4 Important Lessons Kids Learn in Montessori

Children are learning every day. They learn by experience, by example, by formal instruction, and a million ways in between. They watch, listen, experiment, and repeat. If they’re lucky, they’ll even be allowed to fail, to mess up, make mistakes, and figure out solutions. Learning is an ongoing process and it’s not always black and white and quantifiable. Here is our list of 4 important lessons kids learn in Montessori. (Spoiler alert: Reading, writing, and math didn’t make the cut!)

Lesson #1: I am capable

Montessori kids learn from the very beginning that they are capable of more than they think. The words “I can’t do it” are countered with “show me what you mean” and they are challenged to take a second try, ask for help, or figure out an alternative. Montessori kids learn that teachers are there for guidance and support, but that they, themselves, are the ones who will ultimately do the work. A child who steps aside while a well-meaning adult intervenes, does not learn the same lesson.

Lesson #2: I am trustworthy

Glass pitchers, porcelain dishes, sewing needles, and a teeny, tiny pink cube are just some of the items in a Montessori classroom that can get broken or lost on a daily basis. Yet they rarely do. A funny thing happens when you draw a child’s attention to the delicate nature of the glass they are holding or the diminutive size of the object in their hand; they straighten up and pay attention. When we let them use breakable materials, we show our children that we trust them to use gentle hands and mindful movements. Accidents happen and things do break, but more often than not, they don’t.

Lesson #3: I am a valued member of the community

The mixed-age aspect of the Montessori classroom is, truly, a thing of beauty. Younger and older children interact as they would with their siblings, looking up to each other or looking out for one another. When it’s time to clean up and get ready for circle time, there’ll always be at least one kindergartener stepping in to help a younger friend put away their work.

And if a three year-old needs help tying their shoe or zipping their coat, they know they can ask an older friend for a hand. Montessori kids learn that friends who work together, go further — together! On a larger scale, this translates to a global community, as the Montessori cultural curriculum emphasizes respect for others, an appreciation for diversity, and an ongoing quest for understanding.

benefits of a mixed age classroom: a child helps another tie her shoes

Lesson #4: I am respected

The Montessori philosophy encourages parents and teachers to see their children as human beings, worthy of respect. Montessori kids learn that their voices matter, that their opinions matter, and are encouraged to participate in classroom life as a valued member of the community. Take a peek into Montessori classroom and watch the teachers speak with the children down at their level. Watch them listen to the children and engage with them in a way that is respectful and genuine. Children are listening and learning all the time; respectful language matters.

Child working on opening and closing work

Four simple, but oh-so-important lessons to be learned! Every day offers opportunities to teach our children that they are capable, trusted, valued and respected. Be mindful of your language, look for teachable moments, and watch your child blossom!

Additional Resources:

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Clean Up Time: The Importance of Completing the Work Cycle

If your playroom, basement, or family room looks like a toy shop exploded in it, that’s okay! In this post we’re talking about the importance of completing the work cycle in a Montessori classroom and offering tips to help you get a little more clean-up cooperation at home. 

The Montessori philosophy emphasizes order, simplicity, and purpose. We do things in an organized manner, with a streamlined process, and with intention. Everything — from how the children serve themselves a snack to how they wash their paint cups at the easel — operates under the same framework.

Montessori children are taught (from the beginning) that cleaning up is just part of the lesson.  With a few simple adjustments, you can use this framework at home to make clean-up time less stressful and more fun.

Setting the Expectation from Day One

From their very first day in the classroom, Montessori kids help clean up! They are joining a community of teachers and children who are active participants in maintaining order in the classroom environment. The expectation, from the beginning, is that they, too, will help keep the classroom clean and tidy. The space is for everyone, and, therefore, so is the responsibility.

They learn early on to:

  • push their chair in after they get up from the table
  • return their work to the shelf where they first found it
  • roll their work rug up and put it away in the rug container
  • fold or roll their apron or paint smock

In a busy classroom with so many children working on a variety of different lessons, there’s a constant flow of activity. It takes time, practice, and patience, but after a few weeks, the children are fairly self-sufficient when it comes to cleaning up. 

It’s not unusual to peek inside a Montessori classroom and see children cleaning up a spill on the table or floor with a sponge, mop, or broom. You might spy someone washing their paint containers at the sink, making sure the easel, cups, and brushes are clean and ready for the next person. And you’re sure to see a child bringing their paper scraps to the recycling bin, returning a tray to the shelf, and rolling up their rug. 

Teach the Full Sequence

If a child is invited to a lesson and the teacher has already brought the work to the table, the child won’t know where to put it back when the time comes. If a child gets up and walks away at the end of the lesson and the teacher puts the work away, that child will repeat that sequence again the next time.

When introducing a new lesson, the teacher will take the child to the shelf to see where the work belongs. The child will take the work to the table or rug, receive the lesson, and return the work to the shelf, under the direction of the teacher. This way, he knows where to find it the next time he wants to do it, and how to clean it up and leave it ready for the next person.

When children first join the classroom, their lessons are shorter and more concise. As they get more confident with the materials and the lay of the land, lessons get longer, more involved, and require multiple steps. Montessori teachers are trained to know how much is too much and when to add those extra steps and challenges. The children learn, from the very beginning, that cleaning up is part of the lesson.

At Home: Hitting the Reset Button

If your kids (and you!) have gotten into some poor habits when it comes to cleaning up, don’t despair! It might not be Day One, but it’s never too late to start implementing some new expectations around picking up toys and helping out at home. 

