What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?

Montessori emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just through listening, watching, or reading. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own, individual pace and according to their own choice of activities from hundreds of possibilities. Learning through the exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, creates a love of learning. Montessori classes place children in three-year age groups (3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and so on), forming communities in which the older children spontaneously share their knowledge with the younger ones. Montessori represents an entirely different approach to education.

Trevor Eissler, a parent who went through the traditional school system himself, however discovered Montessori when selecting a school for his children, summarises the differences between the two educational systems in this short, illustrative video - Montessori Madness.

What is the best way to choose a Montessori school for my child?

Ask if the school is affiliated with any Montessori organization. Ask what kind of training the teachers have, where have they been accredited? Association Montessori International (AMI) is the institution founded by Maria and her son Mario Montessori, teachers are therefore trained in the true Montessori philosophy.

Visit the school, observe the classroom in action, and later ask the teacher or principal to explain the theory behind the activities you saw. Most of all, talk to your child’s prospective teacher about his or her philosophy of child development and education to see if it is compatible with your own.

A well-equipped classroom is a prerequisite to Montessori education. The expertise of the teacher to use the materials as they are meant to be enhances the child’s experience and success in the classroom.

Who accredits or oversees Montessori schools?

There are several Montessori organizations to which schools can belong. The two major ones operating in North America are the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI, with AMI-Canada and AMI USA as some of the affiliate societies) and the American Montessori Society (AMS).

As Montessori is not a trademarked name, any school can call themselves a ‘Montessori School’ and not necessarily follow the principles of Maria Montessori’s philosophy. Canada’s Montessori Quality Assurance (MQA) Program was established to support parents in determining the quality of the education provided at their child’s school. MQA Member Schools are those that are accredited under the AMI principles.

Parents considering placing a child in a Montessori school should ask about the school’s affiliations.

Is 5 days a week too much for my young child of 2 1/2 years?

Parents often wonder if it may be best to enrol their children part-time. We often hear, “they’re still so young, there’s plenty of time for school! Do they really need to go 5 days a week? I’d love to have them with me”.

So why do we insist on a 5-day schedule for 2.5 year olds? In our experience children need, and thrive on, the consistency of attending school every day to benefit optimally from their Montessori experience. Part-time students don’t derive the full benefit of the environment as they never really settle down into a consistent routine. When we empower the children to choose work on their own and to concentrate on their work, they build an innate drive that is astounding and leads to amazing academic achievements when allowed to play out over 5 days a week.

Further still, they get pulled in and out of the social environment of the classroom and often don’t truly feel a part of the community of children that are there 5 days a week.

We realise that it may be challenging for your child to attend school everyday, with long family holidays potentially coinciding with the academic year, however with your support and commitment, they will flourish with the consistency and community of a full-time program.

Do Montessori classrooms push children too far too fast?

Central to the Montessori philosophy is the idea of allowing each child to develop at his or her own, individual pace.

The “miracle” stories of Montessori children far ahead of traditional expectations for their age level reflect not artificial acceleration but the possibilities open when children are allowed to learn at their own pace in a scientifically prepared environment.

Are Montessori classrooms too structured?

A Montessori classroom is intentionally structured with a vast array of activities on display for a child to explore and discover as they like. The notions that children learn through hands-on activity, that the preschool years are at a time of critical brain development and that parents should be partners in their children’s education—are now accepted wisdom.

When observing a Montessori class in session, it can appear as though the Directress is careful to make clear the specific purpose of each material and to present activities in a clear, step-by-step order. This is intentional as the child learns and develops best when clear directions are shown.

Children are always more motivated to learn when working on something of their own choosing. A Montessori student may choose their focus of learning on any given day, but his or her decision is limited by the materials and activities in each area of the curriculum that their teacher has prepared and presented to them.

By the time they reach the Elementary level, students typically set learning goals and create personal work plans under their teacher’s guidance.

The Montessori environment provides freedom in a structured environment. The children must follow certain guidelines and complete certain activities, although they may do so at their own pace. The children are also able to choose other activities to study outside the norm. Work is completed individually and in groups under the guidance of one or more teachers.

The Montessori classroom is intentionally structured to support and encourage social interaction and peer learning. While social interaction with peers is the essence of development of the child in a true Montessori classroom, ‘socializing’ happens mostly with older children in the elementary classroom as it is a characteristic of their specific stage of development. The young child on the other hand engages and interacts with others, though is more focused on developing themselves and therefore chooses activities of individual interest.

Why don’t Montessori teachers give grades?

Grades, like other external rewards, have little lasting effect on a child’s efforts or achievements. The Montessori approach nurtures the motivation that comes from within, kindling the child’s natural desire to learn.

A self-motivated learner also learns to be self-sufficient, without needing reinforcement from outside. In the classroom, of course, the teacher is always available to provide students with guidance and support.

Although most Montessori teachers don’t assign grades, they closely observe each student’s progress and readiness to advance to new lessons. Most schools hold family conferences a few times a year so parents may see their child’s work and hear the teacher’s “assessment” and perhaps even their child’s self-assessment.

In a self-directed environment, how is the BC Curriculum followed?

The Ministry of Education curriculum, taught in conjunction with and in addition to the Montessori curriculum, is used as a minimum guideline. Children complete Ministry curriculum material as a minimum standard, but at their own pace through self-directed studies as well as through direct instruction. Typically, Montessori students work far beyond the Ministry guidelines. The Montessori environment allows children to excel into higher grade levels within their social age group based on ability and interest, while simultaneously supporting that same child or others with extra time and attention in areas of difficulty. The structure of the Montessori program allows for more individualized attention for all students.

How will my child be assessed and evaluated in a Montessori classroom?

The teacher, through extensive observation and record-keeping, designs individual lessons plans that enable each child to learn, improve, and approach lessons that are challenging enough to promote interest and learning but not so challenging that they are discouraging. For Kindergarten-aged children and above, teachers prepare reports that describe each child’s developmental progress through the year, these are shared and discussed at bi-annual Parent-Teacher Conferences. Children in the preschool program do not receive a written report, rather their progress is discussed during Parent-Teacher Conferences. Disciplinary issues are approached using a collaborative problem-solving method.

Are Montessori children successful in traditional schools and later in life?

Research studies show that Montessori children are well prepared for later life academically, socially, and emotionally. In addition to scoring well on standardized tests, Montessori children are ranked above average on such criteria as critical thinking, time management, listening attentively, showing responsibility, asking provocative questions, showing enthusiasm for learning, and adapting to new situations. Research has shown that Montessori materials and the structure of the classroom help children develop higher level executive functioning skills that are clear indicators of school readiness and future success. These skills include the development of impulse control, working memory, task persistence, grit, problem-solving, creative thinking and managing time, work space and resources.