Is Montessori Bad? Disadvantages and Criticisms of Montessori

Numerous education systems exist out there. It can be difficult to find the one that is right for you and your child. The Montessori Method is just one of these systems, and like all others, it has its pros and cons.

Montessori is not a bad program, as it focuses on promoting independence and fostering growth at an individual pace. There have been thousands of children who enjoyed using this method. However, some drawbacks include the price, lack of availability, and overly loose curriculum.

To properly go through the common disadvantages of the Montessori method, we must first understand what it is. It’s also important to understand the main philosophy behind it. With a better understanding of the method, we can then go into the different problems that people have with the use of this educational system.

What is the Montessori Method?

The Montessori Method of education was a philosophy first developed by an Italian physician named Maria Montessori. She began her studies in the early 1900s and began to implement them as early as 1907 when she opened her first school: Casa Dei Bambini.

Montessori emphasizes independence, especially in learning, and views children as naturally eager for knowledge. It also views them as capable of initiating learning on their own in an environment that is supportive and open. Maria Montessori perceived certain elements of human psychology which her son labeled as “human tendencies” in 1957. They include some of the following principles, which helped her shape her method of learning: Exploration, manipulation (of the environment), orientation, repetition, and communication. 

This method provides different periods of education for children starting from birth all the way to age 18. There are multiple programs for different groups of ages. The four main ones are birth to age 3, ages 3 – 6, ages 6 – 12, and ages 12 – 18. Nowadays, this system is more commonly used for early and primary education, and it’s not as likely for older children and teenagers to be part of a Montessori program, although there are some Montessori High Schools.

According to the words of Montessori herself, “Montessori education is about guiding children to learn independently and reach their unique potential. Children have the freedom to engage in their own learning experience and the Montessori teacher (or parent) is there to support the child throughout this process.” Something she also said was that it was to “Follow the child, but follow the child as [their] leader.”

These quotes from Maria Montessori basically mean that a central part of this system is resisting the urge to lead a child on your own, but instead allowing them to experience and engage in activities that interest them. This doesn’t mean that you let them do whatever they want, just that you do more to simply observe them and see how well they understand things and let them have more freedom in finding what they love. This helps them to develop their own learning method. 

Common Disadvantages and Criticisms

Montessori programs are becoming more and more popular, but they aren’t a perfect system. Since every Montessori program is a bit different, it’s hard to make generalizations as a whole. However, there are some common issues that people have experienced with this method of learning.

1. It can be incredibly expensive: There are a lot of materials and resources that are needed for the classroom. With the popularity of this program, the costs can really add up. For example, the cost of All-Day Montessori Elementary is $14,750 a year. Source. For more information, check out our full article on how much Montessori schools cost.

2. Not easily accessible/known for elitist nature: This program is a lot more common now for those who are “white and privileged” you could say. It’s a favorite program for wealthy families. This is, unfortunately, the norm now, even though that’s not what the program was originally meant for. Besides this, most Montessori programs are private schools, and they regulate admissions as well as charge tuition. There are, however, about 500 public programs out of the 5000 ones in the U.S., according to the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector. They are typically found in more diverse areas and are federally funded.

3. Some believe the structure to be too loose: Of course, some view this more “independent” approach to learning as not all good and think that children will not be disciplined enough and simply left to go wild, doing whatever they want in the classroom. They might doubt any actual learning will be done. 

This program doesn’t just let kids do whatever they want, but some parents might also think their child is learning “too slowly.” While the students can learn at their own pace, something that differs greatly from typical schooling systems, that does mean that some subjects may fall to the wayside. For instance, they may be more inclined to learning language or art subjects, and put aside math or science for this.

4. The independence focus can be too much: The system teaches you to think for yourself, but that means it doesn’t prepare you as well for working with/as a team. Collaboration is not always something focused on in the method. This can make it extremely difficult when the child goes from an independent atmosphere in the classroom to being required to work with other people in the workplace, and they won’t feel like they have the proper skills associated with teamwork.

Another problem with this part of the method is how it can cause children to remain in their comfort zone. With the freedom they have in the classroom, they choose what to learn and when. And while comfort zones can be a good part of our lives, especially when it comes to establishing boundaries, very little progress can be made without choosing to step out of them.

5. The method is not something that looks the same in every school: This criticism comes from an online forum, from a teacher who stated that they’d taught at many Montessori schools. They also said that’s not what Maria Montessori wanted her program to be like, but that it is meant to be flexible with each child. Unfortunately, another thing this person said in the forum was that any school can say they use the Montessori method, as well as use any teacher, with or without the specific program training. (Source)

6. Lower testing scores: It’s a hotly debated topic whether or not standardized testing is an effective or accurate way to measure a child’s learning. However, it is currently a popular metric and Montessori students don’t always measure up to students from other programs. Another person from the aforementioned forum said that a book called The Montessori Controversy by John Chattin-McNichols had information on how some studies showed that children who had gone to Montessori schools tended to score lower on tests of creativity and intelligence. Check out our article for more information on the effectiveness of Montessori schools.

