Montessori vs. Traditional Education: A Gentle Approach

I first saw this video, when I was learning more and more about the value of a Montessori education.  This was before I had my daughter, and I was becoming more and more passionate about Montessori.  I had been working in a Montessori preschool, and doing in-home evaluations as a school psychologist on the side.  These ‘in-home’ evaluations often took me into other preschool programs because so often the issues being seen would be in the classroom, and to get an accurate picture of the reason for referral, I would need to observe the child in the classroom setting.  I started noticing marked differences between the traditional style of preschool, compared to that of a Montessori one.  In the traditional setting, children followed the teacher’s leads and commands, and the whole group did the same task together.  Tasks such as craft, or eating snack.  If a child was lagging behind, he was encouraged to hurry up, because the group was moving onto the next activity soon.  There was some free play time, usually about 30-45 minutes total and scattered through the morning to offer the children a small break from the structure.  Everyone went to the bathroom at the same time. Everyone sat down to read a story or do show and tell at the same time.  I was usually there to observe how the student could not follow instructions, was unable to stay on task, and had difficulties sitting still for story time.

What used to seem normal for me was now beginning to feel troubling.  These children shouldn’t be herded from task to task.  They shouldn’t be made to hurry up on their projects. And no wonder some of them couldn’t sit still when it was time for story… they hadn’t finished what they were doing during free time (the most valuable time, when they were truly doing their ‘work’ and learning the most)!

In the Montessori school in which I worked, the atmosphere always seemed much more relaxed.  Children learned to serve themselves snack when they were hungry.  They were given lessons on new materials in small groups (meaning the teacher may give the same lesson a few times as different children became interested), and then left to explore the materials on their own.  They were permitted to spend as long as they liked at a particular task, until they felt finished with it.  And then they put it away for the next child to use.  Sure, there were similar behavioral issues.  But even the way these issues were handled were gentler and modeled appropriate empathy and positive regard.  Not punishment. Some children would shout in the classroom and needed reminders to keep their voices soft.  Some children would argue over materials and a teacher would need to intervene. Some children could not sit still if the group pulled together for songs and a story, and a teacher would sit near that child and provide gentle encouragement and reinforcement.

In this environment, I watched children grow and learn to love learning.  I saw 3-year-olds watch the 4-year olds happily learning to read, and then witnessed those same 3-year-olds take up the task themselves and would begin to learn to read.  I watched other 3 and 4 year olds count to 100, put together intricate puzzles, and create some really magnificent works of art.  They were there to learn, to foster their natural love of learning.  This environment was a boon for their developing concentration skills, since they weren’t being interrupted or made to hurry up so that the next task could be started.

It was beautiful. It was enriching. It was what education should look like in all schools.

Watch this fantastic visual of what natural learning looks like in a Montessori environment: Montessori vs. Conventional School.

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