What exactly is a Montessori school and how does a Montessori kindergarten classroom differ from a traditional kindergarten classroom? Let’s consider some of the differences below:
The role of the teacher. In a traditional classroom, the teacher is typically viewed as an authority figure; she is the center of the classroom who is in charge of controlling what and how students learn. In a Montessori classroom, the teacher is viewed as a guide. Her role is unobtrusive; she observes as children work together and teach each other, offering assistance as needed.
Type of curriculum. Traditional kindergarten classrooms often have a “one size fits all” curriculum. For students who learn differently, this sometimes poses a major challenge. Montessori classrooms allow students to have choices so that they control the direction and pace of their learning. While Montessori students still have skills that they are required to master, the means by which they master those skills is self-directed.
Ages of students. In the vast majority of traditional schools, students are grouped in classrooms with other students of the same age. Montessori classrooms, however, use mixed-age grouping. Thus, older students serve as role-models and mentors for younger students, helping them with their work. Throughout the day, students have multiple opportunities to work on projects in mixed-age groups. In these groups, roles are negotiated and students have the opportunity to develop social skills in a supportive environment.
Use of textbooks. It’s no secret that most traditional classrooms rely heavily on textbooks. By contrast, Montessori classrooms focus on learning materials. Memorization is not a goal of Montessori education; instead, the focus is on how and why things happen. In other words, Montessori schools teach for understanding. Montessori kindergarten classrooms also promote physical exploration with many multi-sensory materials.
Classroom environment. In traditional classrooms, students are typically assigned their own workspace, most often a desk or a chair at a table. They are expected to sit quietly in their workspace and not move around the classroom unless instructed to. Montessori classroom environments are quite different. Montessori students can move freely about the classroom, working where they choose. In fact, Montessori educators believe that autonomy is a driving force in student motivation. Additionally, the Montessori classroom is often filled with the chatter of students working cooperatively in small groups.
Daily schedule. If you’ve spent time in a traditional classroom, you’re likely familiar with the hectic daily schedule. In an effort to avoid boredom, traditional classrooms typically break the day up into several short time periods, so students are frequently changing activities. Montessori educators believe that this type of schedule results in students feeling mentally fatigued. They believe that it takes time to develop interest in an activity and cutting children off from learning experiences in an attempt to maintain a daily schedule is not conducive to effective learning. Thus, in Montessori classrooms, children are not interrupted when they are productively engaged in learning activities.