Frequently Asked Questions

How does Montessori differ from traditional educational approaches?

Montessori represents an entirely different approach to education, both in its overall vision and how that vision is enacted.

A “cosmic” education. Although this sounds like a concept from the 1960s, it was the early 1900s when Dr. Maria Montessori wrote of the importance of “cosmic education” wherein learning is comprehensive, holistic, and purposeful. The Greek word kosmikos refers to universal order and harmony, and a consideration of our universe rather than just our world. A cosmic perspective stands in contrast to the traditional view of education as focused on the “three Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead of focusing on specific skills as ends in themselves, Montessori education is based on and draws from life’s interconnections. A truly educated individual is a productive and caring world citizen, is comfortable acting independently and realizes when to ask for help and when to help others, is a responsible actor who recognizes and respects reasonable limits, and values balance in physical, intellectual, natural and social arenas.

All five senses. Traditional education approaches limit hands-on learning to art, p.e., and science lab–the areas that are eliminated when budgets are tight. Montessori emphasizes learning through all five senses and through action and “doing,” versus an emphasis on listening, watching, and reading, lecturing and passive learning.

Self-directed learning in a prepared environment.  Maria Montessori stressed that the goal of early childhood education should not be to “fill” the child with facts or lessons from a pre-selected course of studies but rather to cultivate their own natural desire to learn. Children in Montessori classrooms learn at their own pace, deciding their work from a wealth of researched materials. The teacher’s job is not to inform the child when they have done something “right” or done something “wrong,” but rather to help as needed as children master processes and refine their manual, physical and intellectual understanding of how things work.

Peer groups. Montessori classes place children in three- or six-year age groups to form communities where the older children spontaneously share their knowledge, assist and foster younger children, and younger children learn by example from older children. Traditional education puts the teacher as the head of the classroom and the source of knowledge, and working together typically is limited to special “group projects.”

Where did Montessori begin? Is it only taught in the US? 

Montessori is a comprehensive educational approach from birth to early adulthood based on the observation of children’s needs in a variety of cultures around the world. Beginning her work in Italy almost a century ago, Dr. Maria Montessori developed this educational approach based on her research of children’s natural learning tendencies as they unfold in “prepared environments,” and of the importance of multi-age groups. Continued research has upheld her original philosophies and expanded and refined the method.  Montessori educators, often referred to as “guides” rather than “teachers,” undergo rigorous training for certification. Today, Montessori schools are found worldwide, serving children from birth through adolescence. In the United States, there are more than 4,000 private Montessori schools and more than 200 public schools with Montessori-styled programs. Unfortunately, like the word “natural,” any school can call itself “Montessori,” so it is important for parents to observe a classroom and understand a particular school’s approach before enrolling their children. The Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), founded by Maria Montessori in 1929, maintains Montessori educational principles and trains and certifies Montessori educators throughout the world.

Has Montessori been researched, or is it a new experimental approach? Are Montessori children successful later in life as compared to children educated traditionally? 

A 2006 peer-reviewed article in Science, the most prestigious scientific journal, presented strong evidence that Montessori children are well prepared for later life academically, socially, and emotionally. In addition to scoring well on standardized tests, Montessori children are ranked above average on such criteria as following directions, turning in work on time, listening attentively, using basic skills, showing responsibility, asking provocative questions, showing enthusiasm for learning, and adapting to new situations. Many influential people tout their Montessori education as having been key to their success in life including Katherine Graham, managing Editor of the Washington Post, Jeffrey Bezos, founder of, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google. Additional data from the Science article and a recent Wall Street Journal posting may be of interest.

What does “self-directed” learning mean? Are Montessori schools unstructured?

Montessori is based on freedom within limits. The classroom environment is structured and prepared in such a way that there are no materials that are off-limits, and nothing extraneous to the purposeful practice of intellectual, social and physical development. This allows the children to move about freely making their own choices among the various educational materials with the boundaries for those choices and behaviors already set in place. Teachers know when to step in and the ways to encourage exploration without making decisions for the child. (Click here for more information on the Montessori concept of teachers as guides.) This “freedom” is key to Montessori, as it allows for children to become independent, confident learners, rather than students dependent on a teacher to tell them what to learn, when to learn it, and how long they have to master a topic before they are expected to move on.

Waldorf is another non-traditional approach to learning. What are the differences between Waldorf and Montessori schools?

Both Montessori and Waldorf (sometimes know as Steiner) programs are well researched and have long histories. Yet they differ in some fundamental ways.

Teaching Style: Montessori utilizes child-directed learning where children work with materials of their choice. The teacher presents new materials when the child asks and helps only if needed, hence the term “guide” is often used instead of “teacher” in Montessori settings. Teachers often work with one or two children at a time or observe while children work and intervene only as needed. In Waldorf classrooms, the teacher is viewed as the main source of learning, with the idea that children learn best by imitation or watching and learning from the teacher’s actions.

Learning Activities: Montessori and Waldorf recognize and respect a child’s need for rhythm and order in his daily routine. Both have specialized materials, stress the importance of learning through all five senses and the importance of practical skills like gardening, food preparation, sewing, etc.. But Maria Montessori observed that when given the choice between toys and materials that children saw used in their everyday life, they always chose the latter. The Waldorf teaching method centers around storytelling, make-believe, art, drama, and crafts. Lessons are built around fairy tales, fantasy, stories and role-playing, all using the child’s imagination.

Academic Instruction: Both Montessori and Waldorf eschew competition and grading as modes of evaluating student progress. Montessori observed that children were developmentally ready and interested at an early age to learn academic concepts such as letter sounds (phonetics) and numeration. She designed appropriate materials to teach these concepts in an active, hands-on way that made these concepts obtainable in the Children’s House.  Alternatively, Waldorf students are not introduced to letters until the first grade and reading in the second grade. This delay is thought to prevent the disruption of imaginative play and the belief that the human brain is not physically ready to read until the age of 7 and attempts to force reading prior to that can be detrimental.

Q. I think Little Oak would be a great fit for my child. What do I do next?

A. Contact us! Please submit the New Student Inquiry form and LOMS staff will contact you to discuss the enrollment process with you further and schedule a classroom observation.