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.
Being a Montessori teacher in a public program that only goes to 3rd grade I often hear from the 4th grade traditional education teachers and former students about the problems they face when they leave Montessori. I listen very carefully and over the years have realized that they pretty much fit into three different categories:
MANAGEMENT – Montessori students are used going to the bathroom when they need to go, they sharpen their pencils when they need to, they get up and get something that they need to complete their work with, they put on chapstick…. The only time I make them ask for permission to get up is during a lesson or if they have been abusing the privilege. So going to a classroom where they have to ask permission, or just aren’t allowed to do such things during class time takes a little time to get use to.
SOCIAL– Montessori students are used to working together and helping their peers. They are used to using conflict resolution skills to work through their problems, they are used to the teacher not only respecting their input and opinions, but encouraging them, and they are use to respecting other children’s needs and having their needs respected. It takes time for them to adjust to classroom where they are ultimatums and they aren’t allowed to work with others to find solutions to their problems.
ACADEMIC– Montessori children are use to being able to move on to new material when they are ready for that information, not when the scripted program or district benchmark says that they should. They are also used to saying to the teacher, ‘I’m having a lot of problems understanding this concept, could you show it to me in another way?” or, “I really understand this concept, can I please take a test on it and move on to the next concept?”
Additionally, they are use to having a hand in their education. A common question is ‘May I study …. and write a report on it for science this week?” Obviously, being in a classroom where the teacher follows a script and teaches only what they are scripted to teach, will takes some time getting used to.
So yes, there are adaptation problems. But you know what? Montessori children are unusually adaptable. They know how to work independently and in groups. They are problem solvers who can make choices and manage their time well. So in general, after an initial adjustment period, they can do adapt quite well. And, at least in my eyes, the skills that they have learned from being in Montessori classroom completely outweigh the problems that they encounter when they first make the transition to a traditional school.