Do Montessori Schools Follow a Curriculum?

There is a wide usage of the word “curriculum”, so we will begin by sharing four definitions, as outlined by Jon Wiles in his book, Leading Curriculum Development.

  1. A written document/book that contains a prescribed syllabus for teachers to implement and follow. We would add to this that a traditional curriculum would have the children learning the same thing, at the same time, and in the same way.   Wiles notes that this is the most common understanding of the word “curriculum”.
  2. A set of school experiences
  3. An educational plan tied to goals and related objectives
  4. Targeting specific knowledge, behavior and attitudes for students and engineering a school program to achieve those ends

By the first, and most common, usage of the word “curriculum”, we would say that Montessori schools do not follow a curriculum.  This is because it refers to a standardized written syllabus typically containing daily lesson plans that are applied to all students simultaneously. 

Montessori is meant to be individualized, child-led learning.  If the teacher were to follow a prescribed syllabus/written curriculum, it would be largely applied to the whole classroom, limiting her time and flexibility to offer each child learning experiences based on their unique development and interests.  This would also be disadvantageous to a mixed age classroom with newly turned 3-year-olds learning the same materials as a 6-year-old in their kindergarten year.  The individualized approach to learning allows each child to develop at a pace right for them.

child learning to count at montessori

However, let’s return curriculum expert, Jon Wiles, who goes on to provide a richer definition that he and co-author Joseph Bondi outline in their book Curriculum Development: A Guide to Practice:

“The curriculum represents a set of desired goals or values that are activated through a developmental process and culminate in successful learning experiences for students.”

When we look at this definition, we can say that Sonnet Montessori School & Child Care and other Montessori schools do follow a curriculum!   There absolutely are a set of values and desired goals that guide the teachers as they customize a successful learning experience for each of their students! 

The curriculum consists of the materials, activities and experiences the children have within the classroom.  The classroom is prepared to deliver these experiences and to meet the needs of a broad range of developmental stages and interests.  In depth observation sheets and recordkeeping books aid the teachers in ensuring they track student progress and introduce new materials and activities at an appropriate time.  Teachers also routinely rotate materials, often following seasonal themes or their own classroom goals to introduce specific topics within science or cultural learning. 

child learning letters at preschool

In as much as the materials are part of the curriculum, Montessori schools around the globe use the same core curriculum.  If you were to walk into a Montessori classroom in Vietnam, Austria, Brazil or Canada, you would immediately recognize materials such as the pink tower, sandpaper letters, cylinder blocks, bead cabinet, and puzzle maps.  Montessori teachers across the globe are also trained in similar methods in how to present these materials.  They often use albums as a resource to help guide their goals and objectives for each student.  These albums are a compilation of presentations for a specific age group (for example, 3-6 year classroom, or the “Children’s House”). 

Dr. Angeline S. Lillard, Montessori expert, says, “….The overarching Montessori curriculum is…tightly structured. Materials within a curriculum area are presented in a hierarchical sequence, and there is a complex web of interrelationships with materials in different areas of the curriculum. As far as I know, no other single educational curriculum comes close to the Montessori curriculum in terms of its levels of depth, breadth, and interrelationship across time and topic.”

Next week, we will explore the different curriculum areas of a Montessori classroom.


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