“The child has the capacity to educate himself, not in typical schools with their exact syllabuses where children must be obedient, but at a school where he is not controlled, does not have to compete, but can work with enthusiasm according to natural laws. If we do not know these laws and respect them, then we are in danger of spoiling this great work of the child’s” – Maria Montessori
What is the Montessori School Education?
The Montessori school education method is probably the most well-known alternative schooling in the world. The first Montessori school was founded in Italy in the early 1900s. Dr Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator, who was invited to school some disadvantaged and, as yet, unschooled children. These children were viewed by society as unreachable but Dr Maria Montessori wanted to prove otherwise. The school was known as the Casa dei Bambini and, while running the school, Dr Montessori was able to develop her educational philosophy.
Unlike approaches in other schools, which relied on strict rules and harsh punishments, Dr Montessori wanted to encourage calm, respectful behavior from the children. Dr Montessori believed all children – even those thought of as unteachable by wider society – had a natural desire to learn. She designed new learning materials that would complement the children’s innate desire to learn new things. She also designed the classroom in such a way that children were able to take charge of their learning and take pride in their surroundings.
The Montessori method was a success and there are now thought to be over 15,000 Montessori schools in existence across the world. Some of the principles of Montessori philosophy have been adopted by mainstream schools in an attempt to modernize teaching methods and create a school environment conducive to the ways children learn.
The benefits of a Montessori school education
With so many parents choosing a Montessori education for their children, you’re probably wondering what’s so special about the Montessori method. Public Montessori schools are hard to come by; the schools are often fee-paying private schools. Why, then, do parents feel a Montessori education is worth paying for? How does an authentic Montessori education differ from traditional education programs and is it really superior?
Keep reading to find out some of the benefits of the Montessori method.
Here are some reasons why it might be perfect for your child.
One of the most-loved features of a Montessori education is that it is child-led. Unlike traditional schooling, which focuses on teaching, the Montessori method relies upon the child’s innate curiosity and desire to learn. Montessori teachers don’t stand at the front to teach; instead, they move around the room working with children on an individual level. The focus is on child development and the method of education is suitable for each stage of development.
Mainstream schools are often blamed for putting children off learning, especially those kids who might not fit into the mainstream mold. Montessori classrooms are set up to inspire learning and interaction and children are encouraged to help themselves to any apparatus they need.
Focus on the individual
In mainstream schools, classes are often overcrowded, and the focus is to teach the whole class at the same time. Children are expected to learn at the same pace as their peers, which can obviously be tough for some kids. In Montessori classrooms, children are seen as individuals and encouraged to learn on their own terms.
Montessori teachers are encouraged to get to know each individual child and how best to facilitate learning. Rather than focusing on teaching the class as a whole, a Montessori teacher will have different plans for each child.
There are lots of benefits to mixed-age classrooms and many parents love this aspect of Montessori programs. Unlike mainstream schools, which usually keep kids in year groups, Montessori classrooms cover a wider age group. This allows children to build relationships with children of various ages and feel a part of a community.
One thing teachers love about mixed-age classrooms is that the older kids will often help facilitate the learning of the younger children. Not only does this help the younger children, it also helps to consolidate the learning of the older children.
Purpose-built classroom materials
Maria Montessori created equipment that would aid learning and help children to develop necessary skills. These materials are often sensory or tactile materials, such as sandpaper letters, that will encourage hands-on learning. Montessori observed children in the classroom to help her design these materials; they have been proven to work and are still popular in classrooms. Most Montessori classrooms feature lots of these original materials as well as more modern equipment. In fact, you can find some Montessori materials in mainstream classrooms today.
Children are expected to take care of the Montessori classroom. Children are free to use whatever equipment they like but they are expected to tidy it away once they’ve finished. Not only does this keep the classroom orderly and protect the equipment but it also teaches the child to respect and value the classroom.
In a Montessori setting, even very young children are taught independence. In early childhood education, Montessori youngsters will serve themselves lunch and drink from open cups at much younger ages than their mainstream counterparts.
Many modern children enjoy little in the way of unstructured time. Long school days, filled with meticulously planned lessons, short breaks and after-school activities mean children are heavily scheduled. In a Montessori classroom, time is unstructured. Although the teaching materials available in the room are carefully chosen, based on the individual learning needs of the children in each case, it is up to the children themselves to decide how they spend their time. This leaves them free to enjoy the benefits of unstructured time and the joyful learning that comes from this type of freedom.
