You might have come across Montessori education while looking for parenting tips, toys, or the name popped-up during conversations about kindergarten options.
What is the Montessori Philosophy?
Montessori is a method of education, developed by Italian doctor Maria Montessori in the early 1900s, about 150 years ago. By carefully observing the way children act, play, and learn, Maria Montessori decided to create a school that aimed to support their natural development with a child-led approach in mind.
Ok, but what does that actually mean?
Montessori is an educational approach that focuses on “following the child”. For example, instead of deciding what children will learn every day, each child decides for themselves by choosing from activities that were prepared for them, specific for their age and stage of development. This allows them to learn at their own pace, independently, cultivating self-motivation.
“Montessori education is about guiding children to learn independently and reach their unique potential. Children have the freedom to engage in their own learning experience and the Montessori teacher (or parent) is there to support the child throughout this process.”Maria Montessori
Montessori education relies on a couple of fundamental principles. Here are some of them listed below to help you better understand what Montessori really means:
1. Respect for the child.
Each child is different and has a unique development pace. According to Montessori, there is no comparison between children and each child receives the support and the help that they need in order to thrive.
The child has a voice that is heard and respected. If a child is particularly interested in something, she can focus on that instead of being forced to do things she has no interest in and therefore probably won’t do well in anyway.
2. Natural learning.
Maria Montessori believed that a child’s mind is absorbent and that they learn all the time. All adults can do is expose the child to different experiences and environments and allow them to build their understanding of the world.
Instead of lots of toys, Montessori parents should invest in practical items to help the toddler get to know the world.
3. A prepared environment.
Montessori learning covers 5 main areas of learning: practical life, sensorial, mathematics, culture, and language.
Children learn and teach themselves through the exploration of all these 5 areas, that they prioritize by choice and preference.
The adult’s responsibility is to prepare the environment with the necessary resources and tools and to encourage children to freely discover the world around them and learn about it by doing.
4. Uninterrupted work cycles.
In a Montessori classroom, there are work cycles that last for about 2-3 hours. This must be uninterrupted time so that every child can practice their focus.
This long time also allows children to choose materials from various learning areas, master a task in a particular area before moving on to another.
Whether you chose Montessori for your child is entirely up to you. It’s not an ideal philosophy, no education method should be called ideal because parents have different preferences and comfort zones. You need to consider pros and cons of Montessori education to pick whether it’s good for you.
P.S. There’s also nothing wrong with going Montessori only in certain aspects if you cannot afford Montessori school or simply don’t live nearby any, or aren’t comfortable with giving your toddler a real knife.
Pros of Montessori Education:
Montessori is a child-led approach, which means the child learns from an early age to make their own choices and work mostly by themselves on figuring out the world around them, at their own pace.
Whether it’s learning how to put together a puzzle, help cooking, get dressed, pour a glass of water, or wash their hands, the child builds the necessary skills to problem solve, persist, ask for help when needed, and to openly communicate their needs and desires.
In the classroom, teachers only assist and guide the children, they mostly observe and don’t interfere, unless they see necessary.
This approach gives children great confidence that they can succeed at whatever task they are working on. This also encourages them to follow their progress and self-assess their work, without any external pressure or comparison.
Although it might seem at first that Montessori allows too much freedom by having the activities spread out around the room, it has a lot of rules and routines. Way more than the traditional daycare or kindergarden would offer.
After working with the given material, children always put it back on the open shelf, so that their friends can find it in their regular spot and use it. There is a well-defined schedule which includes uninterrupted work time, snack time, outdoor play, lunch, and sleep.
Children get used to this program, learn to respect it, and even help new kids to follow it. Combined with independence and practice, it teaches them self-discipline.
3. Social Skills
The Montessori model implies having multi-age groups of children, that usually span over 3 years (e.g., 0-3 years old, 3-6 years old).
This enables peer-to-peer learning, which comes with great benefits. The younger children learn by observing and carry on to practice independently. The older children practice skills such as leadership and develop values by helping the little ones.