Keep the Montessori framework in mind: order, simplicity, and purpose. Address one area at a time, get it under control, and move on to another area. 

For Example: If the bookshelf is overflowing and books are shoved in every which way or piling up on the floor around the bookshelf, deal with the bookshelf. The rest of the toys can wait.

Order: Organize the bookshelf.  Clear out older books your child has outgrown and sort out what’s left.

Simplicity: Bring in a basket and keep 10 or 12 books out for them to have easy access to. If they’re not yet able to properly return books to a (possibly) still-crowded bookshelf, take that element of stress out of the situation and make it easier for them to be successful. A basket just might be the answer!

Purpose: “This is our new book basket! We are going to start taking better care of our books. Books are special and we want to make sure we can enjoy them for a long time. We can choose books from the basket to read and when we’re done, they go back in the basket.”

Practice that today, tomorrow, and again until the books and the bookshelf are no longer an issue. Set the expectation that “this is how we treat books now in our family” and stick with it. If you give up too soon, you’re teaching a totally different lesson! Don’t give up!

Use Language that Includes Everyone

Use inclusive language that sets the expectation that EVERYONE in the family participates in cleaning up and EVERYONE benefits. Children want to be recognized as valued members of the family; they don’t want to be singled out as the reason the room is a mess! 

Instead of 

  • “This room is a disaster!”
  • “You need to clean up”
  • “I already cleaned the kitchen, this is your job!”
  • “Where are you going? You’re not done!”

(Can you feel your blood pressure rising yet?)


  • “It’s clean up time! We sure had a lot of fun in here!”
  • “In this family, we all work together — everyone helps!”
  • “Everyone had fun playing, and now everyone can help put things away” 
  • “This room looks so nice! Now we can see where everything goes!” 
  • “When the bookshelf is tidy, it makes it so much easier to find the books we want to read”

Remember that children behave differently at school than they do at home. Home is their safe space and where they will be the most relaxed and laid back. Chances are, you’re already dealing with a lot more whining and complaining about cleaning up than your child’s teachers do! Be patient, but persistent! It took three, four, or more years for your current habits to set in — it will take a while to undo them. 

  • Keep it simple by addressing one thing at a time.
  • Create order and make it easy for your child to know what’s expected.
  • Be purposeful in your language and actions.

And then do it all over again tomorrow. 🙂 

Additional Resources:

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Every Child is an Artist | Our Montessori Art Curriculum

Here at Children’s House, art is one of our favorite things! Each classroom has a dedicated art area, and it’s safe to say that art activities are among the most popular choices available. Some of the art materials are changed out each month and others, like the easel, are constant fixtures. Let’s take a peek inside our Montessori art curriculum and see what brings our little artists coming back for more!

Keep it Simple

We want our children to love art! We want them to love color and texture and shapes and lines. It is our hope that they learn that art is one of many creative outlets and that it’s fun! Children need to learn that it’s okay to make mistakes and get messy and that there’s more than one way to be creative.

The Montessori philosophy encourages freedom, within limits, and art is no different. Once a child has received an art lesson, they are free to do the lesson on their own. If they know how to start and how to clean up, what happens in the middle is up to them.

When creating new lessons for our art shelves, we keep these questions in mind:

  • What’s the basic concept or skill we want to focus on? How are we building on previously learned skills?
  • Is the work visually appealing? Will the children be compelled to take it off the shelf?
  • Will the youngest children be able to complete the lesson with little to no assistance from a teacher? Is the work too complicated or not complex enough?

Practicing Basic Skills

As with all things Montessori, our art program builds from simple to complex. Between the first day of school and the last, art activities that are available on the shelves range from very basic with minimal steps to longer, multi-step lessons. Over the course of three years, children build on these skills, gaining confidence and exercising their creativity in the art arena.

These basic skills — things like cutting with scissors, using a glue stick or liquid glue, and the proper use and care of a paintbrush — translate into other areas of the classroom. Many of the extensions that the children enjoy require an extra artistic step. A child might paint their world map with watercolors or trace and cut the shapes in the geometric cabinet drawers out of colored construction paper. 

Coloring, cutting, and gluing are part of life in an active Montessori classroom and it’s important that the children learn to do so independently and with confidence.

Understanding Color

In keeping with the “simple to complex” theme that runs throughout the classroom, our Montessori art curriculum starts off basic and ends with a full range of color. Each month we focus on a different color family and explore the different relationships between the colors.

We start the year with the primary colors (red, yellow, blue) and then learn how they combine to create the secondary colors (orange, purple, green). We explore the color wheel and note that half the wheel (red, orange, and yellow) are warm colors, while the other half (green, blue, purple) are cool colors. 

Experimenting with the color wheel.

Colors opposite each other are complementary and consist of one primary and one secondary color (red/green, blue/orange, yellow/purple), so we also like to highlight these color pairings.

We step away from the color wheel to experiment with black, gray, brown, and white (neutral colors) and then we bring back the color wheel and add white and black to create pastel tints and darker shades.

 By understanding how colors work together — to create contrast, mood, and even new colors! — the children learn to appreciate and play with this important element.

An Independent Process

Our Montessori art lessons are designed for one artist at a time. Each art shelf has a variety of staple activities: pin punching, cutting, and some sort of coloring / symmetry activity are available all the time, but the rest may vary from month to month.

