1- Maria Montessori, an Italian educator, was concerned that children with disabilities did not have access to religious education. For that reason, she created a program in which learning through the senses plays a huge role. The program was originally meant to teach stories of the Bible. Later, the system was so successful that it was implemented to any child for religious education, and eventually it led to the creation of the Montessori system of education. In my own case, when I started a foundation for children with disabilities (we served about 40 children and their families, and we had about 15 volunteers between doctors, therapists, and university students), we used the Montessori system for all of our education. It was very successful, since every child had a different condition (ranging from dawn syndrome to brain paralysis, autism, deafness, or blindness).
2- Montessori education is not for every child. Only the parents, or the mom, can judge whether the child is fit for it. However, if your child needs structure and support, then it’s not the ideal system for him. Yet, I would say that up to Kinder garden it’s a system that can work with any child, especially as there is a lot of playing and manual games. This is important, because children learn socialization and behavior and the importance of using your freedom well through the rules of games. I helped draft the program for a school in Sillicon Valley, California, and we implemented the Montessori system up to first grade. From what I’ve heard, the program is a success as children are in a way more mature to start a more structured system by age 7. In Finland, in fact, children play in the forest till they go to second grade, and their public education system is the best in the world.
3- Montessori Schools are grouped together in a different way than traditional schools: Pre-K and kindergarten students are grouped together, first through third graders, and fourth through sixth graders. In high school, a similar model is followed. This system essentially means that each child is with only about six other people of their grade in their class, and of those only two to three are of their same gender. In my own case, I would have benefited extremely from a system like that, as I already knew how to read by age 6, and basically did my own thing the first 2 years in school, learning on my own. If your child is someone who gets bored in school, because they are more advanced, then it’s a system that might be great for them, as long as there is encouragement, supervision, and challenges by the parents.
4- Throughout the day, students have several hours of “free time.” During this time they are assigned (or often assign themselves) planner jobs, that is, work to complete in the classroom. It usually is a quite a hands-on environment, and there are all sorts of materials to help students learn concepts by using and understanding them. I loved this aspect, as the teacher can do a one on one approach, using their senses to learn things. (I loved to tell them the story of the Good Shepherd, using the sheep, wolf, and shepherd toys!) However, children have to be self-motivated to make the best of this time, because the environment is not really structured, and students can get away without doing much work. Again, if you child is someone that needs structure, this might not be their best option.
5- Children receive two types of lessons: group ones with the whole class (generally in social studies), and individual ones with members of their grade or with only a couple of other students. Talking to children and parents, I realized that it is difficult to ensure that a lesson would be appropriate for kids of different ages. I think it is possible, but will depend in the ability of the teacher. Often, older children within the group third would be bored while the younger ones wouldn’t understand what was going on. At the same time, you can imagine how hard it might be for only two teachers to consistently teach students in the smaller groups.
6- I observed that children in the program were curious, motivated and independent learners, as well as flexible, adaptable and responsible for their own learning. I believe that the Montessori environment supports creativity, encourages the ability to think for themselves, trust in their own decision-making, and help them grow in confidence regarding their learning ability. For example, when a child has a question about something, he is not told an answer to the problem. Instead, he is encouraged to discover and learn on his own how to solve that problem. These are the thing I liked the most about the system. Yet, this is not for every child, and in more than one occasion it was better for a family to pull their child out of the school to a more traditional system. Sometimes parents and students complain that once they go to another school, they learn way more academically. Yet, in school you learn other things that are as or more important that academic subjects, such as learning how to behave, be polite, respectful, etc. I think Montessori provides a better scenario to learn these human values.
7- Finally, since every Montessori school is different, you have to look at many other factors: teachers, parents, the environment, their values and ideas, etc. Sometimes you might find parents that want their children to assist the program because there is little supervision, as they want their children to grow up without anyone’s supervision, as if children were inherently good and orderly… In other cases, the group of parents is really strong, have great family values, are concerned for a good education, and the teachers are exceptional. The school I was associated with was more like the second example, though there were parents with libertarian ideas as well. You also have to consider the environment in the public and private system. Sometimes the public system is so bad and full of ideology (like in Canada), that almost any Montessori program will probably be better.