4. Love for Learning & Focus
Montessori has a hands-on learning approach, where every child chooses freely their material and works on it until they reached their goal.
The child doesn’t feel pressured into anything, so learning becomes a pleasure. As a result, without any pressure, a child can stay focused and even if they don’t master some skill yet, they assess their progress and maintain their curiosity and eagerness to come back to it the next day.
5. Age-Specific Activities
All Montessori toys and materials are simple, but challenging and allow repetition and help to develop social, emotional, physical, and cognitive skills.
All the furniture in a Montessori classroom is placed at the children’s height, so they can easily reach everything that they need to work, play, eat, or take care of themselves.
Although placed more chaotically than in a traditional classroom, the Montessori environment is uncluttered, clean, with lots of light and lots of space for free movement.
Negatives of Montessori Learning:
Even though Maria Montessori created the philosophy when living in slums, these days Montessori is unnecessarily associated with elitism due to the heavy price tag of schools and toys.
A Montessori institution is expensive for several reasons. Montessori schools are private and the materials used in classrooms follow certain quality standards that involve higher costs.
Teachers’ training is also expensive, as regular teachers cannot just come and teach at Montessori schools without additional training and switching their mindset and techniques.
There is no research that definitively proves that Montessori education is better than any other education, public or private. For a number of reasons, this is impossible to determine.
Montessori toys & materials avoid plastic, thereby often defaulting to wood. Wood is naturally more expensive than plastic, so the cost rises automatically.
Many companies, such as popular Lovevery subscription (which I don’t recommend due to the unnecessary hefty price tag) just for saying it’s Montessori, even though their toys aren’t actually handmade, lots aren’t Montessori and in fact, they’re made at a giant factory in China. You can find better and cheaper toys on Etsy.
2. Authentic Montessori is Hard to Find
It might be hard to find an authentic Montessori kindergarten or school. If it’s not an institution that follows the original Montessori principles then you might not be able to enjoy its benefits.
There are many horror stories of parents who tried a so-called Montessori school and explained why it was a disaster.
Here you can find a guide on what to pay attention to when choosing a Montessori school.
3. Curriculum is Loose
Some parents have concerns about the lack of a well-defined curriculum and children having too much freedom of choice. They worry that the children won’t learn much with such an approach, as not every child can learn without instructions – some people cannot even achieve it in college.
Although there isn’t a written curriculum for children to follow. The fact that a child could get more interested in one area than in another is something you need to be ok with if you choose Montessori.
If your child doesn’t like math they won’t do it so in some aspects they can fall behind other kids that attend a traditional school. Subjects are proposed and presented, but a child is never pressured into developing a certain skill.
On the other hand, some people see too much structure in Montessori education, with little flexibility. It depends on what is comfortable and acceptable to each family. If you’re traveling a ton and don’t like schedules then Montessori education might not be for you.
4. Focus on Independence Can Be Bad
It’s hard to say place it here, but some see encouraging a lot of independence as a disadvantage. Fostering independent work raises the concern of children having difficulties working in teams and collaborating later in life. It’s often harder for Montessori kids to follow different rules they’re used to.
It’s good to keep in mind that encouraging your child to do things independently requires a lot of patience and guidance and maybe a quicker let go of your hand while taking a walk.
5. Creativity and Playtime is Taking Away Earlier
Montessori doesn’t take childhoods away, but focuses on real-life skills instead of giving children the freedom to play and explore. Montessori kids focus on practicing life skills and the demands of many institutions are high for their age.
For instance, if an 18-month-old isn’t potty training yet or cannot use the spoon perfectly it may be considered as falling behind. However, the truth is that not all kids start doing things at the same time – some walk at 9 months and others don’t until 18 months, but in both instances, there’s nothing wrong with the child.
Montessori philosophy is a way of living, not just an educational method because it covers everything, the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development of your child. So, before you decide, keep in mind that you should feel comfortable with what Montessori brings to the table and how it will shape your child.