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What is the difference between Montessori and Traditional Education?

If you are new to Montessori education, often the first question you might ask is “what makes Montessori different?” Truly, the answer to that question is immense! So, in effort to make this bountiful banquet of information a little more digestible, I have organized some of the key concepts into these ten BIG differences:

The Prepared Environment

Montessori classrooms are prepared in advance based on observations of theDifferences between Montessori and Traditional Education www.ageofmontessori.org students’ individual needs. They include student-centered lessons and activities. Traditional classrooms are based on teacher-centered lessons or activities.

Active vs. Passive

Montessori lessons are hands-on and active. Students discover information for themselves. Traditional school lessons are often orated to students who listen passively, memorize, and take tests.

Give ‘Em Time

In the Montessori classroom, children work on lessons as long as need be, and interruptions are avoided whenever possible. Time limitations are mandated by arbitrary schedules in traditional classrooms.

The Teachers’ Role

Montessori teachers act as guides and consultants to students on a one-on-one basis. They assist each child along his or her own learning path. Differences between Montessori and Traditional Education www.ageofmontessori.orgTraditionally, the pace and order of each lesson is predetermined. The teacher must deliver the same lesson, at the same pace, in the same order, for all of the students.

Age Groups and Grade-levels.

In Montessori schools, “grade-levels” are flexible and determined by the child’s developmental range, i.e., 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, 12-15, and 15-18 years of age. In traditional schools, grade levels are not flexible and strictly defined by chronological age within a twelve-month period.

Adaptable Curricula

Montessori curricula expand in response to the students’ needs. Traditional curricula are predetermined without regard to student needs.

Pace Yourself

The individual child’s work pace is honored and encouraged in the Montessori classroom. Traditional classrooms expect all children to work at the same pace.Differences between Montessori and Traditional Education www.ageofmontessori.org

Self-Made Self-Esteem

Montessorians understand that the child’s self-esteem comes from an internal sense of pride in his or her own accomplishments. In traditional classrooms, self-esteem is thought to come from external judgement and validation.

For the Love of Learning

Montessori curricula are intended to appeal to the child’s innate hunger for knowledge. Children learn to love learning. Traditional curricula focus on standardized test performance and grades. Children learn because it is mandatory.

Change is Good

The Montessori Method was created by Maria Montessori and is based on a lifetime of study and observation with regard to the way children really learn. Traditional education is based on…well…tradition.

If you are interested in learning more about Montessori education, we welcome you to visit Age of Montessori’s information-rich website, watch our powerful webinars (free and professional development,) and join our discussions on Facebook. Our short online courses are excellent for teachers or parents seeking a more complete understanding of Montessori Education.


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  1. From a few observations, it seems that students have some difficulty adapted to regular teaching when they have experienced the Montessori method. Students don’t seem to know how to conform to the traditional, authoritarian system. They may even look less intelligent, and irresponsive.

      1. Lucette, your observations reflect our experience. After 3 years in Montessori, our child transitioned to public for first grade. It was a terrible experience, my child was teased repeatedly, ignored by the teacher who complained that she wouldn’t follow directions, and she wrote numbers and letter backwards. They made things look like my daughter had a problem. It did not matter that I took 3 school years report, showing high grades and an articulate, polite manner. I knew better and got her tested at a well regarded university in our area. 146 score showed she was profound gifted. Moved her to private school for gifted children, and teachers told me after few weeks, that they have never met quite well rounded child, and they were not only talking about academics. Not to mention how her grades went up to the highest and letters and numbwrs were never backward again. I am grateful for Montessori, while they didn’t make her gifted, they sure helped us to nurture her in the best way possible. She says those years were her best memories ever.

    1. I feel this article seems to be very negative towards traditional nurseries. As a nursery teacher in a traditional private nursery the children are in no way forced to be at the same level as every other child, we are aware that each child is different and adapt activities to the individual, the children also have the choice of what they play with and how they play with it. The playroom is centred around the children. We do not force anything, we encourage, the choice is always the children’s.

      1. Thank you for taking the time to share your feedback. We very much respect that every school has unique differences, and our comparisons are unable to take into consideration all of those differences. These are some very simplified generalizations.

  2. This is a fantastic article and every point is so very integral to Montessori and in my opinion a good education in general for a child.
    The concern voiced in the comment area is one that I have heard SO MANY times over the years! (I’ve been a Montessori teacher since 1980 and a public school teacher before that) And, honestly, the comments I hear MOST from families of children who have transitioned into a more traditional educational system are about how disappointing the new system has been for the family! So many have told me that their child had to go backwards with the academics offered in the new school. This is sad, but what is even sadder is that I hear so many tell me that their child found VERY LITTLE SUPPORT for using problem-solving skills and learning how to effectively & peacefully negotiate with others. Most families come back and tell me how well-prepared their children have been for the next step in their education after attending Montessori.

