7 ways Montessori is different from traditional schools

When people hear the term "Montessori" they usually have a specific idea of what that term means in reference to an academic learning environment.

Posted Updated
Lisa D'Aromando
, freelance reporter
This article was written for our sponsor, the Montessori School of Raleigh.

When people hear the term "Montessori" they usually have a specific idea of what that term means in reference to an academic learning environment, but how does a Montessori education actually differ from that of traditional public and private schools?

1. Student-Directed Learning

Under the guidance of teachers and with classrooms designed to promote curiosity, children at Montessori schools are encouraged to be self-motivating. The idea is that through challenging students to investigate what interests them, they will be more engaged and excited to learn.

Kevin McLean, head of middle and upper schools at the Montessori School of Raleigh, described this student-directed concept of teaching:

"We provide just enough info, tools and skills that allow students to work through the materials at their own pace, and through that process come to a better understanding of that material," he said.

2. Multi-Age Classrooms
In traditional schools, children are typically grouped with others their same age. In Montessori schools, children are placed into multi-age classrooms, typically in three-year age groups.

"There is a lot of research about peer-to-peer learning. You tap into huge potential when you allow that. Most schools aren't designed that way," said Jeannie Norris, interim head of school at the Montessori School of Raleigh.

With this multi-age classroom, students are taught from an early age the skills needed for role modeling, helping others and being accessible. Every third year, the cycle begins again as students first gain wisdom from the older students in the classroom before becoming role models themselves in their third year.

3. Hands-On Learning
Children at Montessori schools are given an active role in their education with hands-on lessons conceived to help them discover information on their own. This physical learning style is more active than traditional lecture-style learning where children listen and memorize information.
4. Integrated Subjects

The Montessori curriculum focuses on integrating diverse concepts across subject matter as children progress in grades. The goal is for students to learn skills through repetition but within different contexts to understand how several subjects are connected.

5. Project-Based

"Projects give students the opportunity to think beyond the textbook," McLean said.

By introducing information in a lesson, then following it up with a demonstration of that information in the form of a project, students actively use what they learn and apply it.

Projects are integrated into subjects as well as into larger efforts.

"Passion Projects" in English class at the Montessori School of Raleigh, for example, are opportunities for students to discover what they are passionate about through exploring types of employment, first in research and then in a visit to see what that specific career would look like.

Students also explore community service with year-long projects to figure out how they want to make a difference.

6. School/Classroom Design
Montessori classrooms are deliberately designed for each developmental level to provide students with age-appropriate choices in how they want to learn and explore.

If students want to work in groups, there are areas for that; if students want to work alone, they can find solitude. Each subject matter is organized into its own clearly-defined space and put together to encourage students to use materials to learn a certain lesson.

7. Real World Collaboration

"We don't just pack their brains and see how much they can memorize," Norris said. "We prepare them to be self-directed and have the skill set to communicate and collaborate to get the job done."

Will Kelly, a former student of the Montessori School of Raleigh, explained this concept in an example from his sixth-grade class trip to New York City.

"The students plan the trip and coordinate everything," he said. "We had to do the directions, lead the way, navigate the subway and the city. The teachers were there, but it was a do-it-yourself trip, which made it more meaningful."

Montessori is not a one-size-fits-all learning approach, and many parents and children have reaped the benefits of this non-traditional learning approach.

This article was written for our sponsor, the Montessori School of Raleigh.


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