Exploring the pros and cons of Montessori
The Montessori Method is rooted in the work of Dr. Maria Montessori, who believed that the formative first six years of life are critical, and that a child's powers of absorption are highest and attitudes and patterns of learning are formed during this period. She came to realize that children have a natural love of learning and that education, as an aid to life, must be provided in a secure and harmonious environment.
Dr. Montessori believed that children learn better when they’re choosing what to learn, and that philosophy is present in Montessori classrooms today. A Montessori classroom likely looks different than what most people are used to. Things that make it unique include:
- Various activity stations for children to choose from throughout the day.
- Teachers moving from group to group instead of standing at the front of the classroom.
- A nontraditional grading system.
- A focus on the whole student—social, emotional, intellectual and physical development are all considered.
Like with any instructional method, some teachers and parents love the approach, while others aren’t as enamored. Read on to learn more about some of the potential pros and cons of Montessori education.
Benefits of a Montessori Education
Montessori education offers children the opportunity to develop their potential as they step out into the world as engaged, competent, responsible, and respectful citizens with an understanding and appreciation that learning is for life.
- Each child is valued as a unique individual. Montessori education recognizes that children learn in different ways, and accommodates all learning styles. Students are free to learn at their own pace, each advancing through the curriculum as he is ready, guided by the teacher and an individualized learning plan. The teacher "follows the child."
- Beginning at an early age, Montessori students develop order, coordination, concentration, and independence. Classroom design, materials, and daily routines support the individual’s emerging “self-regulation” (ability to educate one’s self, and to think about what one is learning), toddlers through adolescents.
Enhanced social interaction Have you ever noticed the way children become fascinated by what other children are doing? Montessori capitalizes on that by grouping children of different ages together in the same learning environments. Most Montessori classrooms are mixed-age and intended to foster peer-to-peer learning. This arrangement can naturally lead to growth that might not occur in a more uniformly-aged classroom.
The multi-age classroom—typically spanning 3 years—also re-creates a family structure. Older students enjoy stature as mentors and role models; younger children feel supported and gain confidence about the challenges ahead.
These mixed-aged groups allow for children to learn from one another, teach one another and develop life skills such as inclusion and acceptance
- Montessori students enjoy freedom within limits. Working within parameters set by their teachers, students are active participants in deciding what their focus of learning will be. Montessorians understand that internal satisfaction drives the child’s curiosity and interest and results in joyous learning that is sustainable over a lifetime.
- Students are supported in becoming active seekers of knowledge. Teachers provide environments where students have the freedom and the tools to pursue answers to their own questions.
Cultivates a love of life-long learning in each child. This educational philosophy strives to encourage a love for learning. The biggest long-term impact is that Montessorians remain perpetually curious about the people and the world around them, seeing learning as an enjoyable life-long process rather than a burden that ends when a school bell rings.
This particular benefit can stay with children their entire lives and become a propelling force through secondary education, a career, job training—or even just in the experiences they have and the people they encounter.
- Self-correction and self-assessment are an integral part of the Montessori classroom approach. As they mature, students learn to look critically at their work, and become adept at recognizing, correcting, and learning from their errors.
Why not Montessori?
Of course, this is not to say that every experience in Montessori will be a good one. At Barrie, we strive to make sure that every family applying to our school has all the information necessary to make an informed decision about whether Montessori is a good fit for their child. There are some aspects of the Montessori culture that can cause issues for some; two of the most common are:
- the curriculum may be too loose for some. While “following the child” should not be interpreted as “let kids do whatever they want,”it is still a less-structured curriculum than what you might find in a more common approach.
Children tend to like routine and structure. Even the physical barriers of desks lined up in a row can be a comfort to certain students. Montessori classrooms are built to allow movement and change and the teachers tend to guide more than directly instruct. While this is probably not an insurmountable obstacle, it’s definitely something to bear in mind. The hierarchy of traditional classrooms allows less freedom to the students, but it can also ensure a class environment that feels ordered and safe.
Using Montessori at Barrie
In Barrie's Lower School, we are stewards of Dr. Montessori’s educational legacy, not only in the daily life of our classrooms, but in advancing and advocating the Montessori Method in the world at-large by ensuring:
- freedom within limits
- a sense of order and calm
- intrinsic motivation
- multi-age class groupings
- uninterrupted blocks of work time
- guided choice of work activity
- social responsibility
- learning environments thoughtfully prepared with specially designed Montessori materials
We educate parents about the Montessori Method by hosting regular morning events in individual classrooms, Parent Education Program events, and "Moving Up" tours for parents with children in transitional years.
The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six.
Dr. Maria Montessori
Many of Barrie's Montessori teachers train future Montessori educators through the Barrie Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies. For more than 30 years, the Institute has been a source of innovative curriculum development and a sought-after center for Montessori teacher education.