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 experience things? Do colors make things more clear? How about singing a song about the concept, will that help this particular child learn?…) What things interest this child so that I can use his/her natural interests and abilities to teach this concept that they need to know?”

To achieve this a Montessori classroom is not filled solely with text books, writing paper and pencils. Instead it is filled with many materials that teach a wide range of levels and concepts. Shelves line the wall and are set up so that at a moment’s notice a teacher can reach for a material and teach a student or students the concept they need to know. Or students can reach for the same material and use it in the way that they were taught so that they can practice a concept that they are working on.

Obviously, a Montessori classroom will not look like a normal classroom. Rarely, if ever, will you find the whole class sitting with their books out looking at the teacher show them how to fill in a worksheet. Instead you will see children, some in groups, some by themselves, working on different concepts, and the teacher sitting with a small group of children, usually on the floor around a mat.

Some people talk about the lack of “structure'” in a Montessori Classroom. They hear the word “freedom'” and think “chaos” or “free for all”. They seem to think that if all children are not doing the exact same thing at the exact same time that they can’t possibly be working, or that they will be working only on the things that they want and their education will be lopsided. Yet, if the teacher is organized this does not happen. Children will be given a work plan or a contract and will need to complete an array of educational activities just like in a more traditional classroom. The main difference being that the activities will be at each child’s “maximum plane of development”, will be presented and practiced in a way that the child understands, and the child will have the freedom to choose which he/she does first.

Other people talk about Montessori children being able to do whatever they want. This is a misunderstanding of the word “choice” Montessori children do have the choice as to which they do first, reading or math. They do have the choice as to which material they will use to complete the lesson, but playing all day, only working in one area, hurting children, themselves or the environment are NEVER choices. Either are eating candy all day, and so on.

In the past few years there have been more and more studies published comparing Montessori Education and traditional education. Contrary to what some people state, Montessori children DO NOT have problems in social situations, in fact, ALL studies show just the opposite, Montessori children are ahead of their peers when it comes to social interactions.

The most comprehensive longitude research on Montessori Education in comparison to traditional education was published last year by a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, Dr. Angeline Lillard.. Her recent article was so well researched and documented, that it is the only educational article ever to be published in a scientific magazine.

Her findings and other studies’ report that Montessori students have:

*More interest in learning
*More self disciplined
*Have a greater understanding of truth and fairness
*More creativity, especially in their writing
*Are more independent
*A better understanding of concepts from grammar and story structure to mathematical operations, algebra and geometry
*Have a deep understanding of and how geography, history, social studies, and science are all related

For more information check out Angeline Lillard Ph.D’s book Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius