A Montessori school is a school developed in the early 20th century, on the principles of Dr. Maria Montessori. These schools are a way of teaching children that is completely child centered and child directed. Though early schools were generally for nursery school and primary grade levels, there are now numerous ones that teach up to grade 12.
The principal methods in a Montessori school emphasize several important beliefs. The first is that children have the capacity to direct their own learning. Second, children do not learn in the same manner as do adults, and not all children have the same learning methods. Children should be the “masters” of their environment, and schoolrooms are specifically prepared for this mastery. Exercises and equipment should be self-correcting so a child learns from his/her own mistakes and moves forward. Lastly the child determines the educational pace.
The Montessori school focuses much on hands on approaches to learning. Children should be allowed to interact, as much as possible, with all five senses in learning approaches. Most of these schools have a variety of hands on activities, and may offer opportunities to care for animals, to prepare food or to garden, as well as natural activities, like sweeping and cleaning.
Letter grades are usually not a part of the Montessori school approach. Dr. Montessori felt that grades encourage unnatural and unhealthy competition that interferes with learning. Instead, students may be assessed by acquired skills. Today such a school may offer grades since many parents feel they are necessary to assess the child from a scholastic standpoint. This can also be helpful for students who complete a 13-year education in a Montessori school, since grades are an important consideration of most colleges.
There have been noted critics of the Montessori school approach, yet it is popular enough to have over 8000 schools in the US alone. Common criticism of Montessori methods sometimes register concern that certain students will not master all areas of scholastic importance if they remain uninterested in them. Some Montessori students have admitted difficulties with mathematics because they didn’t “have to” learn it. On average, the Montessori student tends to perform as well or better than those educated in traditional public schools. Math problems are not exclusive to Montessori students.
Montessori school methods have also been criticized for not assigning homework. Some schools do now assign homework, but some critics are concerned about the transition required when students move to schools where homework is required. This is an ongoing debate that involves more than Montessori methods. A few districts that are in other ways traditional have now outlawed homework, which has in general seen a sharp incline since the No Child Left Behind Act. A proponent of the Montessori method would argue that children are constantly learning, and thus being at home is a learning experience.
Most Montessori schools in the US are private, and many come with high tuition. A few public school districts have attempted to introduce the Montessori concepts into mainstream public schools. This has not met with complete success, since Montessori often implies the antithesis of traditional public schooling, where so much reliance is placed on students achieving at the same rate, and mastering certain skills at certain points. Some public charter schools are still attempting to bring Montessori concepts into mainstream education, which may prove interesting to watch.