There might be a painting activity, or a set of rubbing plates or textures. One month could find us gluing tissue paper collages or crafting jewelry out of beads and pipe cleaners. Whatever the case, the children know that there is plenty of time to do everything and plenty of supplies to go around. 

Children are responsible for their work from start to finish, which includes the clean-up required of any given art lesson. That might mean they have to wash out their paint cups or use a sponge to clean splashes off the table. It might mean carefully transferring a wet piece of artwork to the designated “drying shelf” or cleaning liquid glue out of a paint brush. 

As with everything else in the Montessori classroom, children learn to “complete the cycle” from start to finish. From the time they put on their paint smock, until they take that smock off and put it away, they learn to be responsible for their creative process.

Clean-up time! Cleaning the paint brushes is half the fun!

Art Appreciation 

Our final component of our Montessori art curriculum is to instill an appreciation for art in even our youngest students. Each month we highlight a different artist and share some of their story with the children. We marvel at their work, talk about their color choices or subjects, and try to bring them to life through stories and shared experiences. 

  • We learn that Claude Monet loved flowers 
  • And Mary Cassatt loved painting mothers with their children 
  • We learn that Vincent van Gogh didn’t decide to become a painter until he was a grown up
  • And Henri Matisse painted with scissors after he couldn’t stand at the easel
  • We learn that Horace Pippin taught himself how to paint
  • And Georgia O’Keeffe found beauty in the smallest places

We learn that artists get told “no” a lot and that sometimes people won’t like what you create, but that’s okay — create it anyway; art is personal. We learn that being an artist takes practice and perseverance and patience. 

It is our hope that the children will start to understand that even the greatest artists throughout history began just as they have: as a child. 

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Pablo Picasso

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“Where’s the dress-up corner?” Montessori and Imagination

When you walk into a Montessori classroom you might notice something missing. There’s no dress-up corner or play kitchen. There are “blocks” on the shelves, but the children are “working” with them instead of “playing” with them, because they’re not “toys,” they’re “materials.” How does Montessori enhance a child’s imagination, if there are no toys in the classroom?

Imagination in the Three to Six-Year Old

Between the ages of three and six a child’s imagination is actively developing.

Three to Four:

Three-year olds are starting to sort out fact from fiction, reality from fantasy. Have you ever had a conversation with a three-year old in which you tried to convince them that, no, in fact, they actually can’t fly — even though they insist that they did it “this other time”?

They’re pretty hard to convince, because if they can see it OR imagine it, they can believe it. This is why three-year olds don’t tell lies: to them, it’s the truth, because they want it to be true. 

Child curled up on a tree stump, hiding. Imagination and Montessori
“You can’t see me!”

Four to Five:

By the time a child is four-years old, they’ve figured out that there’s “real” and there’s “make-believe,” and they know how to go back and forth between the two. Four-year olds love to dress up and play pretend. They imitate what they see and experience, so it’s no surprise that playing “house” or “school” are favorite activities.

Their world of make-believe might have spaceships and princesses in it, but don’t be surprised when those aliens have to take their spaceship to the mechanics or the princess loves making soup and ALSO likes being the teacher. It’s a blurred line.

Five to Six:

By five or six most children have a solid understanding of the real / pretend demarcation, but there will still be moments when the two blend together and they have a hard time figuring out which is which. It’s why sarcasm still goes over their heads (are you joking, because you sound serious…) and Halloween is more fun and less scary, but can still be pretty scary.

Take a six-year old to Disney World and they’ll be the first to tell you that it’s just a grown-up in a costume, while they happily stand in line to take a picture with Mickey anyway.

Grounded in Reality

So, how does Montessori support this facet of childhood? With no traditional toys in the classroom, how do the children find ways to engage their imagination? It might sound counter-productive, but if you want your child to have an active imagination, ground them in reality FIRST.

Montessori provides children with a solid, tactile, sensorial experience with the real world first, so that the world of make-believe has a concrete foundation. In a Montessori classroom there is no specific space designated for pretend play.

You won’t find a play kitchen or a tea-party set, because the entire classroom provides the real activities that children like to play. Children don’t need to play “house,” because their school is, quite literally, a Children’s House. 

Throughout their day, Montessori children actively participate in maintaining the classroom environment. They water plants, feed the fish or hamster, sweep the floor, wash the tables after lunch, scrub the chairs when they get dirty, and clean up their workspace when they’re done.

There are food-prep activities like apple-cutting, preparing a bowl of cereal, and carrot peeling (and eating!) and the children help themselves to a snack and sit down to chat with a friend.

Work IS Play

The Practical Life shelves are filled with materials that mimic life at home. Think about all the times your child sees you working in the kitchen: pouring, mixing, carrying, wiping, and sweeping. They see you carefully measure a teaspoon of sugar or a cup of flour and they watch you — intently — to see how it’s done. 

In the Montessori classroom, they transfer tiny beads from cup to cup with a delicate spoon or they carry a bucket of carefully measured water across the room to their scrubbing work. All without spilling a drop.

They are learning to control their movements and improve their hand-eye coordination while also having fun! It’s immensely fun to scrub a chair when you’re four-years old! (If you don’t believe us, visit a Montessori school and see for yourself.) 

In the Montessori classroom, the children don’t need to play “school” either. In a mixed-age classroom, children have the opportunity to teach and take on leadership roles within the classroom. A six-year old, who is working with a younger friend on learning sounds with the sandpaper letters, isn’t pretending to be a teacher; they’re being a teacher. 

