In searching for preschools, Montessori is inevitably one of the first options parents consider. While several studies have shown positive outcomes in preschoolers who have received Montessori education, there are still criticisms and doubts. Let’s review the main pros and cons of the Montessori philosophy.
Is Montessori good
Montessori education is good for young children. This self-directed learning style allows them to gain a sense of independence and self-confidence quickly. However, it is not clear whether this learning method for students is better than regular schools.
Across the country, the spread of standardized testing has caused teachers to feel pressured to “teach to the test” so that students will learn mandated subjects. Montessori education provides the antidote needed for this negative trend.
Is Montessori bad
The Montessori method has some drawbacks including the lack of consistent quality implementation, difficulty in transitioning to higher education, and high tuition. However, the Montessori method itself is not bad as this development-focused education fosters independence and a love for learning in children.
Let’s first understand what this education approach is. With that in mind, we can examine some of the common disadvantages of Montessori school and what you should do if you choose to enroll your child in a Montessori program.
What is the Montessori method?
The Montessori method was implemented by Italian physician Dr. Maria Montessori in 1907. This method (also called “scientific education” by the doctor), is based on the belief that children learn best when they are actively involved in the environment and may choose what to learn according to their own needs1.
Montessori classrooms are divided into multi-age classes with a difference of fewer than three years between the students. This arrangement provides different periods of education for children starting from birth – birth to age 3, age 3 to 6, etc. Children at school are free to choose among a special set of educational materials to work on.
Teachers in the Montessori classroom guide and help students individually. They may show how to do some activities, but they do not conduct adult-directed lessons. The actual learning happens when the child is figuring out how to complete project tasks.
Children are given long time blocks to complete the activities and they can move at their own pace. Also unique to this educational process is its absence of grades, homework, and tests.
The pros of the Montessori method
Here are the advantages of learning the Montessori way.
Self-paced learning builds confidence and promotes independence
Skills development in children varies from child to child. Montessori students learn at their own pace and pursue what they are interested in. Children have free access to activities and they are allowed to explore without boundaries. Providing opportunities for students to figure things out on their own can foster independence and self-confidence in them.
Montessori preschool is a system of education that is focused on the idea of fostering independence, competence, and confidence in children.
Hands-on learning through an absorbent mind
Montessori believed young children had absorbent minds. They learn differently from older children by taking in everything in the environment. They also gain basic learning concepts through hands-on learning. The activities help young children develop fine motor skills, visual-spatial awareness and skills, and eye-hand coordination2.
Group learning can teach kids communication skills
Learning in mix-age groups allows older children to guide younger ones when they struggle, enhancing their communication skills. Younger children also benefit as they learn faster from watching their older peers.
Support special needs
Montessori’s “follow the child” philosophy allows for children to receive individualized early childhood education and achieve their unique potential. This approach to education was originally derived from her psychiatric clinic work with disabled children who had special needs.
Dr. Montessori believed that these children’s challenges were because of the deficiencies in their interaction with the environment, as opposed to the actual medical problems. Learning materials were intended to teach children to master the skills of interacting with the environment, regardless of their needs3.
Nurture self-motivation and love for learning
Students view learning as an enjoyable lifelong process, instead of a chore they want to get rid of. They develop intrinsic self-motivation to learn. This love for learning becomes a lifelong benefit to children.
The cons of the Montessori method
Here are the most common criticisms of this learning model.
Inconsistent research results
Despite several studies boasting of the superior outcomes of this educational model, the results cannot be consistently replicated.
Some studies found that students who were educated under Montessori had better outcomes than students who were educated in traditional schools. However, other studies found that this type of education produced the same, or even worse, outcomes.
Because of the inconsistency, no reliable conclusion can be drawn regarding the efficacy of this learning model4.
One criticism of Montessori schools is that not all schools follow exactly the educational methods developed by Dr. Montessori. Although most schools adopt the basic program, many also adapt it to their local needs. Common adaptations are shorter work periods, special classes, extra activities, supplementary learning materials, grades, and homework.
