Choosing a school presents parents with a variety of decisions to make. Probably the most important one is: what educational approach is right for my child? One way of making this decision easier, is to become fully informed about what the method is and how it works in practice.
When we were at the choosing stage for our daughter, (How Difficult is it to Choose a Preschool?), the most commonly advertised approach was the Montessori model. We quickly learnt however, that any school can call themselves Montesorri. The name is not legally protected.
This post is aimed at helping any parent who would like to learn more about the Montessori model in order to make an informed decision. In addition to getting a clear picture of the approach, I will also look at the research, the model’s pros and cons; how it differs from traditional teaching and what you can do to ensure you make the right decision for your family.
Let us start with the history and background of its founder, Dr. Maria Montessori.
How it all began…
Dr. Maria Montessori was a physician and anthropologist. In 1897, she began to develop her theory on how children learn while studying at the University of Rome. In 1907, she opened her first classroom, (Casa dei Bambini/Children’s House).
She developed her method over the entirety of her career, (which spanned over fifty years). During this time, she carried out thorough scientific observations of children from a variety of socio-economic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
The Montessori model spread to the rest of the world, including India, where she had spent time during WWII.
Over a hundred years later, the approach continues to enjoy a wide appeal. It is estimated that there is around 4000 certified Montessori schools in the USA and 7000 worldwide. And the numbers are continuing to grow.
What is the Montessori Model?
The method seeks to educate children in a way that inspires them to be life-long learners. One of the main components is that it follows the child’s natural development. Children are encouraged to become independent learners; confident in their abilities and responsible. Their creativity, critical thinking/problem solving skills and taking care of the environment, as well as each other, are all outcomes that the Montessori method seeks to achieve. One of the keys to this achievement, is allowing the child to learn through their experiences, and maybe most importantly, at their own pace.
Montessori education is available from birth to middle school. Children of different ages are placed together in the same classrooms. The demarcations are:
Infant/toddler: birth – 3 years
Primary: 3 – 6 years
Elementary: 6 – 12 (Lower Elementary: 6 – 9 years/Upper Elementary: 9 -12 years)
Key elements of the Montessori approach
In 1929, Maria Montessori, established, The Association Montessori Internationale, (AMI), for the purpose of protecting the integrity of her work, and to ensure that high standards are maintained, in both teacher training and in the schools themselves. Today, the AMI continue to support her vision as well as continuing research into child development.
The Canadian Council of Montessori Administrators, set out the key elements of a Montessori school as having:
1. A ‘Whole Child’ approach
The main goal is to help each individual child reach their potential in all areas. The holistic curriculum, allows the child to enjoy their learning by allowing them time, developing their self-esteem and providing experiences where they can create their knowledge.
2. A ‘Responsive, Prepared, Adaptive Environment’
Self-directed learning takes place by the environment working to support the learner. The teacher provides the required resources within an atmosphere of support and trust. This environment provides the child with confidence to explore and discover for themselves.
3. Mixed Age Groups
The multi-age grouping is a key component of the Montessori approach. The mixed age groupings (see above), establishes a family-like environment that promotes natural learning. The older children can share what they have learnt with the younger ones, which also serves to reinforce their own learning.
4. Co-operation and Collaboration
Learning is a social process where children are encouraged to support and respect each other with both learning and social activities.
5. The Materials
Maria Montessori designed a range of sequential, multi-sensory and self-correcting materials. These build from the concrete to the abstract when constructing knowledge.
6. Self-directed Learning
Children are free to work with materials of their choice and do so at their own pace. This can be done individually or with others. The teacher observes the children to determine which materials the child can be introduced to. The idea is to encourage and support active and self-directed learning.
7. Freedom within Limits
Every class operates on the basis of freedom within limits. Each age group will have its own rules that are based on respect for the environment and for each other.
