Traditional Education Vs. Montessori Environment

Posted: Jan 10, 2019

A parent recently asked me to talk about the differences between Montessori schools and traditional schools. Having worked in both types of schools for nearly two decades, overlapping as a teacher in both types of schools for 5 years,

I feel that I have a unique perspective to provide an insight from a teacher’s perspective in both environments. I feel compelled to share this information, based on literally thousands of hours of observation of and work with thousands of students in rural and urban areas and in several different states and internationally over the course of my career. Please note that I have multiple years of teaching experience in a wide variety of schools: traditional public school districts, private Catholic school, public community college, private school for the academically gifted, and AMI Montessori school.

My main observation is that the traditional education system does not work for children. It does not educate our children. It does provide them with academic knowledge, but is severely lacking in all of the intangible qualities necessary to live as a fully developed person. This is a hard realization because I, myself, am a product of this method, and worked in the method for eighteen years. Nearly all of my friends and family members are also products of this educational system, and balk at the idea that they have been harmed by it. I recognize that it is often difficult to engage in this type of thinking and to be able to open oneself up to realize that the way we were educated was not the best way, and that there certainly is a better way, one which is becoming more and more well known and understood. The Montessori method works because it understands that children have an innate desire to learn, and that the teacher must follow the child.

In traditional schools, the teacher is the one who acts and must entertain or trick the students into learning or doing work, which is seen as drudgery. Many teachers, administrators and parents confuse education with "edutainment". Students expect to be entertained by the teacher. They engage only when asked, and with limited options. They cannot ask too much, or question the depth of knowledge of the teacher. Children cannot initiate their own course of study, and are limited to the ideas or project options provided by the teacher or approved by the district. Students complete these projects in order to receive a grade or rank. They don't do those project because they love learning. The Montessori method is completely different, in that children complete projects and work of their own design, merely for the love of learning and to gain knowledge. They do not receive any grades.

As a traditional teacher, I knew that a “good” student was a passive student. A good student sits quietly, does not ask too many questions, has no strong opinions and follows along. They copy their notes, and keep to themselves. Traditional education is set up to serve one person in the classroom: the adult. A traditional classroom can be jazzed up with ipads and SMARTboards, which keep the children passively staring and tapping away, it can be full of distracting colorful posters with inspirational quotes, but do not confuse this with real education. iPads teach NOTHING to a primary student that wouldn’t be better learned with their hands.

At a recent back to school night at our AMI Montessori school, I was struck by how many parents of our Montessori students are traditional teachers. We even have several prominent school administrators with their children in Montessori school rather than the local district of which they are in charge, I think that this speaks volumes. Even the people behind the curtain in the school district are aware that the educational system we have in place is not the best learning environment for children.

Montessori school is a different world from traditional school. And it is an inherently better world. I think the words of Maria Montessori herself give the best explanation I can find:

“ It is the children who act, they who choose, they who persevere in their work. Each one of them moves in obedience to the motor power within them. The teacher does not disturb them, but they live in peace with her. In this manner, they carry out their own growth.”

Was that your experience of education? It certainly wasn’t mine. Nor was it my experience as a traditional teacher. But it IS the experience of Montessori students. The question is: What experience do you want for your children?

*28 Major Points on how AMI Montessori Schools differ from Conventional schools.

  • Montessori teachers present lessons when the child is developmentally ready, based on what is best for the individual child.

  • Children correct their own errors using autodidactic materials and are free to explore and work with anything they have had a lesson on

  • Child is uninterrupted in his work. He does not start and stop. The work cycle is 3 hours long.

  • Children do not need permission to use the bathroom or get water or food. They may serve themselves from available fruits and vegetables when hungry and listen to their own bodies to meet their own needs.

  • Mixed age classrooms (3-6, 6-12, 13-15, 15-18)

  • Students learn from older students and see what is possible and where they are going.

  • Students teach younger children and in the process review material and see where they have been.

  • A kindergarten student in a primary classroom is a capable leader and role model, not a baby.

  • Classroom is a scientific lab and children can experiment and discover with materials.

  • Teacher observes student over a 3 (or more) year period and gets to know their interests and understands the student deeply.

  • Nothing in a Montessori classroom is pre-packaged ..there is no junk food for the mind in a Montessori class.

  • Children learn to coordinate their mental and physical energies through motion and physical work.

  • No brands and no screens in Montessori primary classrooms (we even scrape the brand names off of our cleaning supplies or put them in neutral bottles).

  • Teacher stays with children for multiple years, no lost time “getting to know you”.

  • Child growth and development clearly understood by teacher..child is known.

  • Plenty of time over three years to work on materials in the rush to cram knowledge into child.

  • No tests or grades.

  • Movement is welcome and encouraged.

  • Child does not get suppressed by will of the adult, no fear based manipulation.

  • Love of nature and earth part of method.

  • No sticker charts or other false motivation.

  • Peaceful collaboration encouraged ..children are free to help struggling friends with work..children are free to ask friends for help.

  • Children may take as long as they want working with a concept and repeat it until they achieve mastery.

  • A child having a bad day or a quiet day is respected. Children may take breaks as needed and interact with others without fear.

  • Classroom materials provide mental and physical challenges. Students use their bodies as well as their minds.

  • Children trust themselves and take risks. They are not afraid or error and fail often..only to learn to correct their errors by themselves.

  • Montessori education respects the child where she is and honors and challenges her as an individual. We honor the child for who she is NOW, not for some future version of herself.

  • Montessori school allows children to learn skills such as self-direction, self-discipline, perseverance, innovation, that will allow them to be successful in any environment and to be a driving force in the creation of a future environment that we cannot even imagine

Some final thoughts about traditional or conventional schools that I have are these:

  • Many educators believe that they must shape the child, but truly they must shape themselves.

  • Traditional education is consumed with the child’s future (ie..kindergarten readiness, will she be ready for 4th grade, etc.) , rather than seeing the child NOW.

  • Traditional schools are preparing children for a future that no longer exists. They are getting skills that work for a specific reality, the one we are in now…but they are not learning enough about themselves to be fully realized individuals ready to take on any situation.

  • AMI Montessori education is the best possible educational method for all children.

*Feel free to contact me with any additional questions about my observations and comparisons in both conventional and Montessori schools.