Let’s Get Real

Many of the materials in a Montessori classroom are handmade by the teacher. You’ll find cards for sorting and categorizing, tiny objects for matching, and lots of science and geography materials to teach about different parts of our natural world.  There’ll be photographs of real animals and souvenirs and artifacts from different lands.

In a Montessori classroom you’ll see children working with glass dishes and ceramic bowls, because natural consequences provide excellent learning opportunities. Children learn to carry trays with care so as not to drop the contents. When things do break — and they will — the children learn to slow down, lift carefully, walk slowly, and place gently. 

The emphasis on what is real creates a classroom environment that is grounded in real experiences, which everyone can share. Because children in this age group are still learning to discern the difference between real and make-believe, giving them real touchstones helps them establish those boundaries.

If you stop and think about it, we enjoy the fantastical, because we understand that it’s not real. Adventures happening in a galaxy far, far away are real enough to feel real, but far-enough removed from our reality that we feel safe and secure watching from the comfort of our living rooms. 

For a child to develop a vivid imagination, they need lots and lots and lots (and lots!) of exposure to real experiences, real images, and real stories. After all, a purple horse in a story book is only funny when you’re 100% certain that horses aren’t purple. Otherwise it’s just another purple horse, talking to a pig in overalls; what’s so great about that? 

Ground them in reality, so their imaginations can truly fly!

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Creativity in the Montessori Classroom

Creativity is more than art and music. It means trying new things and looking at a challenge with a different perspective.  Montessori classrooms are filled with opportunity for creativity and imagination. Creativity in the Montessori classroom is about thinking outside the box. 

Built-In Creativity

Ever wonder how a child can spend three years in the same classroom and not get bored? Creativity! The same materials can be used over and over again in a myriad of ways.

Sometimes these are teacher-initiated, meaning that a teacher will give a child a second or third lesson on a material and show them something new that can also be done with that material. And sometimes the children creatively discover these extensions for themselves. 

Child working with Montessori Sensorial materials.

Extensions occur when two or more materials are combined and used together, as is possible with many of the Sensorial materials, or when additional steps are added to an existing lesson. These might include writing down a list of words related to an activity or drawing a picture or illustration.

Extensions usually take longer and require more patience, responsibility, and effort on the part of the child, which is why they are not introduced during an initial lesson. We lay the foundation with the first lesson and then, when a child has achieved mastery, introduce them to the next step or invite them to explore further.

By creatively thinking about new ways to use the classroom materials, children learn to look for possibilities. They start to see patterns and alternatives, which helps them learn not to accept everything at face-value and be open to new ideas. 

This is an especially helpful practice when it comes to solving problems.  When we give children the space to solve their problems themselves, they learn to trust their own judgement, ask for help when they need it, and learn from their mistakes. 

How to Help Your Child be a More Creative Problem Solver

As parents, it can be hard to watch our children struggle. We want to help them figure it out and fix the problem, but that’s actually one of the worst things we could be doing! 

The next time your child encounters an obstacle, do yourself (and your child) a huge favor, and just wait! Watch and listen and see what happens when you don’t jump in to help.

If your child asks for help, respond with open-ended questions that prompt them to think of that next step themself. Help them walk through the process and arrive at the solution themselves rather than offer the solution or provide the answer yourself. 

Some good responses to keep in your back pocket:

  • “I don’t know. Why do you think _____?”
  • “Is there anything you could use to help you with that?”
  • “What’s another way to do that?”
  • “Show me.”

Sometimes creativity is about patterns and symmetry or color and lines. Other times it’s about answers and questions and making mistakes. When children are exposed to a variety of opportunities to think creatively, we all benefit.

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Eat the CAKE! The Importance of the Montessori Kindergarten Experience.

So you made the hard decision: you found a Montessori program that you love! You’re happy, your child is happy, everyone can settle down and enjoy the ride, right? Not so fast! There’s a big decision coming up. It seems far away at first, because — c’mon — one milestone at a time, please! But, sooner than you’d like to face it, it will be here: it’s time to think about kindergarten. The Montessori kindergarten experience is unique and, before you dismiss it (because, public school is FREE!) take the time to understand what is actually happening during this final year in an authentic Montessori program.

The Montessori kindergarten year, is a big one. If we think of preschool as the gathering of ingredients, and pre-k as the mixing of ingredients, then we can liken kindergarten to putting the pan into the oven and pulling out a CAKE! 

The Three-Year Cycle

Dr. Montessori identified four distinct periods of growth, called the Planes of Development. They are approximately 0-6 years, 6-12 years, 12-18 years, and 18-24 years. Within each six year period, there are two, three-year cycles and they can be roughly summed up with the familiar concept of “beginner, intermediate, and advanced.”

The basic concept is that we move through cycles of development, building upon, and perfecting, that which came before. And every few years, we start out again as a beginner in a new phase of development. We do that over and over again until our adult brains are fully developed. And even then, if we’re doing it right, we keep learning, growing, as we age.

In a Montessori preschool program, the 3 to 6 age range is evident in our mixed-age classrooms. Those children are experiencing their three-year cycle together in the following ways:

  • Beginner 
    • The preschool year, from age 3 to 4. 
    • Lots of new information, lots of new experiences, lots to see and do.
    • Attention is largely inward; self-focused
    • Looks up to older peers, as one would an older sibling
    • Learns through hands-on experience and observation
  • Intermediate
    • The pre-kindergarten year, from age 4 to 5. 
    • Taking that foundation of information and making sense of it. 
    • Learning to organize and create order 
    • Strengthening bonds with peers, finding their “place” in the classroom environment
    • Learns through experimentation and observation
  • Advanced
    • The kindergarten year, from age 5 to 6. 
    • Emphasis on practice, refinement, and mastery
    • Adopts the role of Leader in the classroom and among peers
    • Builds confidence
    • Develops strong peer bonds, relates comfortably to teachers and adults
    • Attention turns outwards 
    • Develops interest in and begins to understand more larger matters relating to our world
    • Learns through teaching, experiencing, reflecting, and talking — lots and lots of talking!

It All Comes Together

Montessori is a sequential program that moves from concrete to abstract; from simple to complex. This can most easily be seen in the math and language materials, where a foundation is first laid and then built upon, but it exists throughout the classroom.  Children spend two years experimenting and discovering. Kindergarten is where they master what they have only just begun to learn. 

By the end of the Montessori kindergarten year it is not uncommon for children to be reading and doing complex math operations. They might be bringing home creative writing stories or booklets filled with math facts. This doesn’t just happen simply because they are in kindergarten. It happens because two years of work has come before it. 

Two years of counting, sorting, and hands-on experience with math: numerals, quantities, thousands, hundreds, tens, units, and more! Not to mention two years of sounds, letters, tracking from left to right (the entire classroom and all lessons are organized this way), and a language-rich environment. Montessori kindergarteners are writers and readers and math lovers!

There are the Practical Life activities (scrubbing, polishing, pouring, sewing) that have instilled the importance of organization, completing multi-step activities, and attention to detail. And the Sensorial materials that have trained their eyes to discern slight variances in shape, color, size, texture, and even smell and sound.

Let’s not forget the Science and Geography lessons and materials that provided a foundational understanding of our Earth and our natural world. Kindergarteners are enthusiastic animal lovers, passionate recyclers, and budding scientists.

And the Art? Two years of creative art opportunities are just the tip of the iceberg. They’ve learned the basics of color, shape, and technique. Now Kindergarten Art is coming and it’s the highlight of their third year.

The Importance of Closure

Have you ever had an experience cut short on you? Maybe you were working on a project and your boss came up and said the project had been scrapped due to lack of funding. Or you played sports in high school and had to sit out the last half of your senior year, due to an injury. 

Closure is so important for us, as human beings. We like things wrapped up. It makes sense to us. We plan for it and seek it out and your child is no different.

The kindergarten year provides closure for both the child and their family. It’s the tying up of the bows and the crossing of “t”s and dotting of “i”s. It’s a logical end to a natural cycle. We close out the year sad to say goodbye, but satisfied at a job well-done. It’s time to move on.

The ingredients have been gathered and the batter has been mixed. When children are allowed the opportunity to complete their third year, they get to eat the CAKE!

When You’re On the Fence

For many families the question of whether or not to send their child to a Montessori kindergarten program boils down to a couple of basic (and important) details: time and money. Maybe you have older children already in elementary school and it would be easier to put them all on the bus in the morning. Or perhaps you have a younger child who’s ready for preschool, but the cost of multiple children in the program is prohibitive.

If you’re on the fence about whether or not to enroll your child for their Montessori kindergarten year, talk to their teacher. Get an understanding of where your child is within the three-year cycle. What are they working on and what is coming next? 

After two years in the classroom, your child’s teacher knows them really well! They can tell you what to expect for the remainder of the current school year and what their kindergarten year might entail. While we don’t have a magic crystal ball to predict the future, years of training and experience come in handy when it comes to anticipating how a child will fare during their kindergarten year. We know their likes and dislikes and can tell you what aspects of the Montessori kindergarten program will be both challenging and delightful for your child.

If finances are a concern, speak with the school’s director. Chances are they’ve had many families in a similar situation, and they might be able to offer financial assistance in the form of a modified tuition payment plan, reduced tuition in exchange for professional services, or a multi-student discount. The success of a school’s Montessori program depends on a thriving, three-year cycle. We want your child to stay for kindergarten just as much as you do!

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Title card for blog post: Eat the Cake! The Importance of the Montessori Kindergarten Experience

Why are Montessori Classrooms Mixed Age?

There are many differences between Montessori schools and traditional preschool programs. One of the more noticeable is the implementation of mixed-age classrooms rather than age-based classrooms. Visit a good Montessori school and you’ll see three, four, and five-year-olds working together, rather than being separated by age. What are the benefits and what’s behind the philosophy? Why are Montessori classrooms mixed-age?

An Interesting Backstory: Children Running Amok!

Maria Montessori opened the doors of the first Casa dei Bambini (“Children’s House”) in 1907 in San Lorenzo, a low-income sector of Rome, Italy. In this poor, run-down part of the city, it was common for both parents to work long shifts, while a grandmother or other older family member tended to the children.  During the day, while the older siblings went to school and the babies were home with a caregiver, the younger children were sent outside to occupy themselves. They did this by essentially running amok on the streets of Rome! 

Vandalism was a problem and the children were a nuisance to the building landlords and business owners.  They approach Dr. Montessori about finding some way to get the children off the streets and out of trouble. Dr. Montessori was already starting to make a name for herself through her work with intellectually disabled children and their educators. She had made impressive advancements in the field of special education and accepted the challenge to work with these unruly youngsters!  

And so it was that the first Montessori school happened to be a mixed-age classroom: the older brothers and sisters were already in school and the babies and toddlers were being cared for by their grandma and aunties. The three, four, and five-year-olds were put in a one-room school with Dr. Montessori and the rest is history!

the first Montessori school and Montessori mixed-age classroom
From humble beginnings, a movement was born!

Benefits of Mixed-Age Classrooms: Ways of Learning

Dr. Montessori was a scientist. She considered her method to be a scientific approach to education; one based on observation, implementation, and revision. She was constantly looking for cause and effect, adjusting her responses, and learning from her mistakes and, most importantly, from the children.

Dr. Montessori recognized very early on that the mixed-age classroom had a number of benefits and applied this information to her method moving forward.  She observed that children learn in different ways and that a mixed-age grouping was a critical component in this learning. 

She noted that children learn through:

  1. Observation: Younger children learn by watching older children as well as adults. In a mixed-age classroom, older children who are completing challenging lessons are an example to the younger children; they show what is possible.
  2. Practice: In a mixed-age classroom, children stay with the same teachers for three years, giving them plenty of time to repeat lessons, practice skills, and advance at their own pace; they are not rushed.
  3. Teaching: Older children are viewed as role models in the Montessori classroom. They teach by example and it is not uncommon to see a five or six-year-old sitting with a three-year-old and giving them a lesson! In teaching something to a younger child, an older student deepens their own understanding of the lesson. In teaching, we learn.

Benefits of Mixed-Age Classrooms: Continuity and Confidence

As children stay in the same classrooms with the same teachers, there is minimal change from year to year. Older students age out of the program and new ones are introduced, but the continuity of the classroom more or less remains the same.

This consistency builds confidence. Older children become leaders and step into their role with delight! They are finally the big kids! For children who might be the youngest sibling at home, you can imagine how exciting it feels to be seen as a leader in your classroom “family”. 

The final year of this three-year-cycle is typically a child’s kindergarten year. Rather than starting at a new school with new teachers and a whole new set of expectations, they enter their kindergarten year with confidence; excited for what lies ahead!

Benefits of Mixed-Age Classrooms: Repetition and Advancement

For a Montessori child who is four years old and still working on learning their sounds, a mixed-age classroom offers plenty of opportunity to practice. They are not rushed to meet an invisible benchmark before the end of the year and they are not sent off to a new classroom or a new school. They have the benefit of added time and can work and learn at their own pace.

Their teacher works with them at the level they need and provides opportunities for that child to work with older students AND younger students to help that four-year old succeed. As time moves on, he or she will have the chance to observe children writing and reading and will want to work on mastering their sounds, so that they, too, can write and read! They will see new classmates who are just beginning to learn their sounds and will sit with them and do the sandpaper letters all over again, because this time they are the teacher.

In a mixed-age classroom, children can work at their own pace in a natural way. Whether a child is more advanced or needs additional time, the Montessori classroom is designed to meet them wherever they are. 

3 children working at a window in a Montessori mixed-age classroom
Learning and teaching by example.

A Natural Way to Learn

What Dr. Montessori observed all those years ago is still true today: children of various ages, working together, will learn from each other, both as students and as teachers. Just as siblings learn and grow together, so do children in a mixed-age classroom environment. Our little Children’s House is very much a family! 

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Montessori Quotes to Inspire and Uplift

If you needed a reminder about how intelligent, observant, and forward-thinking Maria Montessori was, type “Montessori quotes” into a search engine. Her words reflect an insight into childhood development in the first half of the 20th century that was unlike any other research being done at the time or for decades to come.

Her theories were based on observation, practice, and reflection, but she brought a reverence for childhood to her work that can not be duplicated in a scientific study.

Black and white image of Maria Montessori from Montessori Quotes

Maria Montessori thought kids were pretty amazing.

Dr. Montessori dedicated her life to understanding childhood development and sharing her knowledge with the educational community. At the heart of everything she did, was the belief that children come into this world with an internal desire for growth, learning, and independence.

She believed that it is our job — as their parents and teachers — to guide them to experiences, encourage curiosity, establish safe boundaries that allowed for mistakes, and — most importantly — teach them just as much as they need to be able to do something on their own.

Here are a few of her inspiring words:

Montessori Quotes about Joyful Learning

Dr. Montessori understood, decades before it became the norm, that children learn through play and movement. She understood that, for a child, the productive, purposeful actions they take to gain independence within their environment (we call it work) is fun!

Learning is a natural extension of a well-prepared environment. This component of the Montessori Method is alive and well in today’s Montessori classrooms. Visit a good Montessori school and you’ll see children actively engaged with the classroom materials and their peers — hard at work AND having fun!

“The satisfaction which they find in their work has given them a grace and ease like that which comes from music.

Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child

“As we observe children, we see the vitality of their spirit, the maximum effort put forth in all they do, the intuition, attention and focus they bring to all life’s events, and the sheer joy they experience in living.”

Maria Montessori, The Child, Society and the World (Unpublished Speeches and Writing)

“Discipline is born when the child concentrates his attention on some object that attracts him and which provides him not only with a useful exercise but with a control of error. Thanks to these exercises … the child becomes calm, radiantly happy, busy, forgetful of himself and, in consequence, indifferent to prizes or material rewards.”

Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Montessori Quotes about Peace

Maria Montessori strongly believed that, if peace on earth were to ever prevail, it would begin with the children. Montessori classrooms are places where children are shown the value of respect, compassion, and kindness through daily interactions with each other and the adults in the environment.

