Montessori elementary classrooms are fundamentally different from traditional elementary school rooms. In fact, they are so different that it can be hard to understand how they work, and why they are so great at helping children thrive. Here are five key differences, and how they matter to your child’s success!
Trevor Eissler Montessori Madness
Teachers are guides, not lecturers. They individualize instruction to keep each child optimally challenged. In traditional elementary education, much instruction happens at an all-class level; students generally move through the same curriculum at the same pace. This approach, by definition, fails to optimally challenge most of the students. Most of the time, a child who is advanced in a subject will be bored; one who is behind will quickly become anxious and concerned about his shortcomings. Montessori is different. Most instruction happens in small groups: teachers observe students and bring together children who are ready for a particular lesson. After a lesson, each child has time to practice a skill or further explore an area, either alone or with freely chosen partners
Children have choices, there’s no one-size-fits all curriculum. Students are encouraged to be curious; they are engaged and love learning. When do you do your best work: when someone makes you do a task, or when you freely choose it? Autonomy is a huge factor in motivation, and Montessori elementary enables children to have a say in their learning. Of course, each child has to learn certain skills; mastering arithmetic isn’t optional. The Montessori elementary classroom ensures repetition by offering a variety of materials for practicing a given skill:multiplication practice includes work with the Bead Chains, the Stamp Game, the Checkerboard, the Large Bead Frame, and the Flat Bead Frame.
The classroom is full of materials instead of textbooks and worksheets. Children learn to solve problems and think, instead of repeat memorized jargon. Much traditional elementary school work is unfortunately focused on work with textbooks and worksheets. While there is nothing wrong with books (we love free reading time!), you will not find traditional textbooks and worksheets in the Montessori elementary class. The materials in Montessori are not mere instructional aids: Just like in Primary, much of their learning happens as the children use the materials to explore topics from grammar to division, from the fundamental needs of man, to the role of water in erosion. With the materials, learning is focused on the world; children acquire a mindset of thinking about things and figuring them out, rather than memorizing words or processes on an adult’s say-so.
The day has two 2 – 3 hour work periods, instead of a schedule where activities are constantly changed. Protecting children from interruptions when productively engaged is key to their development of concentration and interest in their work. Dr. Montessori commented that traditional schools have broken up the day in many short time periods, in an attempt to hold the children’s interest, and that they have failed miserably, as children remain mentally fatigued despite the alleged benefit of variety. In contrast, writes Montessori, Montessori schools have proven that children need a cycle of work for which they are mentally prepared; such intelligent work with interest is not fatiguing and they should not be cut off from it by a call to play.
Children learn with and from each other, in a mixed-age environment. Instead of competing with each other, they grow into a community, and practice all-important social skills every day. Young children in preschool, often choose to do things by themselves, and much activity in a Montessori Primary class is in fact individual work. As children near the end of Primary, they often start to work together in pairs. In fact, becoming interested in and able to work with a peer is one indication that a child is ready to move up to elementary! In Montessori elementary, children interact with each other, across age groups, all day. You’ll often see 2-4 children working together on projects, negotiating roles and learning social skills in a safe, supervised setting as they choose co-workers and figure out that they can work with a range of companions, not just with their closest friends.
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