One of our favourite questions to answer is simple: “What is the Montessori Method?”
Parents may have heard a bit about our classrooms, but they don’t know much about the approach’s history or the lifelong impact of Montessori education.
Developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori in the early 20th century, the Montessori learning method has spread across the globe. Today, there are more than 5,000 Montessori schools in over 50 countries.
Still, many people aren’t aware of how this approach differs from traditional educational methods. Below we will explain what sets Montessori schools apart from conventional learning models.
Montessori Method vs. Traditional Educational Approaches
Since the official establishment of the Montessori movement in 1929, Montessori schools across the world have crafted learning environments that inspire collaboration, curiosity, and hands-on learning.
Several hallmarks give the Montessori Method its global reputation.
Child-Centred vs. Teacher-Centered
Traditional educational approaches center on the teacher as the primary source of knowledge and instruction. One leader controls the pace and content of all learning.
In contrast, the Montessori Method places the child at the center of the learning process, allowing and encouraging them to explore and discover knowledge independently. The teacher serves as a guide and facilitator, highly focused on the individual child’s development, needs and interests. By centering the child and observing the child’s unique qualities, teachers can provide each individual with learning experiences that will inspire curiosity and lead to growth.
Hands-On vs. Passive Learning
Montessori schools emphasize hands-on learning experiences through the use of intentionally designed materials. Whether it’s a bead chain for helping a child to understand numbers and place value or sandpaper letters that help students understand the building blocks of phonics and literacy, Montessori materials engage the child’s senses and provide concrete experiences that promote understanding and critical thinking.
On the other hand, traditional educational approaches tend to rely more on textbooks and lectures. In the Montessori world, we know that those kinds of passive learning experiences do not inspire the same level of curiosity, engagement and learning.
Mixed-Age Grouping vs. Same-Age Classrooms
Traditional schools typically organize students into same-age classrooms, whereas Montessori classrooms have mixed-age groups.
This method is founded on the belief that multi-age settings foster stronger collaboration, peer learning, and mentorship opportunities. Older children have the opportunity to reinforce their knowledge by helping younger ones, while younger children learn from their older peers – not just their teachers. Children have the experience of being beginners, learners, and leaders over the course of a three-year cycle, and then they begin that cycle again at the next level.
Individualized Learning vs. Uniform Instruction
Traditional education often follows a one-size-fits-all approach, delivering uniform instruction to the entire class. Every child is taught the same thing at the same pace, regardless of their abilities or interests.
However, the Montessori Method recognizes that children have unique learning styles, strengths, and passions. We allow students to progress at their own pace and explore subjects deeply.
Holistic Development vs. Subject-Centric Approach
Lastly, the Montessori Method places equal importance on the development of a child’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive growth. Montessori schools aim to nurture the whole child without focusing solely on academic achievements or subject-specific knowledge. However, this does not mean that academics are not important. Rather, our students thrive academically because of our focus on all of the aspects of their well-being and development. They practice skills to mastery, then move along to the next lesson when they are ready. Montessori students thrive at their own pace.
The Montessori Method offers a unique approach that effectively promotes independent learning, self-discovery, and a life rooted in passionate curiosity. Academic achievement is a natural outcome for students who are personally invested and genuinely engaged in their work rather than superficially focused on achieving a grade or making a list.
Montessori Private Preschools
We’ve addressed some of the main differences between traditional schooling and the Montessori approach, but let’s go a little deeper. What makes a Montessori preschool different from a more traditional option?
Montessori preschools (for ages 1-5) are built on the foundation of Dr. Montessori’s scientific understanding of young children. By studying the needs and attributes of young children, Montessori devised an approach that gives them what they need and allows them to grow through hands-on, experiential learning. The materials in the classroom are specifically designed to be manipulative and to engage the developing senses of young children. These materials also foster the development of fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, concentration, and problem-solving abilities, all of which are essential to further academic progress.
Furthermore, Montessori preschools tend to prioritize social and emotional development more fully than most traditional private preschools. The Montessori curriculum focuses on empathy, cooperation, and even conflict resolution. Lessons in grace and courtesy are embedded into the program.
Ultimately, a Montessori preschool aims to ensure young children have the skills to build positive relationships and work with others while growing in their independence.
Montessori Elementary School
Montessori elementary schools for children ages 6-12 offer a unique educational experience that’s significantly different from traditional elementary schools. Our mixed-age classrooms support both academic and social growth that more closely resembles the real world than traditional classrooms—WMS students are continually honing their social skills as they find themselves negotiating their different roles throughout the day. Additionally, Montessori schools use an integrated curriculum that goes beyond subject-specific learning.
Rather than dividing knowledge into isolated subjects, curriculums in Montessori elementary schools are designed to explore topics holistically, emphasizing connections among various disciplines. This approach helps elementary-aged children develop a broader understanding of concepts and their interconnectedness. For example, we focus our study of culture and science around the study of continents, helping students to understand how all of nature and culture are interrelated.
In Montessori elementary schools, teachers get to know each student as an individual, which allows more individualized student support. Children are encouraged to take ownership of their own learning by learning skills such as…
- Time management
- Responsible decision-making
- Goal setting
In summary, the Montessori learning method in elementary school places a significant emphasis on integrated learning and student independence. These elements combine to create a nurturing engaging environment that supports the holistic development of children in their elementary years.
Montessori Middle School
Middle schools that use the Montessori method build upon many of the methods used in preschool and elementary school. Like each of the programs designed for younger children, Montessori Middle School programs cater to the specific developmental needs of adolescents entering their teenage years.
Montessori schools for preteens and teens recognize the fact that students are experiencing significant physical, cognitive, social, and emotional changes. We know that this change, when channelled in positive directions, allows students to thrive. The curriculum and learning environment are designed to support students’ emerging sense of self, independence, critical thinking, and personal responsibility.
Rather than teaching subjects in isolation, the Montessori school curriculum explores themes and topics that span multiple disciplines. The Montessori learning method also focuses on projects that require in-depth research, analysis, and problem-solving. Our middle school students complete lengthy self-directed projects each year, culminating in the “Expert Project,” a research paper over a dozen pages long. This challenging work prepares students effectively for high school and beyond. Montessori middle schools also focus strongly on offering individualized learning paths. Students between the ages of 12 and 15 are often working at different paces and pursuing different areas of interest, and the Montessori approach works to meet students where they are.
At the heart of the Montessori method lies the belief that children possess an innate curiosity – a natural desire to explore and understand the world around them. When we can tap into this curiosity via schooling, we make children active participants in their own learning journeys.
At our school, we like to say that “The future of education was invented in 1906.” The Montessori method has been around for over a century, and its revolutionary impact is still reverberating through the world of education today.
Whether you’re considering a private preschool or a middle school classroom, Montessori provides an approach that is intentionally designed to provide students with opportunities to move, explore, and develop their inherent curiosity.
That’s the Montessori way.
Learn More at Washington Montessori School
Are you ready to widen your child’s world? We invite you to learn more about the Montessori learning method, right here in Connecticut’s Litchfield County.
Washington Montessori School (WMS) was founded in 1965 on the core principles established by Dr. Maria Montessori. We’ve proudly established a reputation rooted in graduating students who are self-motivated, curious thinkers, and ready to take on the challenges of our fast-paced world.
If you have questions about the Montessori Method, feel free to contact us directly. You can also reach out to learn more about our admissions opportunities for the next semester.