I discovered the Montessori method when my first-born was just a baby. So far we have experienced two different 0-3yr old playgroups, and two different 3-6yr old preschools (often known in Australia as Children’s House). Plus we have toured multiple other Montessori schools! So while I am not a trained Montessori teacher, I feel I know a fair bit about the Montessori method and the benefits of this type of education.
My favourite aspects so far:
1. MULTI-AGE CLASSES
I love this! Montessori schools traditionally group children in clusters – 0-3 years, 3-6 years, 6-9 years, 9-12 years and so on. Children stay in the same class with the same teacher (aka. Director) for the full three years. Younger students are motivated to learn what the older students are doing, and older students learn to be leaders and informally teach their peers. Kids love to watch and learn from other kids! This is what they experience in the real world with different aged siblings, cousins and neighbours, rather than the artificial world of traditional schools where children are grouped full-time with those born in the same calendar year.
2. STARTING SCHOOL YEAR ROUND
Australian children generally all start school in late January. Montessori schools, on the other hand, traditionally aim to have children start Children’s House shortly after their third birthday, no matter what time of year. They then move up to older aged rooms around the time of their 6th birthday or when they are deemed ready. So again, new students are spread out over the course of the whole year and teachers can devote time to settling each new person in. Much better than having 30 new students start at once!
3. CHILD-CENTRED LEARNING
Essentially children in Montessori schools are given a lot of choice in what they do each day. When my son Joey walks into his preschool, he can choose whether he wants to do painting, or writing practise, or look at the skeleton models, or any of the many dozens of activities set out each day. He can do the same activity every single day for months until he masters it, or he may choose to do that activity only a few times. It’s up to him. Unlike a normal school where all children in the class have to do the same lesson, regardless if they already know it or find it too easy/difficult for where they are at.
4. CHILDREN ARE RESPECTED
Seems like an odd thing to say but hear me out. Montessori schools are designed around children. Children have access to everything – bathrooms, kitchens, gardens etc. Purposeful access – these areas are designed FOR children. Small children, even in the toddler programs, are given proper glasses to drink out of, and taught how to use knives safely. At 18 months, Joey used to help prepare morning tea for his whole playgroup, slicing up bananas and setting the table. Even toddlers are capable of so much more than many adults realise! The Montessori system respects this.
Children also get free access to go to the toilet whenever they need, and have their morning tea whenever they get hungry, instead of waiting for a designated time. Something that adults take for granted!
In contrast, the design and teaching styles of many traditional Australian schools are centred around what it easiest from an adult’s point of view. Giving children access to a kitchen may be deemed too dangerous, the toilet block may be too far away to let a young child go alone, and letting children eat when they want is disruptive to a teacher-led class.
5. CALM ENVIRONMENT
Montessori classrooms have a definite “feel” to them. Even a classroom with 30 children all doing different activities still feels calm. Children are engaged in the activities they chose to do – and if they aren’t, they can just go and choose something else. Montessori also recognises that children can easily become overstimulated so rooms are kept clean, ordered and beautiful. Children can find things easily and know where to pack things away when done.
6. GREAT FOR ACTIVE CHILDREN
In traditional schools, kids with lots of energy can find it difficult to sit in a desk all day. This is not the case in Montessori classrooms, where children can choose to sit at a table, or do all their work on mats on the floor. They can walk around the room all day as they pick out new activities and pack them away again. The activities are hands-on – boring worksheets are a rare sight in preschool rooms, where children are much more likely to be using strings of beads for maths and learning to write letters in salt trays. For those with energy to burn, they can choose to focus on practical life activities – little boys love polishing, scrubbing tables and washing windows (my son thinks it’s a real treat to be able to wash windows!). Some Montessori schools allow children to move freely between indoor and outdoor areas as needed to allow children to burn off big bursts of energy. Again, this comes down to respecting the individual needs of each child.
That said, while I do love the Montessori way of educating, there are a few drawbacks. See my post here on 5 Negatives of Montessori schools.
In the meantime, what have I missed? Have you experienced a Montessori school? If so, what are your favourite aspects?