Children learn respect, because they are shown respect and they learn compassion, because they are shown compassion. Through the Montessori curriculum we teach an appreciation for diversity and respect for all cultures.

People fear that which they do not understand. In the Montessori classroom, we seek to understand.

“The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.”

Maria Montessori, Education and Peace

“Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education.”

Maria Montessori, Education and Peace

“If we are among the men of good will who yearn for peace, we must lay the foundation for peace ourselves, by working for the social world of the child.”

Maria Montessori, International Montessori Congress, 1937

Montessori Quotes about Teachers and Guides

As parents and teachers we often find ourselves wondering if we’re doing a good job. We just want to know if our kids are going to grow up to be happy, well-adjusted, kind human beings who will one day get out there and leave a positive mark on the world.

Montessori understood that it is the adult’s job to prepare themselves first in order to be of best service to the child. As a parent, your job is to be there to offer support and guidance. It is not your job to do for them that which they can do for themselves. That is their job and it’s a very important one, so let them do it.

Montessori teachers learn to wait and watch, without intervening. We learn that experience is the best instructor. We believe that we are not in control of the process of a child’s development… we are merely observers and must take what we observe and use it service of the child.

The teacher, when she begins work in our schools, must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work.”

Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

The fundamental help in development, especially with little children of 3 years of age, is not to interfere. Interference stops activity and stops concentration.”

Maria Montessori, The Child, Society and the World

“The teacher of children up to six years of age knows that she has helped mankind in an essential part of its formation. […] she is happy in the knowledge that in this formative period they were able to do what they had to do. She will be able to say: ‘I have served the spirits of those children, and they have fulfilled their development, and I kept them company in their experiences.'”

Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Serve the spirits of your children. Allow them to have their own experiences, make their own mistakes, and build their self-confidence along the way. Let them think and plan and decide and fail and succeed.

“Keep them company in their experiences.” How beautiful.

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10 Ways to Encourage Independence in Your Child at Home

It starts with the little things, like helping scrub potatoes or put their socks in a drawer, and it builds. Soon, your little one is not so little and they’re actually helping with dinner, not just “helping” with dinner. They’re putting away their laundry and then they’re doing their laundry. And they’re doing it on their own! Your baby is growing up and life gets — dare we even say it? — easier! Let’s not pop the champagne just yet, though. If you’re going to have independent, reliable, responsible big kids someday, you’ve got to start today, when they’re not so big. Here are 10 ways to encourage independence in your child at home that will make life easier… a little later on.

1: Wait before helping

Hold your horses! Before you step in to “help” your little one, take a breath and pause for a second. Many a well-meaning parent has crossed the line from helping to hindering without realizing that their good intentions would have negative consequences. Before you help, solve the problem, jump in, or fix it, let your child have a chance to figure it out. Nothing says, “I don’t trust you to do this,” quite like, “Here, let me do it.”  So what if the pants aren’t folded perfectly or there’s a few extra Cheerios on the counter? Unless someone’s about to get hurt or something’s about to get broken, let them do it.

2: Think ahead and prepare

Life with independent kids gets easier. But first, there’s a little extra work involved. Think ahead, plan for obstacles, and be prepared. If you want your child to get dressed independently, you’re going to have to spend some time in her bedroom, making sure the closet is organized in a way that makes it possible for her to take control of the process. Don’t spring huge changes on your child. Lay the foundation with careful thought before introducing new expectations.

3: Limit the number of steps

One step at a time, one day at a time. Independence is an on-going process that takes years.  It’s kind of the point of the whole parenting gig: we’re in this to raise responsible adults, right?  A two year old and a five year old are capable of very different things. A two year old can help carry a grocery bag in from the car and that might be all they’re interested in doing. The five year old can help carry bags and put the food away. An eight year old will actually be helpful and a ten year old is going to make you dinner! Take baby steps and keep going.

4: Give lessons

Don’t assume that your child knows what to do. It’s a recipe for frustration on both sides, so take the time to do it right. Just because they’ve watched you, doesn’t mean they’ll be able to do what you do. Break a new task into steps and teach them how to do it. Be clear, concise, and build upon prior experience.

5: Avoid the “yes” or “no” question trap

Never ask a yes or no question, if you don’t want to hear “no” for an answer. For example, “Can I help you with that?” when you’re desperately wanting to step in to avoid a huge mess is not the same as “Let me help you with that,” or “Now it’s my turn to pour.” The same applies to “Do you want to help me put away the laundry?” and “Can you clean your room?” What to say instead? Check out suggestion #6…

6: Offer choices

Independence grows through choices. Offering your child a limited number of choices is one of the best ways to build their confidence and allow them to make safe mistakes. Whenever possible, offer your child two choices, both of which you’d be okay with. For example:

  • The laundry’s done!  Do you want to help me fold the clothes or put them away?
  • It’s time to leave for school. Do you want to carry your backpack or your lunchbag?
  • I’m getting ready to make dinner and I need a helper. Would you rather set the table or help make the salad?
  • It’s time to clean up. Are you going to put away the blocks first or the books?

7: Let your child problem solve

Independence is more than just doing things on our own, it’s thinking through problems, making choices, and enjoying (or dealing with) the end result. Provided you’ve offered choices (number 6), broken big tasks into smaller steps (number 3), and taken the time to teach your child a new skill (number 4), let them do it! Let them take ownership of a task and expect the best. So what if there’s a little dirt left on the floor or there’s toothpaste on the bathroom counter? Tomorrow is another day and another chance to learn and figure it out. 

