Q: We have recently moved and I am thinking of registering my 6 year old in a Montessori Elementary school but I need more information on the differences between a Montessori elementary education and a more traditional approach.
I have personally spent a lot of time in both the Montessori elementary and traditional classrooms and there are many differences between the two; however, the most noticeable difference is that the students in a Montessori environment are all working at their own level, according to their individual strengths and needs.
Most students in a Montessori elementary classroom follow a daily and/or weekly plan that has been self-prepared by the student, with the guidance of their teacher. The student is responsible for accomplishing tasks independently and for seeking help when necessary. It is intriguing to watch the students' independence and confidence flourish in an environment where they are more accountable for their own learning.
Another major difference is the role of the teacher.
The Montessori Prepared Environment vs. A Traditional Classroom: A Teacher's Thoughts
In a traditional classroom, the teacher’s role is central as she leads the entire class through a series of planned lessons; whereas, in a Montessori elementary classroom, the teacher’s role is more unobtrusive as she prepares the learning environment to spark the student’s interest in a particular subject or project and then guides the student toward their goals.
The age range of the students is another differentiating aspect. In a traditional environment, classes are usually grouped according to one age. In a Montessori environment, there is a range of ages; 6 to 9 years in a lower elementary classroom and 9 to 12 years in an upper elementary classroom. It is interesting to observe a Montessori classroom in action as the students tend to be very sensitive to each other’s learning needs, with the older students helping the younger students and the younger students striving to do the more advanced work of their older peers.
Another difference that really stands out in my mind is the three-hour uninterrupted work cycle in a Montessori setting. The students are encouraged to work on a chosen project for as long as they want. In a traditional setting students are given a set amount of time to complete the assigned work, which, depending on an individual’s learning style, can either be insufficient or excessive. In a Montessori class, the student sets his own pace to internalize information. The student is taught not only what to learn, but more importantly, how to learn. The student learns how to integrate knowledge so that it may be applied across disciplines. In a traditional environment, the pace is set by the teacher who is often most sensitive to the slowest learners in the class. The student learns through repetition and memorization.
Another distinction between the two classrooms is that the students are more apt to learn by using hands-on materials in a Montessori environment. These materials are self-correcting with a built-in control of error; thus, limiting the need for teacher assistance and a possible negative learning experience. Hands-on, multi-sensorial learning results in a deeper level of understanding, and consequently, increased levels of independence and self confidence.
Lastly, the integration of cosmic education and the Five Great Lessons is an integral part of a Montessori elementary program. Maria Montessori called her plan for the elementary child the "Cosmic Curriculum." "Cosmic" in this context means comprehensive, holistic, and purposeful. The goal of cosmic education is to help each student develop a knowledge of the world around them, an appreciation for how they came to be and a positive awareness of other cultures. A student that has a clearer understanding of the cosmic curriculum is far better prepared to overcome obstacles and approach challenges with confidence. They tend to be emotionally intelligent with a respect for others, their community, and the environment. This collective awareness teaches students to make responsible choices by utilizing critical thinking and decision-making skills.
Dr. Montessori believed that the world was a highly purposeful and ordered place - a place where all things work in harmony to evolve to higher states of consciousness and spiritual perfection. She believed that in order for a child to become a truly peaceful human being, they need an understanding of the interdependence of life, an appreciation for the world around them and a sense of gratitude that comes from it. The Montessori elementary curriculum is enriched with experiments, lessons, stories and activities that evoke such gratitude and knowledge. It is an environment that quenches a student's thirst for knowledge and inspires a student to learn more. It gives a student the sense of belonging and understanding of where he/she fits in to our planet as a whole.
I understand that this is a very important decision for your family. I hope that this explanation provides you with some insight into the Montessori and traditional settings. My recommendation to you is to observe both classrooms so that you may feel confident that the environment you ultimately choose will best serve your child’s needs. For further information on this topic, you may be interested in reading a study - THE EARLY YEARS: Evaluating Montessori Education - that was published in the September 29, 2006 issue of the journal Science. You can view this article at the following website: http://www.montessori-science.org/montessori_science_journal.htm.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, March 28, 2007.