5 Things Montessori Schools Do Differently

I’m sure you have heard of Montessori education, but have you wondered exactly what that means? With so many options available for education, it can be hard to keep it all straight. Montessori classrooms differ from what is commonly found in the traditional classroom and can help to build a foundation for lifelong learning. So what makes Montessori schools different?

The Montessori curriculum and philosophy of education was developed over 100 years ago and is based on the scientific findings of Maria Montessori. Over the past 100 years, very little has changed in Montessori education.

So what are those things? What makes the Montessori classroom different? And how do you know what will be the best fit for your child? These questions can be challenging for parents who are considering different approaches to education. For parents who are considering Montessori education, here are five things that separate it from the bunch.

Classrooms are multi-age.

In this environment, with older and younger children learning together, the older children are able to work on their leadership skills in the classroom and help their younger friends, as they had once been helped themselves.

“The three-year age grouping that is typical of Montessori schools allows younger children to develop an interest in learning new materials used by the older children and also gives older children a chance to solidify their learning by teaching younger children,” says Laurie Kemp, co-head of school at Gloria Dei Montessori School in Dayton. “A great deal of interest in the curriculum is generated among the children by the other children in the class.”

Hands-on, cooperative learning is encouraged.

Montessori education emphasizes learning through the five senses. Stations are set up around the classroom, according to subject, for children to explore. You might see stations for cooking, gardening, cleaning, art, music, library, caring for animals, science and more.

There is no limit to how long a child can stay at a station or work on a particular subject. Once a child takes work off a shelf, they are able to work with it all day, and again the next day if they wish. Repetition is an important part of education, and curiosity and a desire to learn is the child’s guide.

During the day, all subjects are being studied, and information is being introduced when children are most tuned into that information. As children move about the room from station to station, they learn to work both independently, and cooperatively, with their friends.

The joy of learning is celebrated.

“Every item is taught with a calm, measured delivery that is full of pregnant pauses, slow-moving hands, encouraging attention to details and self-discovery,” Kemp says. “Most materials are self-correcting, so guides do not have to correct children as often. Most Montessori guides do not answer questions so much as guide children in finding their own answers. My son told me at 4 or 5 years old that his teacher showed him ‘the work he wanted to learn.’ There is often great respect for the Montessori guides or facilitators or teachers because they have created an enticing environment for their particular age group and, through close observation, for each individual child.”

Students are free to follow their interests.

Students are encouraged to work at their own pace, and to explore what interests them. They choose their own work based on the lessons they have had, and are able to enjoy the confidence that comes from mastering tasks. Students also learn to inhibit impulses to take lessons that are only mildly interesting. They are led by their curiosity and self motivation, with trained and certified Montessori teachers on hand to assist when needed.

Education is individualized and focuses on the whole child.

“There are a few things that I feel are unique to Montessori education, but there are two principles, in particular,  which drew me to this field of education,” says Lisa Emery, M.Ed., early childhood director at Montessori Academy of Cincinnati. “The first is the fact that it is so individualized. Children are not all going to be the same. They are unique in their academic abilities and it only makes sense to teach to these skills and move them through the curriculum accordingly.  For example, they may be very advanced in one area, and as such, should have the opportunity to move forward without limits. Transversely, they may need more assistance in another area and should be given more instruction and time with these concepts to be able to thoroughly understand what is being taught.”

At a Montessori school, differences are respected and celebrated. Children are encouraged to work at their own pace, and are driven by their desire to learn, in an environment that fosters curiosity, wonder and exploration. As they work with their friends, and are nurtured and encouraged by their teachers, a lifelong love of learning will be developed — and this love of learning will hopefully last a lifetime.

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