  3. Thank you Carolyn for sharing your views. It is sad to think of the children going backwards and not finding support for their newly acquired skills. Perhaps things will change as more and more people discover the benefits of teaching our children these skills in the first place.
    Still, it is important to nourish those that we can, when we can. I think of the story of the parent who asked Maria Montessori, “…won’t it be a problem if my child attends a Montessori school for three years and enters the public school so far ahead? ”
    Maria Montessori replied: ” If you knew a famine was going to take place in three years, would you starve yourself for those three years in preparation? “

  4. I like the idea of active learning. I think I would have thrived if all schooling was hands on. That’s for me personally though, but I think there is some kind of connection between learning and doing. I thought these were all some interesting things. I’ll have to consider this when my kids reach that age!

    1. Hello Gloria and thanks for asking. I am going to assume you’re referring to a transition into a Montessori program, thus, I will say: the sooner the better!
      Best wishes,
      Emily J

  5. Although I am sure the description of Montessori education is accurate, I question whether the author might be poorly informed regarding many perceptions of education in Canadian public school classrooms.The traditional methods described are generally considered very outdated in my experience as a certified teacher.

    I agree that likely most/all children benefit from one-on-one teaching. (I consider this tutoring). I also can’t help but wonder though, if having to share time with a teacher might help create a child who is less self-centered and who is more resilient and independent?

    1. Hello Beverley and thank you for your comment. I am very glad to hear that education in Canadian public schools is moving beyond the traditional. I applaud schools everywhere (public or otherwise) for making changes for the better, as so many have done. I wish the very best education for every child, every school, everywhere.
      I also agree that one-on-one tutoring, while beneficial, might also have some drawbacks. Montessori classrooms do not typically have a one-to-one student/teacher ratio. I apologize for the confusion. It’s more like this…children in the classroom are working either singly or in groups of two or three on lessons of their own choosing. The teacher(s) is moving around the classroom observing and guiding if needed. When she (or he) observes that a child is ready to move on to a new lesson, she might demonstrate, step-by-step, how this new lesson works. Then the child works on that lesson independently. Of course, that is a fairly simplified example, but you get the idea. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to clarify. I hope this is helpful.

  6. Thanks Emily. I have taught one specific subject as a guest teacher in a Montessori school as well, so am aware of the ratio and of the many positive aspects of the program for sure.

  7. I would like to know how the transition is for students that have been going to a Montessori school all the way through grade school and then attend a Public high school? Or possibly all the way through high school and then are going to a University?

  8. i want to conduct a research on montessori vs kindergarden system of education.plz any one tell me these both system are included in early childhood education.and plz help me selecting my research topic.

    1. Hi Geraldene,

      That’s great! Thank you for your interest. Robert will be happy to answer any questions and help you through the registration process. You can reach him at 406-284-2160 and I will share your email with him. Here’s a link to some videos by students who share their experiences. http://dev.ageofmontessori.org/testimonials/

      All the best!
      Deborah

  9. Hi,
    My child is 2.5 years old and debating over montessori vs traditional preschool, but more inclined to montessori now. I found a good montessori but it is a home based montessori by a very good experienced teacher and has a class size of 8 kids in total. So there is a lot of attention for kids. But my concern is sending her to a home based school vs big school. Will she have issues when she goes to bigger public school while going to kindergarden. Any insight on this would help

    Thanks

    1. Home based schools provide a cozier more personal experience both for child and parent. It is true that socialization will be different, but not necessarilly a negative. Every Montessori school is different and that difference can be size, quality of Montessori education, safety, cleanliness and a very important factor, the right fit for your child.

      Transitioning to public school from Montessori is a matter of preparing your child for the change – lining up to travel down the hall, everyone doing activities in unison, the bathroom being down the hall, cafeteria policy, procedure and etiquette. No matter where a child has been in his or her preschool years it is a gift to give them a tour of the school and how it works.

      Susan
      M. Susan Hoffman
      Faculty – Master Teacher
      Age of Montessori

  10. I see this articles dates back to 2 years, however, it’s content is relative to my son’s current experience.

    My son is currently in Grade 4 in a traditional school and has been a Montessori kid since preschool. After the first quarter of this year, his math and English have dropped to 36% and 40 % respectively and this is very shocking and discouraging to a child who is enthusiastic about school and has been ambitious and achieving over 80% for both subjects.

