How does Montessori differ from traditional education?
Most descriptions of Montessori education begin by saying that Montessori is an educational philosophy. It is, but rather than thinking of it as a style of teaching, a better way to put it might be that Montessori is a style of learning. Montessori schools differ from traditional schools in a few basic ways. Children in Montessori programs do not consume information that is delivered to them by a teacher. Instead, Montessori students investigate subjects on their own. This is known as the “discovery” model of education, in which students learn concepts through their interactions with specialized, hands-on educational materials rather than direct instruction. As one Montessori guide puts it, “Montessori teachers don’t give lessons. They give tools that allow the students to learn for themselves.”
If this sounds like the students are running the show, nothing could be farther from the truth. Montessori classrooms are as disciplined and respectful as any you can find. Students are free to choose what they wish to study, but their choices are directed within limits set by the teacher and the materials available in the classroom. Which brings us to another unique characteristic of a Montessori school—the educational materials. Montessori schools are outfitted with specially designed equipment that has been tested and used successfully for nearly a century. These are not toys, but playthings designed to teach children valuable lessons—or rather, to allow children to discover new things about their world. True Montessori classrooms are equipped with child-sized furniture, and child-sized shelving that makes this equipment freely available to the students whenever they are interested.
Montessori programs are guided by the belief that “play is the work of the child.” But make no mistake, a Montessori preschool is NOT just another kind of daycare. Montessori schools follow an established curriculum. They emphasize uninterrupted work cycles in which students are allowed to focus without distractions. Within these extended periods, students learn to respect the work of other children. And in fact, the students help each other learn. A Montessori classroom typically consists of children of multiple ages (for example, 3-6 year olds). The younger students emulate the older students, and the older ones help to teach the younger ones.
So how is a Montessori school different from a traditional school? Maybe the best way to sum it up is to say that rather than viewing each child as a blank slate waiting to be written upon, Montessori education is designed to allow each student to reveal his or her own unique potential.
Philosophical Key Points
M: Motivation of students is not guided by punishments or rewards
O: Options allow students to choose activities of their own interest
N: Nature comprises a primary component of Montessori education
T: Teachers (or guides) use observation of children to help them achieve their potential
E: Early childhood (0-6) involves the greatest capacity for learning
S: Self-motivated learners form positive self images
S: Self-correcting, didactic materials aid concentration
O: Order and structure form the foundation of the child’s environment
R: Real-life work with real-life material fosters imagination and sparks creativity
I: Independence is fostered through child centered education
Children Thrive on Order & Structure:
Children feel safer in an orderly environment. With a place for everything and everything in its place, children experience a greater sense of security.
Children are inherently loving beings, caring to the world around them.
Sensitive & Creative Periods:
Children can learn at intense rates during sensitive periods, with progress that is clearly visible. Montessori teachers are taught to observe these creative and sensitive periods.
Learn Through the Senses:
We use carefully designed interesting materials—children are eager to experiment with the equipment.
Children Need Freedom:
The most important factor is to allow children to develop as spontaneous and creative people. The role of the educator is to provide an environment where children are free to follow their impulses to become dynamic natural learners.
Big (Adult) Teachers are Directresses:
We guide, rather than control, children’s activities. We direct the natural energy that we, as teachers, see emerging in each child.