation or connecting them with tools such as dictation software. As follow-up work, students can find creative ways to share their knowledge. Dr. Montessori (2010) said simply, “To make it clear whether or not a child has understood, we should see whether he can form a vision of it within the mind, whether he has gone beyond the level of mere understanding” (p. 10). Students can both further their exploration of these topics and display their understanding through 2D and 3D art, by creating charts, copying diagrams and creating posters. For example, I have had students make books and card sets using pastels on black paper to recreate the story of the Universe, create a clay model of a volcano showing all the parts, and create a game which represented the evolution of man moving through different types of shelter, tools and food.

In connecting students to the world, teachers must remember to look beyond the walls of the classroom. Dr. Montessori (2007) explained, “In the second period the child needs wider boundaries for his social experiences” (p.3). The teacher must encourage students to go out into the greater community to explore and search for answers to their questions for, “to go out of a classroom to enter the outside world, which includes everything, is obviously to open an immense door to instruction” (Montessori, 2007, p. 17). Again, this requires preparation on the part of the teacher. As a guide you must ensure safety on these trips, create a framework for students to use in planning the outings, research opportunities that are available in your area, and make connections with parents and members of the community to find experts in the field able and willing to speak with students. “Going Out” is a wonderful experience and should be happening regularly in your classroom, not just as a culmination of research, but as a means for gathering information and connecting with the world. A Going Out is a perfect way for non-reading students to gather information and explore beyond the confines of a written book.

Students in the second plane of development require social connection and interaction. Students in an elementary classroom have a desire and need to work together. Lessons should be given in small groups, not on the basis of skill level, but based on interest and need. Groups should change and remain fluid in composition. In Practical and Essential Aspects for Implementation, Phyllis Pottish-Lewis (2008) explains that, “groups should vary in age, gender, abilities and personalities” (p.13). In grouping or pairing students of varying abilities and based on interest, students are able to learn from each other. Students who are free to work and talk together engage in discussions, debates and planning. When working together, students bounce ideas off of each other, question, and collaborate in ways that extend their education far beyond what any lesson or reading of an article can offer. This is particularly beneficial for students who need assistance reading and writing. I have witnessed a great many fruitful collaborations happen whereby students who are not competent readers have researched, experimented, created visual demonstrations, and presented information as part of a group effort with fellow students who can take on the role of reading and writing. These pairing or groupings can be designed when presenting a lesson or they can occur naturally as younger students learn to ask for assistance from their classmates. This is one of the great benefits of a Montessori classroom that make Cosmic Education possible for all of our students, regardless of their reading prowess. As Allyn Travis expounds, “The three-year mixed ages also help in the implementation of cosmic education, providing opportunities for motivation and to offer assistance. We want to see children helping and inspiring each other. . . Each child learns to determine strengths that can be used to help others. Each child also learns what areas need to be strengthened” (p. 4).

Finally, the beauty of the Cosmic Curriculum is that it is not only accessible to children still learning to read and write, it can and should be a tool used to help them develop these skills. We begin language study with the Story of Writing. This provides the child with a sense of connection to the written word. This story helps provide the deeper reason for learning to read, write, and study language. Students are having lessons and working in the language curriculum concurrently with the Great Lessons, thus their language work also informs their work in the cultural curriculum. While learning the complex rules of the English language students can learn how language itself has grown and evolved, and how different languages have different rules and forms of grammar. Students can be inspired by the grandeur and mystery of the Great Stories and use that as inspiration for reading and writing. They can practice reading and writing simple captions, or make stories with the moveable alphabet. Early reading materials can be brought into the classroom, which focus on topics being highlighted through the Cosmic Curriculum. Reading work is made more meaningful when it is connected to lessons and work introduced in the cultural curriculum. In Spontaneous Activity in Education Dr. Montessori (1965) reminds us, “Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire ‘to make him learn things,’ but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence”(p.240). If we keep this idea firmly in our minds and hearts we will find our students learning, growing, and flourishing within the Cosmic Curriculum, no matter their level of reading or writing.

Anya Bartlett spent 8 years as Lead Montessori Elementary teacher before transitioning into an administrative role as Head of School for another five years. Anya now resides in Glen Dale, Maryland where she now as an Instructor, Practicum Advisor and Field Consultant with The Center for Guided Montessori Studies and serves on the board of Montessori Schools of Maryland. She has presented workshops at local, national and international conferences throughout the United States. She received her Elementary I-II Montessori certifications through Pan American Montessori Society and The International Montessori Council. As a former Montessori student herself she has had the opportunity to experience and learn about Montessori from all perspectives, as student, teacher, administrator, teacher trainer and parent of two Montessori children.