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:
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.