Montessori schools are popular world-wide with parents of children in the primary grades. Interestingly enough, the educational concepts pioneered and codified by Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) decades ago to educate mentally retarded and ineducable children in the inner city have morphed into a kind of schooling generally available only to middle and upper class families nowadays.
How do I know a school is a genuine Montessori school?
Caveat emptor! Not every school which claims to be a Montessori school adheres to the founder's standards and methods. That is because the name Montessori has never been protected by trademark or copyright law. As a result, you can have a Montessori school of any strength of Montessori-ness you can imagine. In truth, the genuine article is a school which is a member of the American Montessori Society. It will have been officially sanctioned by the association. It will have certified Montessori teachers using Montessori methods and equipment. That is not to say that a school which claims to be a Montessori school but is not part of the national association is any less good or effective. That, as always, depends on the quality of the teachers and teaching. Just be aware that Montessori has become a household name, much like 'Xerox' is synonymous with 'copying'.
What is so appealing to parents about the Montessori method?
What, then, is so appealing about Dr. Montessori's methods? At the heart of her philosophy is the idea that children learn differently from adults and that they should be allowed to learn wherever and whatever their own innate curiosity inspires them to do. Learning by rote is eschewed. The child's soul finds its own center and manner of expressing itself. Achievements flow from that self-confidence. It all sounds so hopelessly naive and quaint. But it works. Legions of Montessori schools, former and current students and satisfied parents can attest to that. This brief video shows Spruce Pine Montessori School in action.
The Montessori method has many features and characteristics which overlap with other approaches to early childhood education such as Waldorf and Reggio Emilia. However, the Montessori method differs from the other approaches in several respects.
What is the difference between a traditional preschool and a Montessori school?
The main thing to look for is the way the children are taught. The other feature of a Montessori classroom is the lesson structure. There are large blocks of time in the morning and the afternoon in which the children work on various projects. Montessori classrooms are also noteworthy for the fact that they are child-driven as opposed to being teacher-driven. Maria Montessori believed that teachers should "follow the child". Her research showed her that children were naturally curious and willing to explore if left to their own devices with gentle guidance and direction as needed from the teacher. Another feature of Montessori classrooms is that they include children from several age groups. Most traditional preschool classrooms will typically have one age group per class.
What is the difference between a Montessori school and a Waldorf school?
Montessori and Waldorf schools share several things in common. They both emphasize the need for children to have the freedom necessary to explore and to use their imaginations. One difference is that teachers in Waldorf schools stay with their classes for several years, actually five to eight years as a rule. Why do they do that? The reason is that the teacher has a much better opportunity to know her students and to properly assess their progress and growth. Montessori schools tend to offer the early childhood years through what would be grade six in a traditional school. While Dr. Montessori did design her educational approach to go all the way through high school, the reality is that there are very few Montessori schools which offer what you and I would refer to as junior and senior high. Waldorf schools typically include the high school grades.
What is the difference between a Montessori school and a Reggio Emilia school?
For one thing there are not many Reggio Emilia inspired schools compared to the hundreds of Montessori schools available. Both schools have child-centered approaches. One of the distinctive features of Reggio Emilia is that there is a lot of parent participation.
What, then, is so appealing about Dr. Montessori's methods? It is the idea that children learn differently from adults and that they should be allowed to learn wherever and whatever their own innate curiosity inspires them to do. This idea is at the heart of the Montessori philosophy. Learning by rote is eschewed. The child's soul finds its own center and manner of expressing itself. Achievements flow from that self-confidence. It all sounds so hopelessly naive and quaint. But it works. Legions of Montessori schools, former and current students and satisfied parents can attest to that. This video compares conventional schools with Montessori.
Many parents find the spontaneous approach to learning the Montessori way jibes with their philosophy of education as well. For many of us it is a balancing act. We want our children to continue to explore the world around them just as they have since birth. But there is also a side of us which worries about how our children will cope with some of the essential life skills such as reading and math and so on. The Montessori method relies on a skilled, well-trained, experienced teacher to adjust quickly to the various demands her students present. And she will do it without being the least bit obvious about it. Take time to observe a Montessori class or two to see what I mean. It will give you a better insight into Dr. Montessori's instruction to follow the child.
Another thing many of us parents appreciate about the Montessori method is that there are no grades or rankings or comparisons within the classroom. Teachers do observe their students and will share the results of those observations with you during parent-teacher conferences. The multi-age classes play well to the fact that older children can be helpful with younger children. The fact that by helping and showing younger children how to do something develops their tolerance, understanding and leadership is also a good thing.
Questions? You can contact me via Twitter. @privateschl
Books by Dr. Montessori
- Discovery of the Child
- The Montessori Method
- Secret of Childhood