Some researchers have noticed that implementation fidelity of the Montessori method is associated with the different outcomes in children5.
There are many small adaptations made in today’s Montessori schools, but Dr. Montetessori explained extensively in her book why she chose certain details. Those small changes may or may not have made a difference in the research results.
Because the Montessori name is not trademarked, almost any school can claim to be practicing it. It is hard for families to evaluate if the Montessori schools they are considering are adhering to the original standards or not. The quality of the teacher training is also difficult to evaluate.
Independence over collaboration
The Montessori method emphasizes individualized learning. It values independence and self-sufficiency. Even though some work is performed in small groups, teamwork is not commonly encouraged. Students lack opportunities to learn how to collaborate with others, which is an important skill in real life. These students may be less prepared for life outside of school.
Conformity over creativity
In preschools, Montessori materials are designed so that they are self-corrective, but it is not a creative activity. When children use it the wrong way, feedback is built into the activity tools and they can correct themselves. Teachers also show the “correct way” to conduct activities to children so they will know how to do it “the right way.”
However, the corollary is that if the child does not use the tool exactly the way it is intended, they won’t be able to proceed, even if there could be other, more creative ways to do so.
When there is only one way to complete a task, it is called a convergent activity. Children who participate more in convergent activities are found to be less creative compared to those who do more divergent activities, activities that allow open-ended creative results6.
Despite this association, studies that directly compare the creativity of Montessori students showed inconsistent results. Once again, it is unclear whether this type of activity positively or negatively affects children.
Social opportunities for socio-emotional development
Although some studies show that Montessori kids have better social skills in terms of problem-solving, no studies have evaluated their emotional regulation.
We learn emotional skills through experiencing stress in daily life and then learning to overcome it. The lack of free play means there are fewer opportunities for emotional learning.
Transition to higher education
Currently, there are no high schools or universities that teach based on this theory. Students who have been used to independent learning, open-ended structure, and lack of concrete lessons will be surprised to find that they will have rigid classroom structure, inflexible timetables, deadlines, and homework assignments in these higher education environments.
Even though the Montessori way of teaching originally came from classrooms in low-income areas in Rome, nowadays, most Montessori schools in the US are private schools that have a hefty price tag associated with enrollment. They are also more likely to be in areas with high-income families, making it disproportionately difficult for low-income families to enroll.
In today’s Montessori schools, most of them do not adhere entirely to the original guidelines created by Dr. Montessori.
It doesn’t mean that the changes are bad, however, it does mean that what you experience in one school or program may look very different from another, or from what is described here.
The only way to know the “real” Montessori method is to read the book Dr. Montessori wrote, The Montessori Method.
Choosing a good preschool ultimately boils down to the quality of the teachers. So whether a Montessori school is worth it depends a lot on the teachers. Here’s a guide to finding the best preschool for your child.
- 1.Kramer R. Maria Montessori: A Biography. Diversion Books; 2017. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Maria_Montessori/4Z8kDwAAQBAJ
- 2.Goldin-Meadow S. How our hands help us learn. Trends in cognitive sciences. 2005;9(5):234-241. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2005.03.006
- 3.Ackerman DJ. The Montessori preschool landscape in the United States: history, programmatic inputs, availability, and effects. ETS Research Report Series. 2019;1:1-20. doi:10.1002/ets2.12252
- 4.Lillard AS. Preschool children’s development in classic Montessori, supplemented Montessori, and conventional programs. Journal of school psychology. 2012;50(3):379-401. doi:10.1016/j.jsp.2012.01.001Get rights and content
- 5.Lillard AS. Playful learning and Montessori education. Namta Journal. 2013;38(2):137-174. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2014-22064-001
- 6.Pepler DJ, Ross HS. The Effects of Play on Convergent and Divergent Problem Solving. Child Development. Published online December 1981:1202. doi:10.2307/1129507