Montessori vs. Traditional Preschool: How to choose

Montessori Classroom

Choosing a Preschool: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Choosing the right preschool for your child can be overwhelming. A brief internet search will reveal such terms as “child-centered,” “faith-based,” “holistic learning” and “Montessori Approach.” How can parents possibly wade through all the academic terminology to find the educational philosophy that best suits their family? At Sapientia Montessori, we understand choosing your child’s first school is both an exciting and a daunting task. We're here to help.

The Purpose of Preschool

On your search, start by asking yourself this question: What is the purpose of preschool after all? Is it merely to provide daycare? Is it a place where children get together and play? If so, many choices are available. However, if to you, preschool is an opportunity to prepare your child for the social and academic environment that will be part of the rest of his life, and authentic Montessori school is your best choice. A Montessori school that fosters child development from a very young age and develops a passion for learning is the best type of preschool you can choose for your child.

Every parent wants their child to be happy and prosperous. Although, arguably, happiness is a relative concept, the question of how a parent evaluates their child’s happiness is an interesting one to explore. Most parents default to asking their children “are you happy?” It goes without saying that happiness for a child rests primarily on immediate reward.

Montessori aims to have a balanced and peaceful environment so the child can flourish now and for the rest of their life. In a true Montessori school, the child develops the joy of learning, knowledge and understanding. In turn, happiness results from the independence, skills and creativity the child develops, the intricate social interactions with their peers and the freedom to explore and discover everything around them.

The Difference Between Montessori and Traditional Preschool

The differences between Montessori and preschool curricula that do not follow the Montessori method become immediately clear when comparing the two classroom environments. In general, there are three primary differences between the two.

Traditional Preschool In traditional methods applied in schools and preschools, a teacher imparts a topic-specific (or theme) concepts to a group – everyone learns the same thing at the same time. Upon the great influence of Montessori into our communities, some traditional preschools have started to adopt some Montessori-like concepts, but without the required training, thorough understanding and complete application of the methodology, which is what ultimately yields long-term development.
Montessori Preschool On the other hand, the Montessori Method starts by stipulating that “one size doesn’t fit all”. Each child is a unique individual and each child learns differently. Thus, Montessori tailors its approach to the unique needs of each child, and to the specific needs of each child’s established developmental stage.

In an AMI accredited Montessori school, learning is the result of both, the child’s own exploration and the teacher’s guidance. The Montessori Classroom has specialized materials which progress in complexity as the child progresses. Once a lesson is imparted, the child is given independence to explore the materials from various perspectives. It is through the handling of these materials that the child understands the core functions of each lesson, and that the abstract concepts are eventually revealed. The materials are designed for self-education, self-correction and endless creativity.

  1. Philosophies
    Choosing a preschool that’s right for you and your family means understanding how the school will approach your child’s development. As a Montessori preschool, our educational philosophy emphasizes learning through exploration and denying the idea that "one size fits all" when it comes to education. To us, each child is a unique individual that learns differently. Thus, Montessori tailors its approach to the unique needs of each child, and to the specific needs of each child’s established developmental stage.This includes:

    • Self-directed learning
    • Accommodating individual needs, interests and pace
    • Hands-on, material-based curriculum

    A traditional preschool practices an entirely different educational approach. Typically, a teacher imparts topic-specific concepts to a group, and everyone learns the same thing at the same time. Their philosophy emphasizes:

    • Teacher-directed instruction
    • Structured curriculum
    • Formal learning goals and objectives

    Upon the significant influence of Montessori into our communities, some traditional preschools have started to adopt some Montessori-like concepts, but without the required training, thorough understanding and complete application of the methodology, which is what ultimately yields long-term development.

  2. Teaching Methods
    In an AMI accredited Montessori school, learning is the result of both the child’s exploration and the teacher’s guidance. The Montessori Classroom has specialized materials which progress in complexity as the child progresses. Once a lesson is imparted, the child is given independence to explore the contents from various perspectives. It is through the handling of these materials that the child understands the core functions of each lesson, and that the abstract concepts are eventually revealed. The materials are designed for self-education, self-correction and endless creativity.Using the Montessori approach, our teachers will encourage choice. This includes:

    • Letting the child set their own learning pace
    • Organizing the room and groups by ability rather than age
    • Allowing older children to serve as role models for the younger learners to encourage cooperation and social development
    • Encouraging self-directed learning with manipulative toys, such as puzzles, that are self-corrective and self-regulated
    • Using individualized instruction with the teacher as an unobtrusive observer and facilitator

    This teaching method differs significantly from that of a traditional preschool. At a traditional preschool, teaching methods involve:

    • The teacher as the leader or “controller” of the classroom
    • More value placed on social development than cognitive
    • Structured classes led by the teacher
    • Learning based on repetition, rewards and group-based instruction
  3. Environment
    When comparing the differences between Montessori and traditional preschools, ask yourself what kind of situation your child will flourish in. In a Montessori preschool, you will find the following classroom environment:

    • Welcoming, warm and brightly lit
    • Numerous learning stations with hands-on materials
    • Children of a variety of ages working and playing together
    • Stress placed on organization, cooperation and respect

    This differs significantly from your average traditional preschool. There, you will typically see:

    • Grouping based on age with group and individual instruction
    • Discipline enforced by teachers
    • Assigned seats where children are asked to sit still and listen
    • Pace dictated by the group rather than the individual

Avoid Traditional Education Traps

One of the benefits of Montessori vs. traditional preschool is that the Montessori Method is designed to sidestep all the traps that can cause students to struggle academically as they move further along the educational ladder.

One of these traps is the aforementioned “one-size-fits-all” approach to learning. A traditional classroom requires its students to conform to the average learning speed. This means students who can grasp specific concepts faster are slowed-down by having to adhere to more straightforward lessons, while those who fall behind never catch up.

Since Montessori schools create abundant opportunities for individualized learning, students have more freedom to learn at their own pace and are therefore much less likely to be bored or fall behind.

Another trap one can avoid through a Montessori education vs. a traditional education is the lack of autonomy students’ have. In Montessori schools, students are encouraged to pursue their interests, follow their creativity wherever it may take them and enlist the help of teachers and other students in order to achieve this goal. This instills in them a love of learning. Students in traditional schools, on the other hand, tend to learn to please teachers with the “right” answers.

Explaining Montessori vs. Traditional Education

If you find yourself in the position of explaining the difference between preschool and Montessori to others evaluating Montessori education vs. traditional education, or to fellow parents who are considering Montessori education, know that it all comes down to student-focused and stage-appropriate education. That is, a Montessori school is not primarily focused on making your child skilled at passing standardized tests or memorizing a traditional curriculum, although the education he or she receives will prepare him or her to excel in traditional forms of academic achievement.

Montessori is instead focused on nurturing your child’s natural love of learning from an early age before it is tainted by the demands and structure that stifle so many students and dampens their passion for learning.

Choosing the Right Preschool

At Sapientia Montessori, we grow the whole child. As you look at Montessori vs. traditional preschools, you’ll find that we are an academic institution dedicated to nurturing and inspiring creativity and discovery.

If you are a parent hoping to find the perfect fit for your child, we invite you to schedule a tour of our facilities. It’s important to observe the Montessori philosophy, teaching methods and classroom environment firsthand. We also invite you to call our admissions office with any further questions at (512) 260-2261.We can’t wait to welcome you!


Additional Information

Resources

For additional information about the benefits of Montessori, please visit our section “Montessori vs. Traditional Preschools”. The following guide about identifying the proper Montessori school for your family is worthwhile reading: Finding and Authentic Montessori School