Montessori Education: Everything You Need to Know

The Montessori Method is found world wide and continues to grow in popularity.  It began in 1907 when Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman physician in Italy, was given the responsibility of caring for children in Rome’s San Lorenzo slum district.  She knew the importance of a positive nurturing environment that met the developmental needs of the children, and under her care the children quickly grew in independence and capabilities.

During her career she traveled extensively, lecturing and teaching throughout Europe, India, and the United States. She was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize and continued working, teaching, and writing up to the time of her death in 1952.

Famous People and the development of Montessori

What do children and Jeff Bezos have in common? Not much at the surface level, but back In 2018, the founder of Amazon pledged about $1 billion to help fund Montessori education. From famous athletes to tech giants, many people received education through the Montessori method.  They include Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Prince William and Prince Harry, T. Berry Brazelton, pediatrician and author, Julia Child, chef, and Anne Frank, diarist from WWII. 

This prominent donation, along with these famous figures, sparked more interest in this style of education. Today, people want to know more about it – what it is, the pros, and the cons. Below, we explore the unique nature of this educational method. 

What Is Montessori Education?

Montessori classrooms are peaceful, well organized, happy places to meet the developmental needs of each child.  They can learn and play in many different ways:  individually, in small groups, in large groups, inside, outside, at tables, or on the floor.  

In the Montessori classroom children are taught how to regulate their social interactions.  Through role-playing and modeling they learn how to respond to arguments or problems themselves.  

Montessori core principles are (1) respect for the child, (2) using the sensitive periods (stages) for learning, (3) use of the prepared environment, and (4) independence and discovery.  The prepared environment includes areas of Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, Language, and Culture, each with specially designed materials. She also designed material for teaching the Bible, worship, and sacraments.

RESPECT:  Teachers respect children as unique individuals, and guide children to respect people and objects in their environment.

THE SENSITIVE PERIODS:

SENSITIVE PERIODS THROUGH AGE 6 Movement Random movements become coordinated and controlled: grasping, touching, turning, balancing, crawling, walking.  (birth-one)                                       
Language Use of words to communicate: a progression from babble to words to phrases to sentences, with a continuously expanding vocabulary and comprehension.       (birth-six)
Small Objects   A fixation on small objects and tiny details.                             (one-four)

Order Characterized by a desire for consistency and repetition and a passionate love for established routines. Children can become deeply disturbed by disorder. The environment must be carefully ordered with a place for everything and with carefully established ground rules.            (two-four)
Music Spontaneous interest in and the development of pitch, rhythm, and melody.  (two-six)
Grace & Courtesy Imitation of polite and considerate behavior leading to an internalization of these qualities into the personality. (two-six)                                         
Refinement of the Senses Fascination with sensorial experiences (taste, sound, touch, weight, smell) resulting with children learning to observe and with making increasingly refined sensorial discriminations.                                            (two-six)         Writing Fascination with the attempt to reproduce letters and numbers with pencil or pen and paper. Montessori discovered that writing precedes reading.  (three-four)                          
Reading Spontaneous interest in the symbolic representations of the sounds of each letter and in the formation of words.                                   (three-five)
Spatial Relationships Forming cognitive impressions about relationships in space, including the layout of familiar places. Children become more able to find their way around their neighborhoods, and they are increasingly able to work complex puzzles.                        (four-six)
Mathematics Formation of the concepts of quantity and operations from the uses of concrete material aids.  (four-six)                                                                                                   

THE PREPARED ENVIRONMENT:  The classroom is prepared to maximize learning and growth in students.  It includes Freedom, Structure and Order, Beauty, Nature and reality, social environment, and intellectual environment.

INDEPENDENCE AND DISCOVERY:

The teacher first presents the ground rules for the classroom and then lessons.  Children may be assigned a lesson to work on, or allowed to choose their work.  Children can learn through their own experience and at their own pace.

Maria Montessori said:  Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.

As with any method, Montessori education divides both parents and teachers. Some love the approach while others find it chaotic. Below, we explore some of the pros and cons of this model. 

Pros of Montessori Education

When you talk to a teacher at a Montessori school, they tend to praise the method. Often, systems of education inspire true passion in teachers who utilize them. So, what are the specific pros of a Montessori education?

Hands-On Experience 

Montessori schools have a great reputation for their beauty. Typically, the spaces have lovely natural light. Moreover, space is a high priority in the design of the classroom. When educators create an accessible and pleasing environment, children direct their own education with the help of designed aids. 

As children use materials independently, they have the opportunity to develop both concentration and coordination. This builds a foundation for more traditional academic learning. 

Social Interaction

Oftentimes, parents notice that their children find what other kids do fascinating. In Montessori education, the model capitalizes on that. Because most classrooms mix age groups, it fosters peer-based learning. 

In many cases, this leads to natural growth that differs from other classrooms. The groups allow children to learn from each other. As such, they develop life skills based on acceptance, collaboration, and inclusion. 

Independence

Within the Montessori Method, there’s a focus on independence. This helps children develop a sense of confidence as well as creative freedom. Both of these are assets as they develop an entrepreneurial skillset. 

Because children direct their own learning, they gain a sense of independence in their abilities at a higher rate. Often, this fosters independent thinking and self-management. 

Cultivate a Love of Learning

In Montessori education, teachers try to promote a love of learning. One of the long-term impacts people see is a perpetual curiosity about the world. This stems from fostering learning as an enjoyable life-long process. 

Moreover, children have the potential to carry this benefit throughout their lives. From there, it becomes a driving force in both education and career. 

The Cons of Montessori Education

After the pros, the Montessori Method sounds incredible, right? Of course, this style of education is not for everyone. For instance, the culture of Montessori schools has the potential to cause certain issues for some people. Let’s take a look. 

The Expense

Often, it’s difficult for these schools to keep prices low. Because they take on durable, high-quality learning materials and require so much training, it becomes expensive. 

Many Montessori schools sponsor employees to complete their certification and let them intern with them.  They may also reimburse them for some of the cost.

Accessibility

In some cases, people associate Montessori education with privilege. However, this does not align with the core beliefs of the schools. As we mentioned above, this means the costs often limit access for some parents and students. Some districts and charter schools, however, make this style of public education free. 

Flexible Curriculum

No educational method is universally effective. The reduction in structure in this model isn’t for everyone. Teachers have to ensure children progress, which requires a give and take. 

Unfortunately, for some students, subjects fall to the side. This could leave some students less prepared for certain subjects, such as math or science.   Success could depend on the teacher, who could assign work as needed to avoid this problem.  

Independence vs Collaboration

While Montessori education leaves room for collaboration, the focus is on the self. In the workforce, jobs often require teams. While it is essential to be able to think on your own terms, this doesn’t always leave enough space for compromise and collaboration. 

Because collaboration is a prized skill in the modern world, it’s likely that Montessori schools may shift to address this by encouraging collaboration and team projects.  

Intimidation of Open Structure

For many children, structure and routine are important. In these cases, organized desks comfort certain students. Montessori school designs allow movement and guidance from the teacher. There’s less of a focus on direct instruction. 

Typically, this is a small obstacle for kids. However, it’s something to keep in mind. While traditional classrooms allow less freedom, it ensures order and organization. 

What’s Right for Your Child?

Whether you employ the Montessori education style for your child is your decision. It’s important to understand the pros and cons of any method. Moreover, you should consider your individual child and how they engage with the world.  Montessori schools are not all the same so it’s a good idea to visit possible school choices.