Choosing the right school for your child is a task worth spending some time in getting it right. You want your child to come home each evening happy and full of the exciting things he has been learning that day in school.
There are many advantages in the Montessori method, but children differ in their needs and you know your own child best. In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of Montessori and regular education.
What is the Montessori method of schooling?
Montessori schooling is a holistic approach to educating children based on each child’s individual needs. The children learn pro-actively and hands-on. They explore a topic, make choices, and learn to help each other. The teachers are highly trained to guide the child’s activities. This is in contrast to regular schooling where the teachers (also highly trained) prepares the material in advance and all the children are expected to follow the same lesson at the same rate and where a set syllabus is followed.
Montessori kids are not subject to the pressure of tests and exams, which can become stressful for the child in regular education. But the results suggest that Montessori students out-perform the student in regular education, most noticeably in their social skills.
Montessori classrooms look different. Children may be engaged in solo activities or working in pairs or groups. The teacher is not standing at the front, neither is he the focus of attention, they work as a community. The teacher is a guide and model to help the children learn the best way to access information and respond to a challenge. The children are free to choose their activity, and outdoor exploration is encouraged.
The system was first devised by Dr. Maria Montessori.
Who Was Dr. Maria Montessori? (1870-1952)
Dr. Montessori was an Italian physician and anthropologist. she was one of the first women to become qualified as a physician in Italy. She devoted her life to learning how children develop, physically and mentally. Dr. Montessori discovered that children have patterns of development that can be followed in helping them to learn more effectively and she thought that we needed to change our ideas on how best to educate our children.
She travelled widely, teaching her methods of education which takes advantage of a child’s natural curiosity and development. Dr. Montessori found that children came to understand language, mathematics, science, and music at a deeper level. Social interactions were also improved as children were encouraged to collaborate on tasks. She wrote:
“My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certification… but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual.”
She founded The Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) in 1929. It offers a rigorous training program for Montessori teachers and collaborates with modern research in child development and neuroscience.
What age group does Montessori teaching reach?
The main emphasis is on the younger age – birth to twelve but there are also programs in place for older children. The early years are crucial to the optimal development of the child.
From birth to three years of age the Montessori aims to provide a safe, nurturing environment for the child. The aim is to establish self-confidence and aid the natural development of language, and motor skills.
There will be an environment rich in materials for the child to explore and improve his understanding of the world around us.
Six to twelve years
Child-centred guided teaching with the opportunities for collaborative learning with the other children. Social skills as well as the acquisition of language, mathematics, science, and physical abilities using the child’s own intelligence and imagination to make the learning become an integral part of the child.
But it’s not just a free for all. The teachers are guiding and supporting the children.
Twelve to fifteen years
Dr. Montessori died before completing the program for this age group, so there is no formal standard approved by the AMI although many places will have teaching in place aimed to promote independent thinking, self-confidence, and social competence.
Let’s examine some of the differences between Montessori and regular teaching
The Montessori approach is geared to the individual child; they do have milestones but achieve them at their own pace. Regular schooling caters for all children equally. Standards are set, exams measure progress, and competition is often encouraged.
In a regular classroom, the teacher sits in a prominent position, usually at the front and the children are arranged in rows or tables in a regular fashion. They have almost identical equipment and are expected to sit reasonably still and pay attention to the teacher. They are expected to be silent.
In the Montessori room, the children can be seen to be doing a range of different activities, in irregular groups, it’s a very “hands-on” approach. There will be a background hum of quiet conversation (usually). The teacher can be found anywhere and everywhere, encouraging and directing the children.
Finding the answers
One of the biggest differences between Montessori and regular teaching is that the Montessori kids have to work out their own answers to questions. They have to solve their own problems. In regular school children are often spoon-fed the answers – that is what teaching is – is it not?
Both schools try to encourage the children’s imagination – but it’s easier in the free atmosphere of the Montessori schools. The open-ended activities encourage innovation – whereas there is less room for self-expression in the regular classroom.
Freedom of choice
There appears to be freedom of choice in the Montessori classroom – but it is set with firm and clear boundaries. They are not allowed to drift aimlessly and do whatever they fancy! Their actions have consequences and they are taught to expect that. But because they have so much apparent freedom of choice they are usually engrossed in problem-solving and their natural curiosity does not allow for boredom.
Have you ever seen a child in regular school drifting off and not paying attention in class? Perhaps that was you once upon a time? Children learn at different rates and in different ways, so when they are all packaged together there are almost certainly times when some of the children in the class are bored, either because they already know the answer or because they cannot understand the problem in the first place.
Independent thinking is encouraged in the Montessori classroom – and often in regular school settings as well. It’s a basic drive within each of us as we develop we strive for independence. It’s a little easier in the less overtly controlled aspect of the Montessori classroom.
Integration and academia
Children learn through play. By integrating academic skills with games children and enjoy it.
Games and properly chosen materials are not only fun but also a great way to learn such subjects as mathematics, language, and social skills. And because they use applied knowledge the results are practical and useful and are relevant to everyday life. In addition, the fun aspect means that children look forward to the next lesson and when you are happy and relaxed you learn faster and more effectively. A love of learning is a great gift for life!
Learning routines and self-discipline
Regular schooling imposes discipline and routine. Both systems enhance self-discipline, and while punctuality may seem more set in regular schooling respect for others as taught in the Montessori discipline will automatically instil punctuality.
Many children feel a sense of safety when they are subject to routine. For a child who has problems in organizing themselves regular schooling may be a preferred option.
Children learn at different rates, in regular schooling they have to do their learning in a set time – too long for some and too short a time for others. In the Montessori schools, the child goes at their own pace, not going onto the next lesson until they have mastered the one they are on. This means they have a better foundation and understanding before progressing to the next stage.
Subject choice and exams
When the child is permitted to choose what to learn about they love the learning and do well. The problem might be that they do not choose some of the essential subjects that they will need to compete in the job market later on.
Some Montessori schools do encourage their student to take formal exams. Some do not. Exams are not a big feature of Montessori education – and this may put them at a disadvantage when applying for university. Different countries have different rules regarding formal exams, and the Montessori schools have to obey them.
A word about bullying
This seems to be an endemic problem in many, many schools and it is one that teachers often find difficult to cope with. In the Montessori teaching environment, bullying is far less likely since the teacher is present for every child and social skills are being developed with collaborative learning. The children learn to settle their own differences while the teacher is present
What to look for
Montessori teaching requires a high level of competence on the part of the staff. You should go in and observe the teaching if you can. Most Montessori schools welcome prospective parents and it will give you the opportunity to check out whether you think it would suit your child. If you are looking for a Montessori school there are some pointers to notice:
- Is the teacher Montessori qualified? The AMI has certified training. The quality of the teaching is the most crucial factor in either type of school, but the Montessori teacher should have the specialized skills needed to bring order into apparent chaos.
- Do the children seem relaxed and happy? After all, your child may be going not this class and you want to be sure that he or she is comfortable with it.
- Does it feel chaotic or does it feel orderly? Are the children occupied and do they seem to be focussing on their work?
- Are there examples of their work around the room and on the walls? If so, and there should be, does it seem to be of good quality?
- Are the materials the children using in good condition? A bad workman may be blaming his tools with good reason!
- If there is a difference of opinion do the children manage to sort it out themselves – and if not does the teacher step in at the appropriate moment?
- Do the children respect each other and do the adults treat them with respect?
- Are there places out of doors for the children to access?
Some of these questions apply to regular schools as well. Choosing the right school for your child is so important and if the school seems self-protective then you have to ask yourself – why? It can be harder to evaluate a regular school since most of them do not encourage prospective parents to pop in and check them out!
If you believe that schools should offer more than just the acquisition of formal learning, then you might consider Montessori schooling. The emphasis here is on the individual child, so install a love of learning and to develop their social skills and sense of responsibility.
Regular education suits some children because they need the security of set routine and order. But for many children, regular school can be boring or even scary if they are subject to bullying. Montessori offers a different experience where the child is guided in how he or she learns, and where collaboration with other students is encouraged.
Children want to learn. We all learn in different ways – what suits one child will be wrong for another. You know your own child best, but the Montessori education is geared to each child and does produce well-rounded young adults who have been permitted to enjoy school and benefit by the different approaches to teaching. You will need to visit and check out the proposed school for your child – and it is well worth the effort involved in finding the best placement for your child.