Let me start off with this – there are many reasons why I love Montessori schools! I even wrote a post about all the wonderful benefits (read it here). My children have been involved with Montessori playgroups and preschools since my first-born was 12 months old. I think that Montessori schools are a fabulous option that many parents in Australia aren’t aware of.
It isn’t a perfect option. Nothing ever is. And I am someone who always looks for the pros and cons of everything.
So here are some of the negatives we have experienced in Montessori education.
In Australia, there is no set trademark for what “Montessori” is. Anyone can open a playgroup or preschool, or even school, and label it as “Montessori” without actually following the main principles of the method. Staff may not have had any formal training in the Montessori method or may have their own hybrid way of combining multiple educational philosophies. So if you like the idea of Montessori, tour a few different centres to get a feel for what feels right for your family! And better yet, look for a centre that is registered with the Montessori Quality Assurance Program.
2. LACK OF IMAGINATIVE PLAY
This can be a controversial point. As I have already stated, each centre applies the Montessori method in their own way so this can vary. Generally, Montessori encourages children to engage in real-life activities rather than pretend activities. Why provide a toy kitchen when instead you could just get a child into a real kitchen! Montessori classrooms are filled with interesting equipment that really do engage children, and those involved in Montessori argue that this is still a form of child play. (This blog from the North American Montessori Centre explains this point further).
However, in many places there is little or no focus given to fantasy type play. If you are a parent who believes children should be running around playing superheroes, you will find that some Montessori schools discourage that. Other schools, like my son’s, are a bit more relaxed. Our preschool provides dress-ups and fantasy play items in the afternoons, and I certainly see lots of superheroes, dragons and princesses running around then!
This is a big issue in some parts of Australia. We were lucky in our previous location – we had the choice of five different Montessori primary schools within a thirty minute drive. There were even schools offering Montessori education right from toddler playgroups through to Year 12! But in other cities there are fewer options and families may have to drive great distances to attend a Montessori school.
Another important factor. Most Montessori schools fall into the independent school system and may be very pricey (eg. $12 000 per year or more). It is understandable and often worth the cost – Montessori equipment is expensive, classrooms are spacious and generally have a lot higher staff:student ratio than public schools. Most schools I have visited have had two full-time staff in each classroom. The fact remains that many families will find this cost too excessive. You may be lucky enough to have a public school in your area with a Montessori stream – a great option! You can search for these at https://montessori.org.au/schools-and-centres
5. STARTING AGE
Traditionally children start Montessori preschool (Children’s House) at age 3 and attend five mornings per week. Around 4 years of age they commence full-time schooling. The idea is that the school becomes an extension of home and family, so attending every day becomes part of the child’s daily routine. I used to love this sentiment… until I had a three year old! I now believe that many children aren’t able to cope with this amount of school, even in the calm setting of a Montessori classroom.
Our Montessori preschool takes a different approach due to parent demand, and recommends 3 year olds attend two days a week but for full-days. We have found even this to be too much for Joey.
MY OVERALL ADVICE:
Montessori is a great fit for many families and is a wonderful alternative to traditional schools. I believe Montessori can be superior to traditional schools in many ways, even with the drawbacks above.
If you are interested in finding out more about Montessori schools, try to visit multiple centres, do an observation of a normal school day and ask lots of questions!
Find your closest Montessori schools at the Montessori Australia Foundation website.
As always, please feel free to leave a comment, particularly if you have further ideas that other parents may wish to hear about!