8: Be flexible

Just because your child wanted to help sweep the floor yesterday doesn’t mean they’re going to want to do it today. Young children are enthusiastic helpers… until they’re not. By the age of 6 or 7, you can expect to start assigning chores or regular responsibilities, like feed the dog or set the table, but until then, take their help when it’s offered and keep offering opportunities to help. Keep your expectations low and don’t pressure your 3 year old with a chore chart that needs to be completed each day. Take each day as it comes and set the expectation that everyone in the family helps in their own way.

9: Be patient

Have you ever noticed how, just when you thought you had this parenting thing figured out, it all seems to change on you? Growth spurts, mood swings, and Life will all work to derail your efforts, but don’t let them. Independence is a two steps forward, one step back kind of deal. Be patient with your child and with yourself. You are both learning.

10: Acknowledge small successes

One day you’ll look around you and notice that your child just did something on their own. Maybe they took it upon themselves to tidy their room or they got their own snack or brought their dishes to the sink without being reminded eighty billion times. Whatever it is, give yourself a pat on the back! You’re doing it! You’re raising small human beings who will go out into the world one day and think and act for themselves. You’re teaching your child to make choices, take responsibility, and solve problems. Today: the breakfast dishes. Tomorrow: the world!

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30 Things to Say Instead of, “Good job!”

Your child just tied her shoes, crossed the monkey bars, showed you a drawing, or helped carry in the grocery bags. If you’re like many parents out there, the words “good job” just bubbled to the surface and came out of your mouth before you had a second to think about. But, you’ve been reading our blog and learning that internal motivation is way better than external praise and you know you should say something else instead! But what?? Problem solved! Here are 30 things to say to your child instead of “Good job!”

10 Things to say when you want to acknowledge their CREATIVITY and ASSERTIVENESS

When you want to say something about what they did, something they created, or some way in which they solved a problem or shared their thoughts, try saying something like this:

  1. Tell me about your picture / story / project.
  2. How did you decide to paint / draw / write a ______?
  3. Look at how you used all the colors!
  4. What do you like about your work?
  5. What would you change about _____?
  6. That’s an interesting idea. Tell me more.
  7. I’d like to hear what you think about this.
  8. You filled in the whole paper!
  9. That’s one idea! What else could we do?
  10. I’ve never thought about it that way. Thank you for sharing that with me.

Draw your child’s attention to the process, not the product. Invite them to think deeper, reflect on their feelings about what they have created, and consider alternatives. Rather than just giving a quick, verbal “pat on the head,” you’ll be giving your child the tools he or she needs to tackle the next (bigger) problem or work harder to improve a budding skill.

10 Things to say when you want to support their PERSEVERANCE and DILIGENCE

Hard work should not go unnoticed. But, in order for true perseverance and grit to develop, children should be given the opportunity to think about what it took to complete a challenging task. Draw attention to the time spent, effort demonstrated, and lessons learned. Instead of saying, “You did it! Good job!” these might be a better fit:

  1. You kept going, even when it got difficult.
  2. That was challenging, but you really stuck with it.
  3. What was the hardest part?
  4. I can tell this is challenging. Do you need a short break?
  5. What would you do differently next time?
  6. We’re just going to take one step at a time. We’ll get there.
  7. You’ll feel better if you finish what you started.
  8. You’re doing just fine. Keep going.
  9. This is a big job, but I know you can do it.
  10. You finished! How does that feel?

One more thing… we know you’re proud of them for whatever they did, but don’t make their accomplishment about you. It’s totally fine to say, “I’m really proud of you,” but for every one parent-focused phrase, try to get into the habit of saying two child-focused phrases or questions.

You are proud of them, because you have a much deeper understanding of what it takes to accomplish whatever it is they just did. They’re still learning that. Give them a chance to learn it for themselves.

10 Things to say when you want to encourage their KINDNESS and FLEXIBILITY

We’re walking a fine line with this one. We want our children to practice kindness, caring, and compassion, just because it’s the right thing to do, not because they’re being rewarded. We want them to go with the flow, because it’s helpful — and they want to be helpful — not because they think they’re going to get something in exchange for their flexibility.

However, when we draw too much attention to it — and praise them in the wrong way — they are actually less likely to demonstrate these great qualities, unless someone is watching! You don’t want your kid being nice when you’re looking and on Santa’s naughty list when you’re not, right? So tread carefully when it comes to praising those good deeds.

  1. How can we be a good friend to _____?
  2. What does your friend like to do?
  3. Doing nice things for people shows that we care.
  4. Sometimes we just need to listen to our friends and what they need.
  5. Thank you for using your gentle hands.
  6. When everyone gets a turn, everyone has more fun!
  7. Thank you for noticing that I needed help with that.
  8. People make mistakes; that’s how we learn.
  9. I like that one, too, but we’re buying a present for _____ what do they like?
  10. Is there another way we could try doing that?

These can take the place of all those “I saw how you _____! What a good friend you are!” types of comments. Give them opportunities to think about their actions and how their actions affect others. Allow them to make mistakes and help them figure out how to fix them. Practice flexibility for yourself and your child; according to #8, it’s how we learn, after all!

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We are currently closed, but are available to conduct VIRTUAL TOURS Monday through Friday between 8:00 am and 5:30 pm. Virtual tours are by appointment only. Please call 703-481-6678 and leave a message or contact us via the form below to schedule your virtual tour.

For more information: FAQs Answered: Closures, Tours, and the Upcoming School Year