An Alternative Method to Education That's Producing Amazing Results

Living Montessori: The Parent Perspective
Living Montessori: The Parent Perspective

Parents tell you, in their own words, what makes Montessori education special. Go "beyond 2+2" and see the difference that Montessori can make in your…


Parents generally want the best education for their kids. They will often choose where to live based on how good the school district is, and that’s a rational decision.

But one problem that are challenges for teaching in many schools is this: standardization and uniformity. As parents know, each child is different — some who have trouble learning in traditional settings, some who aren't challenged enough. Both may require different kinds of approaches to learn.

There are several alternatives to the one-size-fits-all approach to education, but one such approach producing notable results is one I would consider for my children: the Montessori Method.

The Montessori Method is a strategy for education developed by Dr. Maria Montessori at the beginning of the 20th century. According to the American Montessori Society, the method was developed after she careful observations of people from childhood to adulthood. Her methodology has been put into practice for over 100 years with truly fantastic results.

It is a view of the child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive.

The method emphasizes autonomous learning, with ages interacting with each other, and older students helping out younger ones.

A unique environment is created, where the student guides his/her own education. Instead of the teacher guiding a student down a standard path, this method offers room for flexibility, to tailor the educational experience to each child so that he/she learns in the best way for his or her particular needs.

Classrooms in Montessori style schools are usually divided into three grades per room. The idea to to almost resemble a family, to foster a unique kind of growth not offered in standard K-12 schools.

The multi-age classroom—typically spanning 3 years—re-creates a family structure. Older students enjoy stature as mentors and role models; younger children feel supported and gain confidence about the challenges ahead. Teachers model respect, loving kindness, and a belief in peaceful conflict resolution.

These classrooms are structured in unique ways unlike traditional schools.

You won’t find the customary rows of school desks; children work at tables or on the floor, rolling out mats on which to work and define their work space.
Nor are you likely to find walls papered with brightly colored images of cartoons and syndicated characters. Rather, you might see posters from a local museum, or framed photographs or paintings created by the students themselves.
There are well-defined spaces for each part of the curriculum, such as Language Arts, Math, and Culture. Each of these areas features shelves or display tables with a variety of inviting materials from which students can choose.

Additionally, within these classrooms, students have an active say in what they want to learn about. At an early age, students learn how to responsibly make free choices, and they can choose to study something that piques their interest.

Working within parameters set by their teachers, students are active participants in deciding what their focus of learning will be. Montessorians understand that internal satisfaction drives the child’s curiosity and interest and results in joyous learning that is sustainable over a lifetime.

What exactly do students do in these classrooms? They interact with the world hands-on, utilizing all their senses to learn. By engaging with the five senses, a student receives a more holistic understanding of what they are learning.

The method of engagement is very different.

While studying a map of Africa, for example, students may explore the art, history, and inventions of several African nations. This may lead them to examine ancient Egypt, including hieroglyphs and their place in the history of writing. The study of the pyramids, of course, is a natural bridge to geometry.

What are the results of this style? According to a study conducted back in the early 2000s, Montessori students showed a significant advantage over students in traditional types of schools. The study compared students at a Montessori school in the Milwaukee, WI area to those in traditional school settings.

Angeline Lillard, from the University of Virginia, who co-led the study, said: "We found significant advantages for the Montessori students in these tests for both age groups. Particularly remarkable are the positive social effects of Montessori education. Typically the home environment overwhelms all other influences in that area."

Not only were five-year-old primary school children better prepared for the "three Rs" at primary level, they also had higher scores in tests of "executive function." This is the ability to adapt to changing and complex problems, and is seen as an indicator of future school and life success.

Montessori students also exceeded their peers in traditional methods of comprehension like grammar and punctuation. For older students, they also showed a tendency to choose "positive assertive responses" when dealing with socially unpleasant circumstances. How often do you hear about that in regular schools?

Absolutely radical, is it not? This is far from a traditional style of teaching, one that breaks barriers and offers the flexibility that many kids need to learn. If parents are willing to try out some unconventional methods, they may be surprised at the results.