Although the learning is child-led and the time is unstructured, there are still firm boundaries in place. Not only does this help the children feel secure but it also allows them to learn to manage themselves and master self-control. Children are expected to contribute positively to classroom life, to be respectful of the other students and the equipment and to abide by the classroom rules.
Focus on the whole child
Mainstream schools usually work to a strict curriculum; there isn’t much in the way of wriggle room. The Montessori school gives students much more freedom, so as to develop the whole child. The Montessori method focuses on developing the social and emotional sides of the child, not just the intellectual aspects. Emphasis is put on the development of global citizens and there is a focus on community values.
Many parents choose a Montessori education because they want their children to receive a well-rounded, individualized education that will encourage a lifelong love of learning. They don’t simply want their children to pass exams; instead, they want them to learn to solve problems and think for themselves.
The Montessori method places emphasis on routine, order and self-discipline. These are aspects that will serve children well, long into adulthood. The schools encourage creativity and problem-solving skills. There are no standardized tests and children are not encouraged to compete with one another.
A 2021 study found that attending a Montessori school was associated with higher levels of wellbeing in adulthood. Two years of Montessori education have been linked with better wellbeing in adulthood, and the longer you attend a Montessori program, the greater your wellbeing in adulthood.
The authors noted: ‘Wellbeing, or how people think and feel about their lives, predicts important life outcomes from happiness to health to longevity. Montessori pedagogy has features that enhance wellbeing contemporaneously and predictively, including self-determination, meaningful activities, and social stability’.
Although alternative schooling is often seen as wishy-washy. In fact, Montessori pupils leave school with a very good education. Many people dismiss the idea of child-led education because they can’t imagine children choosing to spend time doing something worthwhile. In fact, Montessori students learn through doing and are encouraged to get deeply involved in their learning. Tactile classroom equipment encourages hands-on learning and children leave school having learned a lot.
A 2006 study comparing a Montessori education with mainstream schooling found:
‘By the end of kindergarten, the Montessori children performed better on standardized tests of reading and math, engaged in more positive interaction on the playground, and showed more advanced social cognition and executive control. They also showed more concern for fairness and justice. At the end of elementary school, Montessori children wrote more creative essays with more complex sentence structures, selected more positive responses to social dilemmas, and reported feeling more of a sense of community at their school’.
Most Montessori schools tend to be small, fee-paying schools and the parents form a tight-knit community. Many parents like belonging to a school community where the other parents share their values. If you are hoping to find a community of like-minded families in which to raise your family, your local Montessori school might provide the perfect setting.
Potential problems of a Montessori education
Nothing is perfect, however; even the Montessori system has its downsides. These are:
Although some mainstream schools have started to adopt Montessori theory, you will probably need to pay for your child to attend an authentic Montessori school. Not only does this make it an impossible dream for many who would like to send their child to learn in a Montessori environment, it also limits the diversity of those in attendance. If you want your child to go to a diverse school with a wide mix of students, you might struggle to find this in a fee-paying Montessori program.
The loose curriculum could be on both the benefits and negatives lists; it totally depends on your child’s personality. Whereas some children thrive when fully able to direct their own learning, others might struggle to receive a well-rounded education when left to their own devices. Some ex-Montessori students have found they were over-prepared for some subjects later on and underprepared for others.
Collaboration is limited
Children in Montessori schools collaborate on routine tasks, such as serving lunch and tidying the classroom, but they tend to work alone on projects. Children are encouraged to be independent from a young age and, although this brings many benefits, it’s not always well-suited to later employment. Many employers expect people to be team players and able to work well collaboratively; these skills are not heavily emphasized in a Montessori classroom.
Not all Montessori schools are created equal
With thousands of Montessori schools around the world, it isn’t surprising that some are better than others. Some schools follow Maria Montessori’s vision perfectly, whereas others might pick and choose which Montessori principles they adopt. It’s important to do your homework and ask questions when deciding on a school for your child. Is the school part of the Association Montessori Internationale? How does its teaching line up with the original Montessori methods and how does it differ?
Choosing a Montessori school
When choosing a school for your child, it’s worth doing some research. Speak to local parents to find out how they feel about the school. Are they happy with the education their child is getting? Do they trust the staff? Are their children happy? If possible, speak to parents of alumni to find out how their children remember their time in Montessori education. Are they glad they went down that route and would they recommend it?