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Are you wondering what are the main differences between Montessori education and traditional or mainstream one?
A quick Google search will show you many comparison charts, often written by Montessori training centres, including AMI.
While those comparisons might help a newbie to understand what is so special about a Montessori school at a glimpse, it is also bashing pointlessly against a school system that has evolved.
In this blog post, I will update that comparison and urge you to go beyond the dichotomy between Montessori and Traditional education.
Many of the Montessori principles have been adopted by most school systems. We need to welcome that progress and keep spreading the Montessori ideas near and far. Maria Montessori’s first intention was not to set up elitist Montessori schools that would be accessible to a small number of families. She was dreaming of a revamp of the whole school system.
First, let’s examine some of those classic ways to compare both systems.
The above chart is a combination of what you could find with a quick Google search.
My experience of Montessori schools and traditional schools is quite different.
As a Montessori teacher, I am biased toward Montessori education. Having said that, I am not naïve. I know that those comparisons are outdated. What is seen as traditional was based on the schools of the time of Maria Montessori, more than one hundred years ago!
Many schools, outside the Montessori system, are innovative. There are other progressive education systems beyond Montessori that have informed the public system. For example, Freinet, Decroly, the Cuisenaire system, and Numicons to teach mathematics, and in recent years in the UK, Anna Ephgraves with her “planning in the moment” approach has helped the Early years to be more attuned to the children's needs.
Let us explore those “said” differences in more detail.
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Montessori schools have a full set of Montessori materials. The children indeed teach themselves thanks to those materials. When the school is well organized and led by a trained Montessori teacher, it is amazing to witness how children learn with expert guidance.
However, it would be false to say that most traditional schools use “only” worksheets with a top-down attitude.
Many early years and preschools have adopted some of the Montessori materials. For example, most children will have access to tactile letters and numbers as it is now commonly accepted that children need to touch to learn.
I have seen preschools having the number rods, the pink tower, and knobbed cylinders. Many nursery schools display the activities on trays on lower shelves, leaving them accessible at all times to the children.
Many schools have a practical life area and encourage the children to develop independence.
In the primary/elementary years, children are encouraged to learn about a topic with hands-on materials. They call them “manipulatives”.
Increasingly, mainstream schools promote a collaborative way of teaching. Children are asked to choose their topics or outings for example. In the early years, at least from what I see in the UK, the EYFS emphasizes child-led education. The teacher prepares the classroom to meet the needs of the children. In most nurseries and Reception classes, children will be able to choose activities for the best part of the day.
The Planning in the moment is remarkably similar to Montessori. When I read Anna Ephgrave’s book, I taught that it was Montessori without the official materials. She said: ““Let the children choose what to do, join them, and support them in their pursuits. Then write up what has happened.” The emphasis is on preparing the environment to spark an interest in children.
While it is true that most schools adopt a reward/time-out or loss of privilege system, Montessori schools are not immune to using such a system. I visited several Montessori schools that use a chair in the hallway to isolate a child. I have witnessed “collective punishment” in a Montessori elementary classroom. If we have to compare both systems, it is important to acknowledge that both can deviate from the original intent.
This is an aspect of Montessori education that has trickled down into the traditional school system. All schools have child-size furniture.
In recent years, there has been a push for a more “natural” environment in the classroom as well. Following studies that show that a neutral décor is more conducive to learning than a bright colourful one, many preschools and schools have toned down the overall look of the school.
Reggio Emilia has become quite popular too so many settings adopt a “home away from home “look" with a low sofa, real dinnerware, glassware for pretend play, hessian notice boards, and so on.
Both my children are in mainstream school. Over the years, they have had initiative-taking teachers. The primary school they are in strives to offer the best to the children.
In case some Mainstream teachers read this blog post, here are some of the aspects they could work on without the need to overhaul the whole public school system:
Montessori schools are still far and between. Depending on the country you live in, they are most likely “private and expensive”.
Like me, your family might need to choose a public mainstream school.
I can tell you from direct experience that many schools nowadays have adopted some progressive views about education.
Yet, you can still voice your opinion about the discipline system and make some suggestions to the school.
So if you can choose a Montessori school, make sure they are still offering a good Montessori approach with Montessori-trained teachers. Question their approach to fantasy and ask about their discipline policy.
If you have to select a mainstream school, ask them how they foster individuality and independence. Ask for more information about their discipline policy.
I hope this blog post is reassuring. Let me know in the comments what you think!
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Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.
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