8. The Teacher
The teacher is principally a facilitator of learning. They are responsible for designing the environment, acting as a role model and demonstrator and being a keen observer of each child’s development and behaviour.
What to expect in a Montessori classroom?
A Montessori classroom is designed to meet all the needs of the child at each stage of development. The classroom will have been thoughtfully designed and sequenced, with a range of hands-on activities. The materials are designed to stimulate the learner into exploration and discovery. The classroom has:
Space: for the learner to move around freely so s/he can choose materials and come into contact with other children.
Materials are prepared in a way that allows the child to make an error, correct them and know that we learn from our mistakes.
Order: The classroom represents an order, both in terms of physical order and with regard to the consistency of the teacher’s approach and that of the presentations.
Freedom: Children are allowed to work on something for as long as they like without any timetable constraints or interference from other children.
The Teacher: supports the child in self-directed learning and allows them to follow their own desires to learn from the materials and people around them.
Key differences between the Montessori Model and Traditional Methods
The following table provides an overview of some of the key differences between the two approaches.
What does the research say?
Like all education approaches, there has been a wealth of research carried out into the Montessori model. One such study was carried out by Psychologists in America, who reported their findings in the journal, Science.
The psychologists compared children aged 3-12 at a Montessori in Milwaukee, with those attending other schools in the area. They found that within a range of abilities, children who had attended Montessori schools, out performed children who had attended traditional schools.
Five year-old Montessori pupils were better prepared for
reading and maths, and 12 year olds wrote significant more creative
essays using more sophisticated sentence structures.
They also found that some of the biggest disparities were in social behaviour and social skills. The Montessori children showed a greater sense of, justice and fairness, and engaged with each other in an emotionally positive way. They were also less likely to engage in, rough play during break times.
The children were tested for mental performance, academic abilities and social and behavioural skills. One of the researchers, A. Lillard, who co-led the study, found that there were, significant advantages for the Montessori students in these tests for both age groups. These advantages included:
- The five year-olds were better prepared for the 3 Rs at primary level and had higher scores in tests of, ‘executive function’, (the ability to adapt to changing and complex problems). This is seen as an indicator of success in later schooling and life.
- Despite not being regularly tested or graded, the Montessori children did just as well in spelling, punctuation and grammar exams as those given traditional lessons.
- The older Montessori pupils were more likely to choose, ‘positive assertive responses’ when dealing with unpleasant social situations.
- The Montessori pupils also showed a greater sense of community at school.
The study concluded that:
Montessori education fosters social and academic
skills that are equal or superior to those fostered by a pool of
other types of schools.
Like any education model, the Montessori method also has its critics. Some of the negatives associated with the approach include:
- Montessori is available up to middle school, but many children only attend a Montessori preschool. In this situation, some children may have difficulty transitioning from a Montessori environment to a traditional classroom later on.
- Teachers may have difficulty in allowing the children autonomy when choosing their own activities.
- Some children, as well as teachers, may have difficulty with the freedom allowed in the classroom They may need more structure.
- Montessori are often private and can therefore be expensive.
- As Montessori children don’t take tests, they may not be able to demonstrate the same results later on against students who have received the teach to test method.
- The approach my not suit every child, depending on their individual learning style.
- The term, Montessori is not legally protected and so can be used by anyone.
The Montessori model clearly has many benefits. But the decision about whether to send your child to a Montessori school is very much dependent on your child and your own values with regard to the teaching of children at this stage.
If the Montessori model is one that you think would best suit your child, like with any other approach, it’s important to do the research. Visit the schools and confirm for yourself that not only are they authentic, but is an environment that your child would be happy in.
If you have any questions or comments, either on your own experience or would like to find out more, please leave a comment below.
Over to you…
Are you in the process of deciding what preschool to send your child to? Is there more you would like to know about the Montessori approach? I’d love to hear your experiences or if you have any questions, pop them in the comments below 🙂
If you missed the Montessori checklist above and what to download a copy, here it is again: