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Opinions About Montessori Schools

My daughter will be 5 next February so I'm thinking about kindergarten and I'm feeling nervous about public school. A friend of mine is looking at a Montessori school nearby and loves it. I'm just wondering if anyone has any experience with a Montessori education. I mostly am feeling that public schools are overcrowded and do not give kids enough individual attention or allow them to explore their own learning styles or interests. I have a smart, shy, quiet, easy-going, child who I think will get lost in the shuffle. I am also feeling that the style of teaching in public schools (ie, endless dittos and memorization) is not stimulating and is not the best way to learn. I'd love to hear any opinions about public vs private school. Thanks!

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Some background so that you know where I'm coming from:
I have a daughter who is in 3rd grade in an AMI Montessori school, and I teach 7th and 8th grade in a Montessori school. My daughter has been in our school since she was 2, in their Toddler program. Although I took last year off to work on my PhD, I have worked at the school for the last 8 years. Prior to coming to our school, I taught in public schools.

In my opinion, there are several really amazing benefits of a Montessori education:

1) Children learn to self-regulate and to choose appropriate work. This means that a child who has been in a Montessori program enters into life understanding his strengths better while also being much more self-reflective about his work. From a cognitive perspective, this is one of the hallmarks of an effective learner.

2) Children are encouraged to be independent thinkers and are treated with the same respect that we as adults would like. This means that they are not coddled, though they are supported through their development in an appropriate way. I frequently hear from friends, neighbors, and strangers, that my daughter (who is now almost 9) carries herself with dignity and confidence, that she is interested in and capable of having confident discussions with adults, and that she is much more mature and polite than many other children her age. (You'll have to trust me that very little of this is due to my parenting! :)) As a first grader, she learned how to use a phone book so that she could call and talk to experts when she was writing a report.

3) Montessori allows students to choose work (academic, social, and physical) that is challenging to them. It also allows students to work at their level for as long as they need or want. If a student wants to go deeper, Montessori classrooms allow for that. If a student wants to repeat something 1,000 times, Montessori classrooms allow for that, too. The key here is making sure that you have a qualified AMI-certified Montessori teacher who will help guide your child and direct him to choose appropriate, challenging, and diverse (balanced) work.
What’s more, Montessori classrooms allow children to approach the “required” material from many different angles, allowing them to get a full sense of what their topic or work means.

On a related note, Montessori education encourages and promotes mastery of subjects, rather than simply surface skimming. From Children’s House through Junior High, we look for students to work toward mastery of the appropriate skills.

4) Children tend to read earlier and more fluently and to have higher math scores (and what’s more important to me as a science and math teacher) higher comprehension of and appreciation for math than other children. My daughter was slow to read in her Montessori Children’s House classroom and as her parent I worried about it though as a teacher, I recognized that everything was fine. By the time that she was in first grade, she was reading the fourth Harry Potter book, as well as A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. She reads, on average, a novel a week. She is a pretty average student, but she is also doing multiple digit multiplication and division – and what’s more, she understands them more than the students in 4th and 5th grade that I worked with in the public schools.

5) Montessori schools allow for freedom of movement. Throughout the entire cycle, students are allowed to move freely and to choose where to position themselves in the classroom and environment. This gives children a real sense of control and confidence. It also cuts down on many behavior issues because a child isn’t “stuck” in one space for a set amount of time.

6) Montessori schools promote social responsibility and global awareness. Montessori schools encourage respect and compassion in children, for people who are near to them, as well as those that are on the other side of the globe. Students in Montessori schools are often very active in their communities. Whether it be organizing a fund-raiser to send money to victims of earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, or tornadoes, or researching and reporting on endangered animals, to becoming active in the local political environment, to volunteering in many various capacities – students in Montessori schools are keenly aware of their potential impact for doing good in the world. Montessori schools actively teach and promote environmental awareness, stewardship of the environment, and active work to think globally but act locally. Montessori schools work hard to promote peaceful understanding among young children, and to broaden this to a local perspective and further to a global perspective throughout a child’s Montessori career. Montessori schools teach that peace is a positive thing worth working toward and provide students strategies to employ as they work to create peace.

7) Hands-on materials for most subjects. The Montessori method has been around for 100 years, and yet educational research is only just now catching up to the things that Maria Montessori said in the early 1900s. As I read educational research papers, I often find myself thinking about some corollary in the Montessori classrooms for their “new” idea. The most prevalent of these are the manipulatives that a child engages with. If you've heard of "Singapore math," you've heard of one of these "rip-offs." These manipulatives not only help students make sense of the concept, they stay with a child from throughout the Montessori classrooms so that a child can refer back to them, can go back and touch them and move them as they need to revisit concepts, and so that they can extend their understanding with the same materials for more advanced concepts. In this way, ideas build on one another. They are not abstract, independent objects, but rather part of an interconnected whole.

This goes beyond the usual lip-service paid to these attributes. They are embodied in a Montessori education in ways big and small. Students really do tend to absorb these values of peace, responsibility, respect, and compassion and to learn how to act on these values.

From a teacher's perspective, I can assure you that Montessori students are different than 98% of the students I worked with in public schools in a number of key ways. By the time students leave my classroom in 8th grade, I generally feel confident that they are ready to take on any challenge and survive anything that they experience. Academically, they are more willing to take positive risks than other students I have worked with, are more supportive of their peers, have higher self-confidence, and are more well-rounded. Most of my students have had a very mature and complex view of the world and of their place in it – In addition, I think most of my students had a rich, deep understanding of the academic content that they had explored.

Now, I'm not saying that school caused this for them, or that all of my students were the same, or that all of them were academically gifted. But, I think that what Montessori does for students is to allow each of them to build on their strengths, to find support in one another for the areas that they are weak in, and to build the confidence to challenge those weaknesses in themselves. In addition, Montessori students are not intimidated by adults and teachers - they think of them as people who are part of a community that they can look to for help when they're stuck.

Socially, my daughter has learned through her Montessori experience that there are times to choose work on her own and times to choose to work with peers. In the elementary classroom in particular, but previously also at the Children’s House level, she often chooses to work with peers on various projects. What’s more, she has learned that there are some times when it should be all silliness, but some times when her social self should be channeled to work effectively with her peers, and that there are other times when she would rather work alone. Her Children’s House teacher and I sometimes had to work at this with her – because her natural inclination is to be silly all the time with her friends. Especially around the age of 5, this became difficult for her – she didn’t want to work. Now, however, she is very adept at knowing who are great work friends and who are great play friends, and at identifying those that can be both.

What’s interesting is that in Montessori schools, the social nature is reversed from the way that it is in public schools. In traditional schools, children are expected to play together when they are little (when most developmental psychologists tend to think that they are not very good at, or interested in it) and then upon entering Elementary school, they are expected to sit in desks alone and work on their schoolwork alone. In Montessori schools, most of the work in a Children’s House classroom is done alone at the younger ages, and by Elementary, a good proportion of the work that students do is in groups. What’s more, these are generally (though not always) self-chosen groups.

I like to make sure that families know this before they look into “Montessori” schools and come away with a sense of something that it is not….
You need to be careful when you are looking into Montessori schools. The name "Montessori" is not trademarked, and any daycare center/preschool can call themselves Montessori - even if they have nothing to do with Montessori.
There are two accreditation systems, AMS (American Montessori Society) and AMI (Association Montessori Internationale). The two camps are not the same. AMI schools must maintain rigorous international standards in which they must adhere to the original methods of Maria Montessori. AMS schools must also adhere to standards - I am much less familiar with these. The general idea of AMS is that Maria Montessori's methods have been "adapted" to American life.

To find an AMI-certified school in your area, look at:
http://www.montessori-ami.org/
Click on "AMI/USA" on the top toolbar and drag down to "schools" where you can find a "school listing" tab.

I, personally, strongly believe in a Montessori education, and after studying education from both a practical perspective and from a theoretical standpoint in my career at the University, believe that it is the best educational method available. However, from a practical standpoint, I don’t believe that it’s the right choice for every family.

With that said, you should not let cost be a hindrance to you in applying at a private Montessori school. They often have a financial aid program that really helps to offset the cost for many families in the community.

You may be very surprised who qualifies for tuition assistance at many private schools. The nice thing is that you can generally apply and then rescind your application if you don't get the tuition assistance that you need.

Good luck!
S.

3 moms found this helpful

No offense, but if you think they still use dittos in public school, you might want to go visit one before you condemn the whole system.

Seriously, talking about "public schools" or "private schools" or even "Montessori" like they are monoliths is overly simplistic. You need to get educated about YOUR public school, and YOUR Montessori school. I personally think that public school is terribly important, unless children have such special needs that they can't be accommodated in public school. Kids are going to have to learn to deal with the real world sometime-- if it isn't in school, when will it be? But regardless, you need to get familiar with both schools. Montessori is an approach, not a specific curriculum. Individual Montessori schools are dramatically different, and just like public schools, some are good and some are not.

This is a huge decision that will effect your child, your finances, and your life for years to come. You wouldn't buy a car based on feelings and something your friend (or other Moms) told you-- and this is a much more serious decision. Do your research. The good thing about picking a school is that you can change your mind!

2 moms found this helpful

I went to Montessori & both of my children did/do. Children are self motivated, they are sponges and they want to learn. They learn by playing. They aren't just released to run willy-nilly in the classroom. They are directed but still able to make their own decisions within the scope of what they are learning.

My oldest son was an excellent reader and he was advanced at math, although he didn't enjoy that nearly as much. My son who goes there now is doing well too. And believe it or not he is learning structure and rules too. They teach manners and life lessons and how to pour things and responsibility for themselves.