    Upon requesting to know where the gap is and what challenges he is seen to be facing within the new system I am told not to worry, that it’ll get better with time and that children who have been at the school from the beginning are excelling and he will adjust, I was discouraged as well as my son.

    In a nutshell it feels as if my son is being used as a guinny pig (spelling) by me more than anyone else if I allow him to stay on the current system and as we speak I am looking for a Montessori school to enroll him back to.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Luleka. Hope you can find a great Montessori school for your son. All the best! Deborah

    1. Great question, Mario!

      Thanks for the suggestion, we may consider this topic in our upcoming webinar schedule for 2019.

      In the meantime, we have several webinar replays that may address this from various angles.

      * Montessori Education: What it is and Why it Should Matter to You! presented by Mary Ellen Maunz, M.Ed. and Trevor Eissler, who authored the book: Montessori Madness!
      http://dev.ageofmontessori.org/montessori/

      * Here’s a link to a replay by two of our Master teachers who explain Why Montessori Works! – http://dev.ageofmontessori.org/why-montessori-works-2/

      * And here’s a link to all of our free webinar replays for you to explore: http://dev.ageofmontessori.org/videos/webinar-replays/

      I would love to know what you think and any questions you may have.

      Deborah

  11. Hi,

    Request your help on the following My Daughter is 5+ years and studying in Montessori school, next year i have choice to move her to other Syllabus schools like Cambridge (IGCSE) or IB or continue in Montessori, is it good to continue in Montessori from 6 to 12 Years? or good to move to Cambridge syllabus.

    1. Thanks, San. I have forwarded your question to our Program Director and will share her answer.
      — Deborah

    2. Where your children are educated is a very personal decision. If the Montessori elementary teachers are well trained that could be a great decision. I suggest you talk to the administrators of both schools and ask to see their curriculum and talk about how they manage their classrooms. I’m sure you will make a good decision for your child as you learn more about what they offer.

      It’s important that the school is a good fit for your child and the expectations of the parents as well.

      Warmest greetings in your investigation! — Mary Ellen Maunz, M.Ed.

  12. Hello,

    Our daughter who is now 16 months has been attending Nido class at Guidepost Montessori since she was 5 months old. I am sort of trying to way options and figure out differences. The school is quite pricy compare to regular daycare. How can i know if they have the appropriate Montessori certification? I have heard that some Montessori schools do and some don’t…How is guidepost Montessori different than other Montessori programs?
    There are quite a few Montessori school choices in the area we live in….what is the best way to find the right one? – Charlotte, NC

    Thank you

  13. I would like to see (if available) a statistical analysis on the results of children that attended Montessori and how well they succeeded as adults verses public school attendees in occupations, income ETC.

  14. Nice article
    just want to add little information about my school
    Crayons established in the year 1995 by Mrs. Gunjan Bijlani, follows the Montessori Method which is a scientific method based on the discovered laws of development of the mind and body of the child. The habits and skills of a child developed in a Montessori environment serve him for a lifetime. Concentration, self discipline to develop an independent confident, balanced and happy personality. The school provides facilities of a pre school in south Delhi, play school in south Delhi and a Day Care in Haus Khaz.

  15. I am struggling with the whole “Montessori way” concept. I am a teacher in a public school that is converting to Montessori. I have visited university model classrooms to see Montessori in action and have done a lot of reading. I spent a whole day in Montessori workshops this week to begin this process of change in my school. The workshops were presented by a local university that offers Montessori programs that lead to certification and or degrees. I just don’t get it! If this is such a great way to learn why isn’t there more of it out there? And why does it seem that these people are trying to “sell” me on “the philosophy” of Montessori? There has NEVER, not once been a discussion about data.

    1. Hi Jill,

      Thank you for checking in with us. Change can be hard, but it sounds like you are doing a lot to learn about Montessori. There are about 20,000 Montessori schools around the world, including 5,000 in the U.S., of which more than 500 are public schools — district, magnet, and charters. There are lots of people who believe strongly in Montessori education and the philosophy that goes along with it, and most of them like to talk about it! As for some data, I am including some links that directly address this. Good luck on your transition, and please let us know if we can be of further help. — Erin Lanigan, Age of Montessori Faculty

  16. Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world – DR. MARIA MONTESSORI

    A Montessori classroom is a thoughtfully designed environment to offer children opportunities to develop their own capabilities. Each classroom is filled with developmentally appropriate activities that encourage children to interact with specific learning materials, as well as to work cooperatively with others. The combination of independent, partner, small-group, and whole-group lessons and activities introduces children to different learning relationships and interpersonal dynamics—valuable skills for their interactions outside the classroom.

