Are Montessori Schools Worth It?
Choosing a school for your child is one of the biggest decisions we make as parents. Montessori school has been a popular educational model for over a century, but does it live up to the hype?
Read on to learn what the Montessori method is really about and decide whether or not it's the right fit for your family.
What Is Montessori School, Anyway?
The Montessori method was developed by an Italian doctor and educator named Maria Montessori. She was one of the first women to graduate from medical school in Italy, so to say she was dedicated to her work was an understatement.
She studied all major works of educational theory published in the previous two centuries, and then developed one of her own. Her new method was based on the idea that self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play is the key to developing independent, self-motivated, lifelong learners.
While Montessori school is most commonly started at the early childhood level, some programs offer education through high school.
Montessori Schools Differ From Standard Schools in a Few Key Ways
In most schools, students are divided into grade levels by age, with each grade operating on a fixed curriculum. In a Montessori school, class structure looks very different.
In a Montessori classroom, you can expect to see a number of things that differ from regular schools, like:
The Montessori model is based on the idea that mixed-age classrooms help students learn from each other in a collaborative community setting. The age range of each Montessori class typically spans three years. Unlike many private schools, class sizes are larger, often with 20-30 students per class. Class sizes for infants and toddlers, however, are much smaller.
Age-appropriate developmental toys
Montessori toys have a signature look, and they all serve a purpose. They're traditionally made from natural materials, and they never move or make sounds. All Montessori toys need to be manipulated physically by children. A traditional jack-in-the-box instead of a light-up robot toy, for example. The toys also teach one skill at a time to help kids learn how to do specific, real-life tasks.
A nontraditional grading system
Montessori schools rarely have letter or number grades. Instead of progress being measured in comparison to peers, students are encouraged to work at their own pace and receive progress reports based on individual development and achievement.
Multiple stations for children to select from
Montessori schools don't force kids to follow a fixed curriculum. Kids are allowed to direct their own education through play and exploration. Stations are provided throughout the classroom, and kids are encouraged to test each one out independently. Instead of relying only on the teacher for guidance, students look to their peers, with the teacher moving from station to station to assist as needed.
Kids directing their own learning
Instead of focusing on academic achievement alone, the Montessori method aims to help kids develop self-reliance, confidence and life skills. This is based on the idea that when kids are given freedom to explore their own interests, self-motivation and determination are the natural results.
Montessori School Isn’t for Everyone, but Many Families Adore It
Like any educational model, a Montessori school has pros and cons. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning, and part of it comes down to personal preference.
That said, Montessori school is highly inclusive. The collaborative environment of Montessori classrooms are welcoming to both gifted students and those with special needs, like those with autism spectrum disorders or ADHD.
There's no pressure to move at the same pace as peers, and every child is considered gifted in their own way.
Proponents of the Montessori method feel that it provides a warm, nurturing, individualized education that fosters personal growth in addition to rigorous academic opportunities. It's not a free for all, by any means. Students direct their own learning, but they're also expected to set learning goals and design personal work plans with the guidance of a trained Montessori teacher.
Still, it's not for everyone. Some parents prefer an education with a more rigid structure. If you're on the fence, consider trying Montessori preschool and going from there. It may be more difficult to transition to traditional public school later on, but it's not too big of a deal in early elementary school.
What to Look for in a Montessori School
All Montessori-based programs aren't created equal. Some schools draw concepts from the Montessori philosophy without actually following the entire method. True Montessori schools are accredited through either the American Montessori Society (AMS) or the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI.)
These training centers require a bachelor's degree for admission, and provide between 200-600 hours of continuing education to help educators learn the Montessori method of teaching. To find an accredited Montessori school near you, use the AMI school locator.
From there, visit a few schools. The vast majority will welcome tours during school hours so you can get a feel for what your child's day-to-day experience would be like.
Still Undecided? Review the Pros and Cons of Montessori Schools
If you're still not sold on the idea, remember that it's completely fine to check out multiple schools with a variety of educational methods before making a final decision.
To get a feel for the pros and cons of Montessori education, check out the video below.