“What happens after Montessori?” is the single most commonly asked question by people new to Montessori ideas.

Process in a Product-Oriented World

To an adult, the goal would be to re-create the cube. To this child, the goal is to build and re-build the cube, finding a deep sense of satisfaction in the process.

This question is so prevalent partially because parents and new Montessori teachers often struggle with the idea of measuring a child’s progress without tests or homework; there is a strong need to see a finished product that gives an accurate measure of a child’s standing. It can be hard to let that conviction go and embrace the aspect of Montessori that emphasizes process as the focus of our activities.

For a child, every activity is a process; a developmental exercise; a move towards self-perfection. The product is almost beside the point. So what happens to children whose processes are highly valued when they enter a highly structured, product-driven school and society? This question was posed to a group of Montessori children who grew up to be Montessori educators, and this is the conversation that ensued:

Adam Diamond: “I think that children who have grown into an appreciation of process can easily deal with product. Product is static, while process is kinetic. The object standing still is more easily understood by a moving person than a moving object is by a person standing still.”

Andrea Lulka: “It took failing an exam for me to figure out how to play the game. My sister never had an issue; she failed nothing and did very well all the way through. The experience of the transition is very dependent on several things: the age of the student, the support they get at home, the support they get in the new environment, whether the Montessori school prepared the student in any way and of course, the student him/herself. For most Montessori children I know of my generation, high school was this waiting place between Montessori and University and/or career when you could finally do your own work again.

Grade 1 student multiplying numbers in the millions. He works with the materials, then writes his answer in his notebook. Process leads to product.

Grade 1 student multiplying numbers in the millions. He works with the materials, then writes his answer in his notebook. Process leads to product.

The grading system is a game, and we all learn how to play it. I didn’t do so well unless I was interested in the work because I didn’t value grades, but when it came down to my last couple of years, where the grades actually counted for university acceptance, I met – and often exceeded – the expectations I needed to meet, and did what I needed to do.

My sister did value grades, so she did what she needed to do: score well. As a Montessori alum who graduated from a super-exclusive orthodontics program told me once, that’s one of the gifts of Montessori – the ability to see the goal, figure out what you have to do to get there, and then do it. So yes, I am still process driven. That is not mutually exclusive from being goal-oriented (different from product-oriented). I think the difference is that our goals may not be the same as everyone else’s. We define success on our own terms.”

Carrie Schepens: “I probably made the switch in elementary when I was proud of the product I had worked so hard on. The product was worthless if the process wasn’t authentic and filled with hard work. For instance, the B+ I received on a paper in university that was written last minute was not as meaningful as the C- I received on a paper I worked hard on, but had marks taken off because it was late.  The process remains very important on a personal level.”

Aubrey Hargis: “I transferred from a private Montessori one-room-schoolhouse to a traditional public school at age nine. Suddenly, after having been given a lot of freedom, I was asked to stay at my desk, my papers were marked up by the teacher and candy was offered as a reward for good behavior. Did I adjust? Sure. I smiled and faked it most of the time.

Grade 6 students demonstrating tremendous focus and skill as they make mosaics. Process meets product.

Grade 6 students demonstrating tremendous focus and skill as they make mosaics. Process meets product.

Good grades were pretty important to me, and I always had a strong work ethic. I got in trouble rarely, but it was memorable when I did. At the new school, the popular punishment was to write the offending child’s name on the chalkboard in front of the class. That happened to me a few times for forgetting homework, and it was emotionally crushing. Eventually it turned into a strong resentment: this system was squelching my independence and creativity. When a grade on a project appeared to be purely subjective, I almost always questioned it.

My experience in Montessori allowed me to stay secure in my interests and my abilities. It also ruined me because I knew that there was a better way to treat children. After attending Montessori, a simple acceptance that my grades defined me was not possible. The confidence and desire for self-initiated learning had already been instilled. This childhood experience directly led me to my passion as an adult – bringing Montessori into mainstream education.”

Matt Bronsil: “When does the transition from process to product happen? I don’t think it does. I see the product as a natural part of the process. The two are only separated when people only focus on the product or end result.

How do children learn to handle the world around them that is predominantly product driven? Again, the question implies separation between the two. People do not come to the product in the world without an understanding of the process. If I am a mechanic and you come to me with a brake problem, I have to understand the issue you are having, verify the issue through a brake inspection and test drive, find out the cost of repairs, repair it and test it to make sure it’s ok. I can’t simply arrive at the end result of fixing something (the product) without knowing the problem (going through the process). I can’t think of one example of a real world situation where the product and end result are not part of the process.

A third year casa child in the process of repetition. A first year student looks on with great interest, focused very much on her hand, not her work.

A third year casa child in the process of repetition. A first year student looks on with great interest, focused very much on her hand, not her work.

Now, what we see are different developmental levels of success in the final product. A three-year-old who wants to write a letter and scribbles on the paper still has a product – the scribbled paper with maybe a picture drawn on it. It is as perfect as the level he can be expected to have. Still, at that age, the child still goes through a process: decides what to write and to whom, gets the materials, works with a pencil and paper, and likely delivers the “message.” Same is true with a child who later does inventive spelling who has not yet achieved a higher understanding of phonics or sight words.

So there is always product in the Montessori classroom. It simply always becomes more refined since we focus on development of the entire process.”



~ Adam Diamond is a graduate of a Montessori school in Ohio, and is in the process of obtaining a Masters in Education. He’s a very happy Montessori dad and has been teaching in Elementary Montessori classrooms for over 6 years.

~ Carrie Schepens is Assistants to Infancy and Casa certified in addition to being a Montessori mom. She currently owns and operates Morgan Creek Montessori Preschool and Kindergarten (www.morgancreekmontessori.com) and Beginning Montessori (www.beginningmontessori.com). She also writes for Montessori Moms (montessorimoms.wordpress.com).

~ Aubrey Hargis “Aubrey Hargis is AMS certified for 6-9 and has an MEd in Curriculum and Instruction. She was raised by a Montessori teacher and a psychologist, and is homeschooling her sons in a very Montessori way. She writes the very popular Montessori Mischief blog (montessorimischief.com) and runs the active Montessori 101 Facebook group.

~ Matt Bronsil’s Montessori education began long before it was formalized, since both of his parents were Montessori teachers. Matt shares his experiences and insights at www.montessorimatt.com.

~ Andrea Lulka holds an AMS certification for 3-6 and an MEd with a focus on Montessori education for adolescents, and she is working towards Secondary certification.  She is an administrator for the Facebook groups “Montessori Parents International” and “Montessori Teachers.” She is a third generation Montessorian and is a very proud Montessori mom.

Photography by Michael Watier