It all depends on the school too though. I participate a lot. I went to school every Tuesday so the kids could read to me, I help with parties. That way I know the teachers and I know how well they know my kid.

I'm really surprised at some of these responses. But I do agree you have to educate yourself on the specific school you are thinking about. I saw different Montessori schools and definatly saw a difference among them.

Good Luck!

2 moms found this helpful

I would personally not send my child to a Montessori. I absolutely do not think that children are capable of the independence in learning at Montessori. They are kids!! Of course they are going to go with what interests them. While this is good to an extent there are also things that they SHOULD be learning and learning with emphasis. I will give you an example of my friend's daughter who loved reading and excelled in it at her Montessori school. Well...when they went to put her into PS finally she was 2 GRADES BEHIND IN MATH!!!!!!!! She hated math and therefore did not "steer" her education in that direction.

In my opinion you should base your decision on the quality of your public school. Talk to other moms of kids currently in Kindergarten to get a good feel for their curriculum and then decide if your child would be a good fit there. If not I would look into a private school-just not the Montessori method.

1 mom found this helpful

Lifetime homeschooler here... so, that colours my answer.

Public schools operate for their own reasons, that often have absolutely nothing to do with the students. I think that's an obvious reality.

I felt, as my eldest approached K, that the schools would do what they did.. including 'she's a pleasure to have in my class'... which is code for 'we don't really know her at all, but at least she's isn't demanding....'

And that's it, really: I knew my daughter really well and could not come up with a reason to hand her over to a stranger to care for (with 12 other kids, what kind of 'care' would be involved?!?) who would acknowledge that the best thing about her, for the building she was in, was that she didn't take up extra time? Yikes.

My daughter, at 5, was engaged, enthusiastic, keen... patient. She would wait and wait and wait and wait... never demanding, never complaining...

Would that be an education worth the time involved? Hours and hours of her waiting for other kids to 'get it' when she 'got it' two years before she got 'here'? OMG. I know a woman who calls Kindergarten as the year she got to learn to read.... again.

1 mom found this helpful

I have all the same concerns about public school, and my daughter will be 5 next year. We've been researching the schools. My babysitter graduated 8th grade from an expensive quaker school comparable to Montessori near us with the alternative individualized creative stimulating learning style. I sponsored her on her final project and came to her presentation and toured the school and grilled the principal.
Ironically, the fun environment sort of alarmed me, because my husband is a musician, I'm a painter, the kids both live a creative fun alternative life immersed in the arts, and I was sort of hoping to rely on school to do the dirty work of cracking the whip on math, science, history, memorization etc. The more they said, "well we let kids learn according to their own motivation", etc, I thought "What kind of 2nd grader is motivated to do anything but play?..if my kids are anything like I was, they won't do a darn thing they don't have to...." I felt it was a little too loosey goosey for the money.
My sitter flaked on her project and did a very shoddy job, one student didn't show up at all, and the other 2 did a GREAT job, but you could tell the parents were highly involved, and they all passed equally. AND my babysitter's thank you note to me had spelling errors and was immaturely written (sorry to sound harsh) but my opinion of that particular school was that it wasn't "boring and tedious" enough on the academics.

My other friend's daughter just graduated a similar school with very low test scores and didn't get into the colleges she wanted. Some of those hard boring things are good for self discipline as well as pushing yourself, if anything, the lack of individual attention makes public school too lenient these days for us. We're now looking into homeschooling or a different school district with a better track record! Be very thorough with your questions to them and make sure they do uphold the same academic standards your kids will need to compete later-some are better than public schools, some aren't! Good luck, it's all very hard to decide!

1 mom found this helpful

Hi H., There are pros and cons for both types of education. I can't speak for the schools in your area, but the public schools in our area are great. There are 4 towns that feed into our school district and about 120 children per grade level. Yup, there is less than 500 students in our entire high school! Our teachers take the time to really get to know the kids they teach and they all seem to care about making them all successfull. I have three girls...one honor student that wouldn't know what to do with a B, one that has struggled for years with reading but just got main-streamed with great success, and one that has to be intrested to bother putting any of her braincells in gear. If it hadn't been for the staff at our schools I wouldn't have known how to handle or challenge our girls with their wide range of educational needs. I suggest you evaluate each school you are considering carefully. Don't look so much at what they are, but what is going on in them. I have heard just as many horror stories about private schools as I have about public. Each school has it's own personality, as well as good and bad points and should be looked at reguardless of what type of school it is. Best wishes.

I used a wonderful Montessori school for my kids pre-school; however, I got them out by Kindergarden. I am a trained educator who never once considered public school. The Delaware Valley has numerous amazing private schools which have loving environments with excellent curriculum. I feel that the Montessori model does not do a justice to kids beyond the age of six. It sounds like you are on the right path but....please look at other private options. If you need a place to start look for Quaker schools.
Good Luck.
ER

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