In today’s ever-changing educational climate, anyone interested in early childhood education has to study different research-backed frameworks. Parents, teachers, cognitive scientists, and childcare professionals who care about child development have likely heard of the Montessori method, a learning approach that’s quite different from the traditional classroom.
But what is the Montessori method? And why does it matter in today’s learning environment? Read on to explore how Montessori preschool works and how it’s different from traditional childcare.
What’s the Difference Between Montessori Preschool and Regular Preschool?
Private club, bohemian art program, cult: these are all assumptions that have been made about Montessori schools by uninformed observers. But the real, key difference between Montessori preschools and regular preschools is its focus on holistic (or “whole”) child development.
Since the Montessori method prioritizes student engagement and interest in learning rather than traditional benchmark milestones, the classroom dynamic is noticeably different from a traditional preschool. Learning objectives focus on equipping kids with social-emotional skills for life while helping students retain the intellectual outcomes of preschool at their own pace.
When comparing Montessori vs. traditional preschool operations, here’s how Montessori differs.
Unique, Child-Centered Learning Philosophy
The overall philosophy of Montessori schools is that kids who learn a growth mindset early in life tend to have greater levels of educational success for a lifetime. Since all children have natural skills and interests, fostering a learning space where they’re free to explore their abilities sets them up to become well-rounded, capable, and resourceful individuals in society.
While traditional preschools primarily focus on academic and social development, Montessori schools aim to supplement all aspects of growth:
- Spiritual (depending on the school)
As with any learning structure, Montessori isn’t for everyone. But some parents choose its unconventional approach to support their child’s unique needs and strengths. Several influential figures who attended Montessori preschools include Jeff Bezos, Julia Child, Larry Page and Sergey Brin (founders of Google), and Steph Curry.
Teachers Focus on Guidance Over Instruction
At most Montessori schools, you’ll often see teachers as guides who engage with every child at specific moments in daily learning. Instead of standing in front of the class to teach one lesson, teachers roam the room, observing which students need help and approaching them one-on-one. There are often several teachers in one class for supervision and guidance.
For a preschool curriculum, Montessori teachers present the main objective (for example, shapes) and then engage students as a group. The class might try to find as many circle objects as they can, trade objects with other students, or paint a poster containing all the shapes they learned.
Clean and Minimal Classroom Layout
For preschool Montessori activities to be the most effective, the atmosphere needs to be conducive to focus. You might find the walls of a Montessori classroom minimal compared to the conventional colorful, busy preschool bulletin boards filled with every art project. This isn’t to discourage art— in fact, it’s to encourage a sense of calm and creativity.
Classroom equipment— such as coat hangers, shelves, tables, and countertops— are often lowered to allow kids to help with everyday tasks. Students are expected to be responsible and cooperative, meaning they practice cleaning, preparing snacks, organizing, and retrieving play items on their own, with teacher guidance when necessary.
Independent Learning is Encouraged
When preschoolers are inside, children are encouraged to freely pursue workstations that capture their interests. “Work” time is when kids engage in hands-on activities and problem-based learning. This early sense of responsibility is said to enhance executive functioning development, which is the ability to practice planning and self-control.
Independent, self-directed learning also immerses children with their environment. Regular preschool activities allocate “playtime” as a separate category from classroom learning, which can sometimes limit children from achieving intense focus on interests that enhance their learning style.
Multiple Age Groups in One Class
One of the most unique things about Montessori learning is the welcoming environment for mixed age groups. At a Montessori preschool, you often won’t find separate classrooms for two-year-olds, three-year-olds, and four-year-olds. Instead, you’re likely to find multi-aged classrooms with students ages three to six, all learning and working at different levels.
Mixing age groups allows peer-to-peer interaction to result in leadership and a sense of community. The older children can help guide and support younger children, and the younger students develop a healthy respect for those they look up to.
Staff Member Involvement
At most Montessori preschools, the teachers, directors, and assistants are all trained in the Montessori method. Together, they work to help each child achieve the most optimal learning outcome possible based on his or her background, needs, and interests.
Some Montessori employees may get hired for their specialized training or qualifications, like bilingual education or parent coaching seminars. Montessori tends to be heavily involved with parent communication, as the community is a major tenet of Montessori philosophy.
Promotes Diversity and Inclusion
Montessori preschool activities can be adjusted to suit students of all abilities and backgrounds. Special needs children can often adapt and benefit from Montessori classrooms, since every child receives guidance at the level of learning they’re currently at.
As a child physician and educator, Maria Montessori set out to teach kids from the supposedly “least-qualified” corners of society at the time. She claimed, “We must help children from the very beginning. We must give them the right environment because they have to adapt themselves to a strange new world.”
Today, it’s not uncommon for Montessori preschool programs to offer cultural studies, language studies, and other lessons that focus on diversity. One core value Montessori education continues to uphold is an appreciation of different worldviews, cultures, and abilities that comprise the real world.
Different Price Points
Montessori preschools can sometimes be more expensive than regular childcare or daycare programs. However, there are Montessori programs that cater to local communities with sliding-scale tuition options. Program prices might range by age groups, while others might range by days of attendance per week.
Montessori Education for Preschools
Whether you’re starting a Montessori preschool or enrolling your child into a Montessori program, it’s important to know these key differences before taking the leap. Some students thrive in these programs, while others require a little more step-by-step structure provided by standard childcare providers.
While every childcare center is different in its own way, a Montessori preschool program can enrich a child’s life during some of their most important formative years. With a tight-knit community, the freedom to explore self-directed curiosity, and a diverse group of students in the classroom, it’s up to you to decide whether or not Montessori schools are the ideal option.
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