Is Montessori…?

Trying something new can be scary. Those of us considering using the Montessori method at home or enrolling our children in a Montessori school for the first time are bound to come up against an array of fears and assumptions about what Montessori is and how it will affect our kids.

It’s easy to make assumptions about Montessori when hearing about it for the first time, but most of these assumptions are not true! It’s important to explore and unpack these assumptions before deciding if it’s right for you and your children.

This article will tackle some of the most common questions and assumptions about the Montessori method. Let’s get into it!

Is Montessori Inclusive?

When people ask this question, they are usually thinking of something specific. For instance:

  1. Isn’t Montessori just for rich kids who won’t ever have to worry about getting a real job?
  2. Montessori might work for other kids, but will it work for my neurodivergent child or my child with learning disabilities?
  3. A lot of the pictures I see of Montessori classrooms are full of white students. Will my non-white child feel excluded and isolated in Montessori spaces?
  4. If Montessori is a “child-led” environment, does that mean teachers won’t intervene if they see bullying? My child got bullied at their old school and I’m worried about it happening again.

Before addressing these questions, I want to start with an important caveat, which is that all Montessori schools are different. There are good Montessori schools and not-so-good Montessori schools, just like with any other type of school.

Similarly, some parents and caregivers are able to faithfully structure their households around Montessori principles, while others interpret these principles in ways that do not always benefit their children. Therefore it’s important to do careful research on every Montessori school you consider and any resources you want to use for implementing Montessori at home. Studies have shown that the Montessori schools with the best student outcomes are those who are most faithful to the Montessori method.

That being said, there are still many assumptions inherent to these questions that we can tackle here. Let’s start with question one.

  1. Isn’t Montessori just for rich kids who won’t ever have to worry about getting a real job?

Nope! It might surprise you to learn that Montessori education was first developed as a way to provide high quality education to underserved children. Montessori has never been “just for rich kids.” In fact, the first Montessori private schools for middle to upper-class families didn’t pop up until years after Maria Montessori first opened the doors to her first “Casa dei Bambini” in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Rome.

While some American Montessori schools cater to families who can afford to pay private school tuition, there are also many Montessori public schools, as well as an increased push towards expanding public Montessori education.

  • Montessori might work for other kids, but will it work for my neurodivergent child or my child with learning disabilities?

As with the previous question, it’s important to remember that Montessori education was created with the explicit purpose of educating all children, regardless of race, class, ability, or socioeconomic status. One of the things that makes Montessori so appealing to parents who are struggling to find placements for their neurodivergent children is that, unlike traditional teaching methods, Montessori doesn’t stress that there’s one correct way of learning or doing things. Students are able to progress at their own pace, using strategies that work for them.

  • A lot of the pictures I see of Montessori classrooms are full of white students. Will my non-white child feel excluded and isolated in Montessori spaces?

This is a very valid and very real worry. Because of the rampant school segregation throughout our country and the fact that white families tend to flock to the “best” schools, Montessori schools are often disproportionately white in the US. This is unfortunately the case with any of the most desirable school settings. While I certainly can’t make any promises about how children of color will feel in any particular Montessori setting, I can say that desegregation and inclusion is a priority for many current Montessori schools.

Since Montessori schools do not have grades or harsh disciplinary practices, students of color will not have to face some of the barriers to learning (biased grading and disciplinary practices) that they would encounter in more traditional schools. Additionally, more and more research is coming to light about the rich history of Montessori education in communities of color.

  • If Montessori is a “child-led” environment, does that mean teachers won’t intervene if they see bullying? My child got bullied at their old school and I’m worried about it happening again.

Child-led does not mean that the children get to do whatever they want or that Montessori teachers only exist to support and encourage. Montessori teachers also create and enforce boundaries and limits within the classroom, and bullying is a hard limit. Check out your local Montessori school’s website to find their bullying policy and you’ll usually find something like this or this. There have also been studies showing that the Montessori schools are better at addressing bullying than other schools.

While Montessori, like any type of education, certainly has some growth areas when it comes to inclusion, it’s still a great environment for all learners and a superior option to most environments.

Is Montessori Accessible?

Building off of inclusivity, let’s take a look at accessibility. Accessibility should be important to everyone, but it’s a crucial factor for those of us who have children with disabilities. So, is Montessori accessible?

The answer is: it depends! I wish I had a better answer for you, but accessibility is one area in which almost all schools have room for growth, Montessori schools included.

The good news is, there are no barriers preventing the Montessori method itself from being accessible. That means anyone implementing Montessori at home can pull from a variety of resources to fit your own personal approach to Montessori to your child’s individual needs. Auto-education looks different for all children and if your child needs additional physical, cognitive, or emotional supports in order to learn and thrive, that does not mean that you are “doing Montessori wrong” or that your child is not directing their own learning.

When it comes to schools, the answer is a bit more complicated. Though for public schools, it’s more clear, as public schools are required by law to meet the needs of your child. It’s important to note that this may not apply to charter schools and that not all schools are good at accommodating students with disabilities even if they try to make accommodations.

