Early in their child’s academic career, parents often make the difficult decision of whether to enroll their student in a public or private school. They want the best for their child, and having the best can mean choosing the right school. However, many parents are unaware of alternative styles of education, such as the Montessori methodology.
Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor of medicine, created the Montessori Method in 1907 when she helped open a school for young children. Instead of providing the students with toys and games to play with, she encouraged them to perform real-life tasks, such as cleaning, cooking, or even taking care of pets. The classroom consisted of a mix of students ages 3 to 6, where the older students often tended to the younger ones and therefore developed skills in nurturing and self-confidence.
The culture around Montessori Schools is designed to promote a child’s self-discovery and creativity with the guidance of a teacher. Rather than using reformative measures and correcting a child’s work, the Montessori approach focuses on developing each individual’s potential and allows him or her to explore and learn individually. The classrooms are typically set up with child-sized furniture and Montessori materials, consisting of objects of nature, measuring tools, puzzles, blocks, and even classical music. The education is meant to be student-led; the teacher can provide the materials, but it is up to the student to spark initiative and lead their path to discovery.
Since Montessori schools focus on each child and individual interests, parents can be assured that their student is given special attention and the teacher is meeting his or her needs. Students are expected to learn and grow at their own pace; they are not subjected to a plan of predetermined coursework or required to meet specific demands set by a board of education. This allows each student the time to learn and explore what he or she is passionate about, without the fear of being pressured or rushed.
Being able to choose what to learn is the hallmark of the Montessori Method. Students are introduced to materials and activities by the teacher, and they are then given the freedom and discretion to use what they like. Educators of Montessori schools believe if a child has the ability to decide what their focus of learning will be, they will have a sense of internal satisfaction that will drive their curiosity over a sustainable amount of time.
The Montessori system is also designed to instill a variety of life-long skills for the students. By allowing the children to learn freely on their own, they develop self-discipline and self-control. They are able to learn from their mistakes and correct their own work as they mature throughout their time at the Montessori school. Each child recognizes and respects one another as an individual; since all students progress at their own pace, there is no room for judgment or ridicule. According to a study conducted by Education Guardian, “Montessori education fosters social and academic skills that are equal or superior to those fostered by a pool of other types of schools.”
Many parents may argue the Montessori way may be a little too “free” and that is does not put enough emphasis on discipline and structure. Students typically are not assigned any homework and are often given three hours or more of free time each day to pursue their interests. Classrooms become chaotic when a teacher does not enforce group activities and each student is left to their own devices. It can also be difficult for the teacher to document the students’ progress when all are focused on their individualized tasks. When students are expected to use their own judgment and practice “self-discipline” at such an early age, this can cause concern for some parents.
Since students are encouraged to work independently and explore their own areas of interest, it can be difficult to develop the essential social skills acquired through peer interaction. Some Montessori schools only allow students to work together occasionally and with permission from the teacher. Although this does help students discover their passions without peer influence, it prohibits them from sharing ideas and learning from one another.
Most Montessori schools only teach up to age 6, necessitating parents to enroll their child in a traditional school upon completion. However, the transition to a traditional school may be difficult; students are not taught discipline or boundaries in a Montessori school, which are enforced in traditional schools. They may have trouble adhering to formal classrooms with instruction and assignments, where their work is graded and subject to improvement. This can be confusing and shocking for a child with previous Montessori education who must now familiarize himself with the rules of a traditional school.
It is important to remember each child is different and reacts to various styles of education differently. Some students may be very receptive to the teaching methods of a Montessori school, while others may thrive in a more traditional school.
Knowing your child and the environment that would suit him or her best is crucial. It may also be helpful to talk with other parents who have sent their children to Montessori schools and get their opinion on the matter. There are many Montessori schools in Northern Virginia that would be happy to talk to parents of prospective students, and will often allow you to observe a class. Always make sure to do plenty of research – your child’s education is one of the most important decisions you’ll make!