Many misconceptions surrounding Montessori stem from a misunderstanding of common terms and phrases used in discourse surrounding it. Often these phrases were created by Dr. Montessori herself in her native Italian and then translated into English, where they often hold a different meaning than their intended usage. Below are some common phrases used to discuss Montessori concepts, coupled with a definition to help explain what they mean in the context of the Montessori system.
When a classroom of children are all self motivated, on task and working as they would if there were no outside influences to distract them.
A special time in a child's life when he easily learns a particular skill. If he is allowed, he will often want to practice it exhaustively during this time. Dr. Montessori referred to it as, ". . . a passing impulse or potency." Her theory of sensitive periods is now confirmed by scientists and even the popular culture, with Time magazine calling it "Windows of Opportunity ".
This is one of the most misunderstood terms there is. In today's society we us the word "fantasy" almost as a synonym for the word "imagination" and so when Montessorians refer to fantasy as a problem,the average person rightfully has problems with the concept. But I feel that a better definition for the word would be "day dreaming" or "not focusing".
Observation- Montessorians watch their students and say to themselves, "What does she know?" "What is she having problems with?" "What is the next logical step that I need to set up to help this student master this concept?" "How is this child learning?"
Individual Liberty- Children have the ability to move around and make choices about which materials they will use, where they will use the material, and when they will do a job. Individual Liberty is not to be confused with "license" which is the ability to behave anyway they please, or to choose to not work.
Preparation of the Environment
A classroom that has all the materials for every lesson that a child in that classroom will need for that day. The lessons, (Which are often called "jobs" or "works" because we teach our students that everybody has a job, and at this moment in their lives their most important job is to learn.), with all the materials that they will need for that lesson neatly organized in a box, basket or tray and placed so that the children can easily access and work with them.
The following terms are not actual Montessori terms, but ones often used in conjunction with Montessori Schools...
"At their own pace"
When a child is working on material that is challenging to them, but not to the point of frustration.
A bright child who is not working because they are lazy or distracted is NOT working at his own pace.
This seems up to the interpretation of each individual program. Some programs see it as... "children aren't limited to the work of a specific grade, therefore a child who is in 4th grade, yet is interested and capable of doing what is considered 8th grade work, should be allowed to do it. Sometimes these schools do not even put children in grades, just in classrooms with a multiple year age span, (pre-primary, primary, lower elementary, upper elementary, etc...)
Other schools look at it as the children aren't evaluated at all, without traditional letter grades. Children work towards mastery and then move on. It is important to ask which interpretation each school uses. (Some use both.)
Waldorf Education (another alternative form of education that is based on the writings of Rudolf Steiner and is often confused with Montessori) does not use books of any kind in the lower grades and chooses to make their own books (called main lesson books) in the higher grades. This is in contrast to most Montessori programs which do not use TEXT BOOKS, opting instead to use "real books" ( reading books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesauruses, magazines, internet,... for their research.