With private schools, the biggest challenge you will face is if your child has a physical disability. Some of these schools are unfortunately not set up with adequate accommodations for students with mobility access needs, hygiene and personal care access needs, or students who have speech, hearing, or visual impairments. Though there are Montessori schools specifically for hearing-impaired and visually-impaired students, there may not be one in your area. Therefore, some research might be in order if you are interested in having your child attend a Montessori private or charter school.

For children with learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, and behavioral challenges, Montessori environments are often where they thrive! There are countless studies showing that these environments are better for children with specialized academic, social, and behavioral needs. In fact, one of the reasons Montessori works so well is because it operates on the principle that all children have unique, specialized needs.

Is Montessori Too Permissive?

Anyone who’s already implemented Montessori methods at home will likely have a good chuckle at this question. Despite how strange it sounds to us, however, this is one of the most common misconceptions about Montessori! People hear “child-led” and “no grades” and imagine chaos, but that’s simply not the case. Montessori is not too permissive. Montessori classrooms and households are highly organized well-structured spaces where everyone – children and adults – are accountable for their choices and actions.

Is Montessori Too Strict?

On the flip-side of the last question, someone might look through the Montessori guidelines for organizing a space or read through a classroom list of rules and responsibilities and wonder if Montessori is too strict.

While it’s true that Montessori values discourage things like plastic toys and screen time, no one is going to ban you from using Montessori methods if you don’t follow these guidelines or shame you for making your own choices for your family.

If your concern is about the high standards of conduct that children in Montessori schools are held to, fear not. No child is thrown into a Montessori environment and told “Here, take this knife. You’re going to cut up some carrots and you better be carefully, because if you cut yourself, those are natural consequnces and I have no sympathy for you.” Children are taught how to behave and be independent in Montessori environments in ways that are caring, thoughtful, and developmentally appropriate.

Is Montessori Too Boring?

This question is a funny one because it really depends on your point of view, while also having a pretty clear answer. Let me explain:

As an adult, your mileage on this question may vary. Some of us might find watching our children play with nesting boxes or climbing up and down their child-sized ladders to be fun and exciting! Some of us might find it to be dull as dirt. That’s okay! Everything in a Montessori environment is designed to be for children, which means many of the Montessori games, toys, and activities might hold little appeal to adults.

However, what’s important is if Montessori is too boring for children, and the answer to that question is a definitive no! While we may be tempted to distract our children with highly stimulating toys, games, and screens, they don’t actually need that level of stimulation, especially not all the time. Montessori understands that children are engaged by work and play that allows them to explore their developing minds at their own level. While you may be bored watching them, they are certainly not bored themselves.

Is Montessori the Same as Waldorf and Friends Schools?

It is not! While these three approaches to education sometimes get lumped together as “progressive education,” all three are different.

First the similarities: all three methods are child-centered and focus more on developmentally appropriate activities and holistic education than most traditional schools.

Beyond that, these three approaches are pretty drastically different. Friends schools are religious (Quaker) institutions, while Montessori and Waldorf schools are secular. Friends schools also often have an explicit commitment to social justice. Unlike the more exploratory learning methods of Montessori and Waldorf, lessons in Friends schools are more traditionally academic and employ a rigorous Humanities curriculum that uses techniques like Socratic seminars and community meetings for academic and interpersonal conflicts alike.

Montessori and Waldorf schools may seem to be more similar, but their philosophies of education couldn’t be more different! Montessori is all about encouraging children to learn how to engage with the real world through play and exploration. Montessori students use their imaginations for problem-solving and innovation, but are encouraged to focus on the tangible. Waldorf, on the other hand, is all about stories and imagination. Students are encouraged to engage in imaginary play and make-believe and are discouraged from learning concrete skills “too early.” While this may be appealing to some parents, it’s also important to note that this often means that children in Waldorf schools are not learning academic content or skills until much later and with less depth.

Is Montessori Too Academic?

If you’re a parent who finds the idea of children exploring their imaginations in Waldorf schools appealing, you may worry that Montessori schools are too academic. While it’s true that “work” is play in the Montessori method and that all activities are designed with a learning outcome in mind, Montessori would not be considered “too academic” by most standards.

This is because Montessori has an expansive understanding of what “academic” means. Ask any third grade student at a typical school what they learn each day and their answers will likely all sound pretty similar: “reading, writing, math, science, PE, and social studies.” Maybe “art, dance, and music” if they’re lucky enough to attend a school with arts funding or “STEM and ELA” if their schools employ more modern terminology.

A Montessori classroom, on the other hand, considers anything connected to the real world to be “academic.” This includes academic subjects, of course, but also a variety of practical and life skills. Montessori classrooms are intensely academic only in that children are encouraged to learn about their world and their place in it holistically.

Is Montessori Too “New Age”?

No way! As discussed in the previous sections, Montessori is a secular, extremely practical philosophy that’s strongly rooted in reality and developmental psychology.

Is Montessori Still Relevant?

While Montessori was first developed more than a hundred years ago, it’s now more relevant than ever. As traditional schools put greater and greater emphasis on standardized testing and discrete skills, and arts and life-skills programs are the first to be cut from public school budgets, the holistic approach to learning that Montessori offers is crucial for parents who want their children to know more than how find the main idea of a short passage or accurately calculate a ratio. More than that, the Montessori belief that children are thinking, feeling people with autonomy and the power to make their own choices is a value that becomes more and more important each day.

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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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