While public and private schools vary widely in regards to atmosphere, curriculum, classroom setup, and teaching methods, Montessori schools remain remarkably consistent both nationally and internationally.
Montessori schools are based on the guidelines and philosophy of founder Dr. Maria Montessori, a Nobel Peace Prize-nominated anthropologist, educator, and Italy’s first-ever female medical doctor. Well before she created schools of her own, Dr. Montessori closely observed and collaborated with children to experience firsthand how they learned, and established scientifically-based methods that successfully support independent growth and development.
What makes Montessori teachers different?
Montessori educators differ from traditional classroom teachers in that they are specially trained to understand human development, Montessori principles, and the complete set of Montessori materials for their targeted age groups. Instead of lecturing in front of a class, Montessori teachers carefully observe, and briefly demonstrate the use of materials and activities to encourage practice and self-directed learning. Montessori teachers also serve as “peace educators,” modeling effective communication skills, conflict resolution, and courtesy. (Source)
Montessori schools are child-centered, which means that everything from chairs and tables to shelves and learning materials are sized, arranged, and oriented to the students there. Unlike most schools where the teacher’s personal items and computer are in view, you won’t find any “adult clutter,” technology, or screens anywhere. Likewise, you won’t find piles of toys or materials in disarray. Dr. Montessori observed that a peaceful sense of order helps children develop their intellects and promotes independence. As a result, Montessori classrooms adhere to the proverb, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
Classrooms in Montessori schools are typically divided by three-year developmental cycles, which foster both collaboration and cooperation. Older children gain confidence teaching younger children and build leadership skills, while younger children feel empowered working with older children, who act as positive role models for them.
Freedom of Movement & Socialization
In most public school classrooms, elementary-age children are instructed to sit in their assigned seats and keep to themselves. In Montessori schools, however, children are free to move around the room and choose where they want to work, a reflection of Dr. Montessori’s discovery that physical exploration benefits children’s development. Montessori students are also permitted to chat with one another and collaborate. In this way, they learn how to effectively communicate and become an integral part of their social community.
Real-Life Activities With Real Materials and Tools
Montessori schools engage children with purposeful, practical activities that enable them to be independent in the real world. For example, they learn to prepare food with authentic (child-sized) kitchen tools, care for the garden with real shovels and rakes, sew with needles and thread, and build birdhouses with hammers and wood.
Emphasis on Musical Expression
Music and creative expression are also an integral part of Montessori schooling. Dr. Montessori believed music is not only essential to our development, but also a part of our human culture. From an early age, children learn how to play musical instruments, compose songs, and even read and compose music.
Connection to Nature
A reverence for nature, respect for all living things, and the promotion of peace are all primary values of Montessori schools. “In nature, everything is transformed but nothing is destroyed,” Maria Montessori wrote. Montessori school environments instill a love of and connection to nature from the very start, whether by exploring the Peace Garden, filling the bird feeder, planting flowers, shoveling snow, or simply enjoying the sunshine.
No Grades, No Homework
At the end of the school day, there’s no need for children to lug home heavy books, papers, and assignments. Rather, they are allowed to focus on their home and family life, where they often continue practical life skills. Typically, the only homework requirement is one hour of reading per day, which can be enjoyed with friends or family members. Instead of grades, which Dr. Montessori observed has little lasting effect on a child’s efforts or achievements, teachers closely monitor students’ progress and readiness to advance to new lessons, nurturing their internal motivation and natural affinity to learn. Source.
In general, a school that follows the teachings and curriculum of Dr. Montessori can be considered a Montessori school. Many Montessori schools have been accredited by either the Association of Montessori Internationale (AMI) or the American Montessori Society (AMS) to ensure that standards are being met. To date, there are more than 5,000 Montessori schools in the United States, and around 20,000 throughout the world. (Source)