Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Is It Too Late for my Child to Attend a Montessori School?

NAMC when is it too late for my child to attend a montessori school child working with geometric solids

When I was searching for a Montessori school for my son, I was surprised to encounter schools that refused to take him because he had not attended a Montessori school previously. I felt like he was being excluded and punished because he did not start preschool at age three. Even though he could already read, these schools were adamant: they did not accept students who did not start Montessori at age three or earlier.

When is it 'Too Late' for my Child to Start Montessori Schooling?

As a Montessori practitioner and teacher-educator, I can now see the reasoning behind this argument. The Montessori 3–6 classroom sets the foundation for the rest of the Montessori experience. The introductory lessons in Practical Life and Sensorial form the basis for the rest of the Montessori curriculum. In addition, the lessons in Grace and Courtesy help the child develop the skills he needs to work peacefully and independently. There is also the chronological progression of the three-year cycle and multi-age classroom to consider.

NAMC when is it too late for my child to attend a montessori school child asking question in class

That said, I have accepted children who were not only older, but in the final year of the three-year cycle into my Montessori classrooms. Here are a few examples:
  • Benjamin – a 6th year boy who was previously homeschooled with five younger brothers. He was excited to attend school, and Montessori fit what he had experienced at home. The first weeks were rough and many days he ended up in tears. Although he was two years behind in math, he persevered and became a leader in our class. He excelled that year in math, thanks to the Montessori materials and lessons, and moved to the middle school with his peers, where he scored the highest algebra marks of his class.
  • Jean-Marc – a 6th year boy from Côte d’Ivoire who, in addition to being new to Montessori, spoke no English. He spent two years with me as a 6th year. At the end of his second year, he was fluent enough to present his multi-media 6th year project to an audience of over 200 people.
  • Katie – a 6th year girl who was so quiet and unassuming, she fell through the cracks of her conventional school. Diagnosed with severe ADHD, Katie could not finish work. It was painful to watch her learn how to choose a work and follow it through to the end. A gifted linguist, Katie taught the whole class how to speak a language she had made up and we spent the entire year practicing with each other. Katie’s proudest accomplishment was completing her 6th year research project.
  • Sarah and Kylie – both 3rd year girls who had no previous Montessori experience. The third-year group they belonged to seemed to be ruled by boys that year. These two girls had to overcome their initial shyness and find their place among these boys. Sarah was especially nurturing and took the first-year girls under her wing. Kylie was so shy, she did not speak for months. But when it came to academics, these two made the boys work hard to keep up!
And then there is my son, Nathaniel. I did finally find a Montessori school who accepted him for his kindergarten year. He spent a lot of time ‘catching up’ and working with the Practical Life and Sensorial works. At first, like any parent, I was concerned. But his teacher explained to me that he had three years of work to cram into one, and like most first-year students, he was gravitating to those works that captured his attention. By the time he entered first grade, he was ahead of his peers academically! He remained in Montessori until the end of 6th grade. Next year, he will graduate high school with honors and 18 college credits!

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer to when a school accepts children. It is up to each school’s personal philosophy. Being an informed parent will help you make the right decision for your child.

For further reading:
My Most Rewarding Montessori Student - Making Friends
The Role of the Third Year Student in the Montessori Classroom
Answers to Real Questions About Montessori Mixed Age Grouping
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, March 13, 2013.


  1. I totally agree with bringing children in at any age. If the teacher can't handle it, perhaps another teacher can, or perhaps that teacher needs to go back "preparation of the adult" in the theory albums, Montessori's writings, training, and just being in the Montessori environment.

    The reality is, ADULTS gain so much from the Montessori Method, that there really is not cut-off. Yes, some things may be harder to "catch-up" and it will never be as perfect as if the child had started earlier, but it is still a wonderful experience that meets the child's needs :)

  2. Are there any suggestions for working with these older students? Like for someone who has a whole class that might not have had any previous Montessori school? Where can I find the "preparation of the adult" information?

  3. George, the best way to work with these older students is model exactly what it is you desire from them. If there are behavior issues, make sure that your behavior is at all times, exactly what you'd wish for them to do. If you wish to lead them academically, you need to begin where they are at before you can move forward. I highly encourage you to read Montessori's work, beginning perhaps, with The Advanced Montessori Method, for older elementary students. Dr. Jane Nelson's work on Positive Discipline is an exemplary tool for Montessori teachers as well. Montessori's work and explanation on the preparation of the adult can be found in all her work, and especially in the final chapters of the Absorbent Mind.

    It is important to remember that a Montessori school and classroom is so much more than just having a classroom full of Montessori materials. Without the proper mindset and preparation of the teacher, it is just a conventional method with different manipulatives.


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