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Odyssey Montessori is a non-profit Montessori school serving children from preschool to 8th grade. Since its inception in 2001, Odyssey has emphasized the development of the whole child, including academic, social and emotional development, while striving to instill a lifetime love of learning, achieving, creating and being challenged.


1. What is Montessori?

Montessori students learn the same subjects that students in public schools learn. The difference between Montessori and public school is in how students receive that information. Ben Franklin famously said, "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." Montessori students are involved in their education, which goes well beyond simply memorizing information. Maria Montessori was an Italian physician who through scientific study discovered that with the right materials and the right structuring, school could be a place where children are happy, free, self-directed learners, collaborators and problem solvers. Montessori education has been in practice for over 100 years. There are over 20,000 Montessori schools worldwide and 4,500 in the United States.

2. I have only heard of Montessori pre-schools. Are there schools for other grade levels, too?

Maria Montessori envisioned that her methods could be adapted for students through high school. However, it depends on the school. There are some Montessori schools that only serve students in preschool and kindergarten (called early childhood programs) and others that have elementary, middle, and high school programs. Odyssey Montessori has grade levels for students from preschool to 8th grade. In a Montessori school, we focus on three-year developmental age cycles and creating learning communities made up of mixed age groups. This way young children can learn from the older children and older children can solidify what they have learned by mentoring young children. Traditionally, an early childhood classroom will have students from 3-6 years old, lower elementary (1st-3rd grade) is from 6-9 years old, upper elementary (4th-6th grade) is 9-12 years old. Montessori middle school (7th and 8th grade) is about 12-15 years old.

3. Do Montessori students have homework and take tests?

In general, Montessori students below sixth grade do not have homework or take tests. At Odyssey, once students enter 7th grade, we begin to implement a process that will help them transition to a more traditional setting. This includes homework and practice tests. Taking tests is a natural part of higher education and we believe test-taking skills are something that older students should learn. However, we don't want students to focus on the outcome of tests by memorizing information just to achieve a high score. We want our students to learn and demonstrate that they know the information through application. Additionally, we want our students to learn good habits that create a work-life balance. This includes having a balance between work and play, which is why at Odyssey we don't assign homework. Occasionally, students may want to take work home and we allow this. When students get older, we begin to transition to assigning homework through projects that must be completed. This assists students in setting deadlines and managing their own time.

4. If you don't test, how do you know if a child is doing poorly?

There is a huge difference between getting kids to focus on learning and getting kids to focus on how WELL they are doing. Research has shown that students that are focused on how well they are doing tend to be less engaged in what they are doing. We want students to think about how the story could have ended, whether there was a different way to solve the math problem and still get the right answer, and how to design an efficient and elegant experiment. We don't want them focused on whether or not they will get a good grade or be rewarded for their effort.

Montessori teachers perform assessments all the time. There is a standard scope and sequence in the Montessori curriculum and we always know where the kids are. Teachers regularly meet with the children to assess where they are in their education. If a child doesn't understand something then the teachers will know and will make sure they provide opportunities for the student to learn it. If a child gets stuck, the teacher is there to help a child guide the child through the problem. The teachers don't provide answers, but they also don't allow a student to get so frustrated in their search for answers that the student feels compelled to quit. The best part is that because Montessori education is individualized, if a child needs more time on a particular concept or wants to explore something more deeply to satisfy a natural curiosity, they can without regard to what the others in the class are doing.

5. My child needs lots of structure. I heard Montessori doesn't have structure. Is that true?

The hardest thing to explain to people new to Montessori is the structure. In a Montessori classroom, we look at the intellectual, the social and emotional aspects of children's lives and teach them to be independent problem solvers. We help students build confidence in their own abilities, and that is a skill that will last them a lifetime.

6. How do students fare when they transition from public school to Montessori (and from Montessori to public school)?

Every child is different, but in general if a student is doing well in a Montessori environment they will do well in public school. They will be more independent and self-motivated than many of their peers. They may be a little frustrated with their lack of choice in lessons, but otherwise they tend to do well.

From traditional school to Montessori, students initially need a little more attention and direction from teachers. This is only because they are generally not used to being in an environment with as many choices as Montessori offers. This takes time, but we expect it and we work with new students to help them get to the point where they blossoming in their new environment.

7. What kind of training do Montessori teachers have?

At minimum, Montessori training schools require prospective teachers to have a bachelor's degree. Montessori training is extensive and covers both Montessori theory and practical application. Ideally, Montessori teachers will pursue a training program that is accredited by the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education. It is an internationally recognized standards setting and accrediting body for Montessori Teacher Education. Additionally, Montessori teachers are specifically trained for the level in which they are teaching. Teachers who complete accredited programs must perform both in classroom training and a supervised internship.

9. Is Montessori a religion?

Montessori is not a religion, nor is Montessori affiliated with any particular religion. There are Montessori schools that are associated with various religions and there is nothing inherently wrong with that as long as the schools adhere to the principles of education that Dr. Montessori outlined. Odyssey Montessori is not affiliated with any religion. We value diversity and respect the beliefs of all of our families.

10. I'm looking for a Montessori school. What should I look for?

Montessori is not trademarked and unfortunately any school can claim to be Montessori. When looking for a quality Montessori school, you should first look for a school where the staff was trained in a MACTE recognized program (Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education). Other hallmarks of a true Montessori program are multi-age classrooms with 3-year age spans, and open classrooms in which students are free to choose their own work. You should also consider whether your school is affiliated with any of the Montessori accrediting bodies, such as American Montessori Society (AMS) or Association Montessori International (AMI). Schedule a visit with the school during the school day so that you may observe the classes in action.

At Odyssey we recommend that you schedule a half or a full day visit for any potential students. This will allow them to participate in a class and decide whether Montessori is something they wish to pursue. For any parent researching Montessori, we also recommend you talk to a parent with a child in a Montessori school. You can call most Montessori schools and they would happily put you in touch with someone.

Meet the Expert.

Wendy LaRue is the vice president of Odyssey Montessori's Board of Directors. As co-founder of Odyssey Montessori, LaRue has served as administrative head of the school, as well as a member of the teaching staff since it opened in 2001. With more than 20 years of education experience and related work, she has taught students from preschool to college. She received Montessori training from Montessori Educators International. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Mary Washington (then Mary Washington College) where she also completed a Virginia teacher licensure program. She earned a Master of Science in mass communications from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Ph.D. in educational leadership from Walden University. LaRue's son and daughter are 2011 graduates of Odyssey's secondary program and are students at Virginia Commonwealth University.

 Tune in for Odyssey Montessori's Ask the Expert on FredParent's Facebook page on Thursday, January 8 at 8pm!

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