7. Modern Montessori changes: Some more modern, adaptive forms of Montessori education have been developing in recent years, and while studies have good things to say about those that stick to the original principles, there isn’t a lot of information to clarify if these new approaches are more effective.

The Role of the Child and Adult

To gain a little more understanding about the role of the child and the adult in this method, let’s look at something Maria Montessori called the “Planes of Development,” which are basically 4 evolutionary periods that a child goes through from infancy to adulthood. This quote from a source about the Montessori method describes the stages this way:

“The first plane of development that starts at birth and continues until the child is 6 years old is characterized by children’s “absorbent mind“, which takes and absorbs every aspect, good and bad, from the environment that surrounds him/her, its language and its culture. In the second plane, from 6 to 12 years old, the child possesses a “rational mind” to explore the world with imagination and abstract thinking. In the third plane, from 12 to 18 years old, the teenager has a “humanistic mind” which desires to understand humanity and to contribute to society. In the last plane of development, from 18 to 24 years old, the adult advances in the world with a “specialist mind“, finding his/her place in it.” 

From this same source, let’s see what it has to say about the adult or teacher. Basically, they are not meant to be an obstacle, but rather to act as a facilitator.

“The Montessori teacher, called “directress”, observes each child, his/her needs, capabilities, and interests, and offers him/her opportunities to work intelligently and with a concrete purpose, to service the care of him/herself and the small community in the classroom. The directress’ final objective is to intervene the minimum possible as the child progresses in his/her development. The directress allows the child to act, want, and think for him/herself, helping him/her to develop confidence and inner discipline. The Montessori directress doesn’t give awards or punishments. Each child finds inner satisfaction that emerges from their personal work.

“When the child, based on their evolutionary development, is ready for a lesson, the directress introduces the use of new materials and presents activities individually or to a reduced group. With older children, the directress helps each child make a list of objectives at the beginning of the week, and then the child administers their time during the week in order to achieve them. It is not the directress but the children themselves who are responsible for their own learning and development.”

montessori teacher in classroom with students

The Main Montessori Principles

Now that we know a little more about the purpose of the Montessori method and the role that children play in it, let’s go through the main principles of the method. There are 5 that it focuses on, and they act as the base for the entire philosophy:

  1. Respect For The Child: During the time that Maria Montessori was developing her method, this was not a common thought or practice. Because of their age and inexperience, children weren’t given many opportunities to express themselves or seek learning on their own. Some ways that this principle is shown through the method are: listening to what the child has to say, giving them space to grow, letting them make their own choices (and helping them to understand the consequences afterward), not interrupting them, and being an example of respect and peaceful conflict resolution.
  2. The Absorbent Mind: This whole educational method is based on the principle that children learn from their life experiences and are constantly learning from the world around them. They absorb information from the world on their own, “then make sense of it because they are thinking beings.”
  3. Sensitive Periods: These sensitive periods are defined as certain periods where children are more ready to learn certain skills. The time of these periods will vary from child to child and last long enough for them to learn and acquire the new skill. The role of the Montessori teacher in this is to observe when a child is in a sensitive period and provide them with the appropriate materials or resources to help them thrive during that time. 
  4. The Prepared Environment: The Montessori pedagogy suggests that children will learn best in an environment that has been prepared for them and allows them to do things for themselves. The environment should encourage freedom and have materials and experience made available in an orderly, independent way for the children to use.
  5. Auto Education: This basically just means self-education. This part of the Montessori principles means that children are not only able but capable of educating themselves. The teachers provide the environment, resources, guidance, and encouragement. But the children do all the rest.

Related: Does Montessori work for every child?

Common Advantages

We know that Montessori education is a work in progress and it comes with its fair share of drawbacks. But at the end of the day, it can be a huge benefit to children. Some of the positive aspects of Montessori learning include:

Focuses on hands-on, independent learning: The classrooms are clean, calm, and well put together, with lots of light. Kids can learn at their own individual pace with little focus on a defined structure.

Enhanced social interaction: Because the opportunities are more interactive, and there are no concrete lessons or lectures, children have more opportunities to talk with other students and learn with each other; or on their own, depending on what they discover their preference to be in the classroom.

Promotes a love for learning: This method doesn’t want to push the typical school agenda of teaching just to teach and get the lesson done. As Karen Ricks, the founder of an international Montessori school in Japan, said, “I think the biggest long-term impact I have seen is that Montessorians remain perpetually curious about the people and the world around them, seeing learning as an enjoyable life-long process rather than a burden that ends when a school bell rings.” (Source)

Inclusive to those with special needs: This environment provides great opportunities for those with physical and mental disabilities since it is more focused on them learning at a rate that is comfortable for them.

For more information, check out our articles on finding out if Montessori is right for your child and the effectiveness of Montessori schools.

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Stacy Jones

When I became a foster mother, I started researching different parenting and education ideas. Learning about the Montessori Method has been intriguing and fascinating, and I have enjoyed watching the little ones in my life learn and grow from incorporating Montessori elements into our family's lifestyle. Montessori For Today was started to provide answers to my own questions, which will hopefully become a great resource for others to learn about the Montessori Method, Montessori Schools, and how you can incorporate elements of Montessori into your own home and lifestyle.

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