  17. There is such a difference in traditional and Montessori education. But, Montessori is not for every child. There are learning differences in children, just like there differences in teaching styles.

    I really enjoyed this article!

  18. Hi, all! My stepson just moved in with us at 13 years old and has been through both public and private schools. He started in a private school living with his mother and then into a public school. His grades have always been on the lower and often times scary side of the spectrum. He’s a smart kid! He just does not apply himself at all. In a public school with us, he has shown us that he can actually make high marks, but then he gives up after a while, the grades slip, and then in effect, so does his attitude and willingness to communicate. His problem-solving skills consist of looking for an easy way out, not retaining the material, but searching for loopholes or just marking things for a completion grade instead of learning and applying those tools and skill to future lessons…… My husband and I can surely see that he doesn’t learn with the traditional structure of most public/private schools with their rules (essentially bucking the system the whole way), generalized attention to a group, and want to try something different; but I’m a little skeptical about trying this method so late in his school career. I feel like a more one-on-one approach would help, but I also don’t want him to feel like we are putting him in an environment he’s so unfamiliar with. I read a lot of comments through various Montessori articles about moving younger children from this method into traditional schools, but I don’t see a lot of mention of this with older children, or going from traditional to Montessori. Can anyone help shed some light on the subject?

    1. Hi,
      Montessori Middle Schools might be a possibility for you, if (and it is a big if) there is one in your vicinity. Unfortunately, there are not yet a lot of Montessori secondary schools. If there is, go visit and if you like what you see ask if your stepson could spend a day shadowing the students to see what he thinks.

      Good fortune finding a school that is a good fit for him! – Mary Ellen

      1. Dear Desperate Stepmum,

        First, how fortunate that your stepson is living in a home environment that recognizes his school-related behaviors are separate from who he is and what he can achieve! Secondly, it is fantastic that not only do you recognize this but also you are looking for alternatives that will work better for him as an individual! These are sometimes hard observations to see separately from the child himself. He is already at an advantage with a family like yours to back him up. Bravo!

        As for heading into a Montessori environment at thirteen, I truly believe Montessori works for anyone. As with any transition, it may take awhile for your stepson to make adjustments, but if you give it time, it sounds like Montessori might be a great fit. Montessori at the adolescent ages looks very different than at the primary or elementary years in that there are less specific materials to teach. Therefore, a transition at this age won’t necessitate him “making up” work with materials that he hasn’t seen yet. Often, by his age, many students no longer need the manipulatives that were so helpful in helping to teach abstract concepts to younger children. Montessori for the older child is socially oriented and still very hands-on, with real-world applications that allow each child’s interests to be taken into consideration for learning various subjects. There probably isn’t much information out there on transitioning at an older age mostly because Montessori classrooms past 6th grade are much less common. They exist, and if you have one in your community, consider it quite the opportunity!

        Before making the decision to transfer your stepson, take the time to go and observe at any school you are considering. Each school is different, and you want to make sure you are choosing a change that feels like a fit for him and your family. It seems as though you have a good understanding of your stepson’s needs and the ability to look beyond traditional schooling for his education. Regardless of your decision, continue to make choices with his best interests in mind and trust your intuition! I wish you well on this tumultuous parenting journey! – Erin Lanigan, AoM Faculty

  19. Hi, I am a student doing research for a project (I went to Montessori school Preschool-6th and tradtional 7-12) and I have heard many people say they feel it is a hard transition from Montessori to public school and I feel the opposite I just believe the timing has to be right personally I feel children should not be in a Montessori school past 6th grade. I feel this way because a public middle school helps a child grow and learn social skills they would have not learned in this type of school system. Personally I feel the Montessori schools while sheltered are very beneficial. Many children now-a-days are very mature and using curse words at too young of and age in my opinion. Many kids I know start cursing at 5th grade and I feel is much much too young. while I know cursing is a choice children make for them selves but at that age children are very confirmative and most of the time if their friends are doing it they will to. But I also fell children shouldnt me moved too young. young children tend to have a harder time conforming to change. Which is why I feel 5th or 6th grade is a good age. Also personally if you are to keep you child in a Montessori school past then I would keep then in a Monessori/ private school after that or at least somewhere where they have friends because I they are kept up until highschool it may be hard for them to make friends and I feel it is good to have an established friend group before going up to high school since it is a big change.
    thanks

  20. The content of your blog really surprised me because many blogs are just spammy these days, do you have an email list I can sign up for to be notified when you release new blogs?

  21. Both types of education have their own importance. Yes, I truly like the idea of Montessori education. According to me, it will help the children to become more productive

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