What is the difference between Montessori and Traditional Education?

Montessori education is based on the belief that children are individuals with their own strengths, needs, likes and learning styles. To used the latest educational catch phrases, Montessori education is ‘multi-modality, differentiated instruction.

In more everyday terms, Montessorians disagree with the idea that all children learn in the exact same way at the exact same time of their life. They believe that to be an effective teacher you can’t say, “It is the 4th day, of the 3rd month, of second grade, so open your math book to page 49 and…” Instead we observe each child and ask ourselves, “What does this child understand? What is the next concept this child needs to learn? In which way does this child learn? (Are they observers? Talkers? Someone who needs to physically…

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Can you summarize the Montessori philosophy in one sentence?

A sentence using the latest educational catch phrases:

Montessori education is scientifically based, multi-modality, data-driven differentiated instruction using small flexible groupings for explicit instruction and individualized practiced during an extended global access time to insure that each student is working at their maximum plane of development while addressing the state’s mandatory standards.’

A sentence using everyday terms:

Montessori education is based on the belief that children are individuals with their own strengths, needs, likes and learning styles, therefore the teacher needs to guide each child through the learning process by using materials that fit their specific needs and pace.

I've been told that Montessori is 'unstructured'. Is this true?

There is a lot of structure in a Montessori classroom! It’s just a different type of structure than in the traditional classroom. In many traditional classrooms since all the children do pretty much the same thing at the same time, the “structure” is in keeping them focused and quiet.

In a Montessori classroom where the children are all working at their “maximum plane of development” and therefore doing different things, the “structure” revolves around rules and procedures so that they can all be doing those different things, but still learn.

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What if the child just doesn't want to work? Since Montessori is not based on punishments and rewards, how is this issue dealt with?

You will receive different answers from different Montessori teachers predominantly depending on their backgrounds and where they are teaching.

AMI Montessorians, especially those that come from a preschool environment and have followed their students to the elementary level will be the ones who adhere to the belief that all materials and concepts should be “self-chosen” most tenaciously. This is because IT WAS a preschool belief. If you think about it, during Dr. Montessori’s time children entering kindergarten weren’t expected to know things like continents, landforms and cultures.

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How do most children adjust to traditional school after being in a Montessori school?

Whenever I hear this question I think about a scene in the movie Mean Girls. Kady, the movie’s protagonist, has been home-schooled in Africa by her anthropologist parents. Her first ‘real’ school is a public high school.

At first she is shocked and confused by the rules of the school. As she says in a voice over,”Never before had I lived in a world where adults didn’t trust me. I got in trouble for the most random things.” Then she is seen getting up to sharpen her pencil or to go to the bathroom and teachers being dismayed with her.

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How do Montessori children do in college and the work environment?

This is a very important question. Many educational programs and philosophies have purported to help children but after extensive research this has been proven not to be the case.

Montessori education has been at the forefront of these studies and has been studied extensively over the past few years.All the research states that on the average, children in a true Montessori environment do as well as or better on standardized tests than children in a more traditional environment. On things that aren’t tested, like science, history, social interactions, they almost always score better.

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What are the pros and cons of a multi-age classroom?

When multi-age education is done correctly it is a joy. To begin with, older children help younger ones. The competent older children can reinforce their understanding of the content material while the younger ones have it taught to them in different ways. Sometimes another child can word a concept in a way that an adult can’t, facilitating better understanding for both children involved.

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No textbooks, no grades! Someone explain this to me because it does not make any sense!

Montessorians see text books as limiting. “It is the third day of the fourth month so everybody turn to page 64.” Instead we believe in giving children the information they need in a multitude of ways. We teach them the concepts through manipulating objects, color, movement, matching, comparing, researching and so on.

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Are Montessori schools relevant in today's society?

Much more so than people realize. One would be hard pressed to find a pre-school that doesn’t have child sized materials for their students. Montessori was the first to do that, along with teaching young children to do things for themselves.

As far as relevance in elementary education, over the past few years billions of dollars have been spent to assure that teachers know inside and out the most recent scientifically based research on education that there is.

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If Montessori education is so great then why do the majority of schools stop at 12 years of age?

Actually the majority of Montessori schools end at age 4 or 5 since the majority of Montessori schools are pre-schools. But most of the others stop at either 9 or 12.


Montessori philosophy states that as children mature so does their brain. As their brain matures, it acquires and processes information differently. Our classrooms are set up to reflect these different methods of acquiring and processing knowledge.

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Is Montessori education adaptable to all cultures?

Montessori education was developed in Italy, refined in India, and is prolific throughout the world. From Australia to Scandinavia, California to Nepal, it is a method of teaching that has proven results.

With that said, there is a problem in adapting it for the educational system of a culture that has high stakes testing and therefore a focus on rote memorization. It is not that Montessori children don’t generally do well when tested, but it is the fear that they won’t that worries parents and non-Montessori educated administrators and teachers.

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Why don't public schools use the Montessori Method?

Not a day goes by that I don’t hear a teacher in a traditional school frustrated by a problem that could be eliminated, or at least lessened, if the whole school went Montessori. The three main complaints that I hear from my peers are:

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I see that the American Montessori Society has connections to peace movements. I don't want my kids to be indoctrinated by any side. Is Montessori categorically liberal?

Maria Montessori lived through two world wars and experienced firsthand the atrocities that war can bring. Therefore the essence of the Montessori approach is the Education for Peace.

Education for Peace is teaching children to think about other ways of solving problems besides violence. It is our firm belief that children who are taught to respect other people, their cultures and beliefs, only resort to violence as a last resort.

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