Montessori vs. Traditional Preschool: How to Choose

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Montessori Classroom

These days, it seems everyone is offering preschool programs. You probably drive past at least three preschool options on your way to the grocery store or the mall. But, as a parent, you don't want to send your child to just any old preschool. You want to send them to a school that cares for them and nurtures them as they grow and develop. You also want a preschool that will put them on the right track academically and instill a love of learning and discovery that will last throughout their lifetime.

If you're considering Sapientia Montessori School for preschool, then you're probably wondering what a Montessori education looks like compared to a traditional preschool. Many parents aren't sure what the differences are or how their child can benefit from a Montessori vs. traditional preschool education.

Choosing your child's "first" school can be a daunting task. But it doesn't have to be. When you understand the variations in educational philosophy and practical application, you can make an informed decision about what's best for your child.

Preschool vs. Montessori Overview

Montessori vs Preschool Education

 

Philosophies

Each preschool you encounter will have its own educational philosophy that guides everything they do, from the songs they sing to the worksheets they complete. But there are some basic differences between all Montessori programs and traditional preschools.

Montessori

A Montessori preschool's primary philosophy centers around the idea that a child's play is how they learn about the world around them. Each activity they participate in is carefully designed to use their experiences to teach concepts and ideas — everything from how to button a coat to how to count to 10. Even the way activities are arranged on the shelf is designed for learning purposes.

Montessori curriculums give children time and freedom to explore and master a concept. A Montessori school day is broken into two 2- to 3-hour stretches — one in the morning, one in the afternoon. These long blocks of uninterrupted time provide more time for learning and discovery. It allows children to learn at their own pace and in a self-directed manner.

Montessori also recognizes that children do not all learn in the same manner. So, lessons and activities are tailored to the needs of each child's developmental stage and academic abilities.

Preschool

In a traditional preschool setting, play is also an important business, but it is more likely to be spaced in between teacher-guided lessons about colors, letters and numbers. The belief here is that a well-structured classroom provides opportunities to introduce a variety of topics and concepts, making sure each child is exposed to them. This means that the learning pace is determined by the teacher and their plan for the day. For example, a traditional preschool may begin the day with students going in-between stations with blocks, dress-up clothes and toy cars. Then, the teacher will interrupt their creative play to bring the class together for storytime or a brief discussion about numbers.

Although preschools vary in the length of their days, instruction is more likely to be broken up into smaller fragments in order to "fit" everything into the day. There is also typically one lesson for the entire class. In some cases, teachers may break the students up to work with them in small groups or one-on-one, but this is a variation of the same lesson being taught to everyone.

Curriculum

A curriculum consists of the content and lessons your child will learn during their time in the classroom. Early childhood is a time of discovery, and children learn a lot during this time in their life. While the Montessori curriculum is similar to the preschool curriculum in terms of content, each school approaches the content differently.

Montessori

The Montessori curriculum focuses more on play than on work. It consists of five learning areas:

  • Math: Through hands-on activities and play, the Montessori preschool curriculum allows children to develop an understanding of abstract mathematical concepts at their own pace. When they're ready, they have opportunities to learn more advanced mathematical concepts such as matching numerals and counting.
  • Language: In a Montessori preschool, children grow their understanding of language as well as their vocabulary. The language curriculum in Montessori classrooms helps children develop skills in spoken language, reading and writing through letter identification, phonics and learning how to hold a pencil correctly.
  • Culture: The Montessori curriculum helps children understand the world, their community and their social responsibilities. Children learn about history, art, music, science, and geography in the Montessori classroom. By learning about culture, children learn how to respond to diversity with respect.
  • Sensorial learning: Montessori sensorial methods help children understand the world around them by assisting students in learning to refine and organize sensory information such as touch, smell, sound, sight and taste. Children explore their surroundings through play-based learning. They play with toys that have various colors, shapes and other characteristics to let them explore their senses.
  • Practical life: Montessori preschools help students develop practical life skills that they can use in their daily lives outside the classroom. The Montessori curriculum gives children fun learning opportunities to practice activities such as cleaning, transferring materials and food preparation. Learning these skills allows them to develop independence, concentration, grace, courtesy and fine motor skills.

Montessori classrooms focus their curriculum on individualized learning, encouraging students to learn at their own pace. The Montessori curriculum doesn't impose a restrictive structure or expect children to meet benchmarks by specific ages.

Preschool

The traditional preschool curriculum typically expects children to meet the same benchmarks at the same times. Preschool teachers often introduce the same concepts to all of the children at the same time rather than allowing each child to learn at their own pace.

Preschool curriculum content can vary significantly from school to school because they do not have to adhere to any specific standards. One preschool curriculum may focus on a religion-based subject matter while another focuses on school readiness skills.

Teaching Methods

A school's educational philosophy refers to its beliefs about how teachers should teach and how students should learn. It's teaching methods are the ways that day-to-day activities and lessons are taught. Teaching methods are one of the best ways to see how a school's educational philosophy plays out on a day-to-day basis.

Montessori

In an AMI-accredited Montessori school, the teacher guides the child to learn through their own exploration. A Montessori classroom provides specialized materials of varying levels of complexity to progress with the child. After a lesson, the child can explore the materials from different perspectives. Handling these materials allows the child to understand the core ideas of each lesson. Montessori materials facilitate self-education and self-correction as well as endless creativity.

Preschool

In traditional methods applied in schools and preschools, everyone learns the same thing at the same time. The teacher presents a lesson about the alphabet or a new number to the class as a group and then bases other lessons of the day and week around that introduction. A traditional preschool will typically offer hands-on ways for children to explore the concept, but the pace at which they can explore is set to incorporate the majority of children. While this isn't always a bad thing, it doesn't account for the fact that children — even those who are the same age — grow and develop at a different pace. Learning also tends to be based more on repetition and reward, rather than experience.

Environment

When considering the differences between Montessori and traditional preschools, you'll want to compare more than educational philosophies and teaching methods. Ultimately, one of your biggest considerations should be what kind of environment will aid in your child's learning and development. Where will they flourish?

Montessori

In a Montessori preschool, you will find a welcoming and warm classroom environment, but you won't see a lot of bright lights or colors. Rather, you'll find brightly lit spaces and stations stocked with child-friendly, hands-on materials. You'll also notice that there is a huge emphasis placed on the way the classroom is arranged. A Montessori environment has child-size furniture arranged in an organized manner that easily allows for exploration and creativity no matter what the children are doing. Activities are arranged neatly on shelves.

One thing you'll notice is missing from a Montessori classroom is clutter. Each item in the room has a purpose and a place. Children quickly learn both of these things and become invested in maintaining an organized environment for themselves and their peers.

One of the principles of a Montessori education states that multi-age classrooms provide greater opportunities for learning and growth. The reason for this is twofold. First, young children benefit from the guidance of older ones. Second, when older children are given the opportunity to teach the younger ones, they digest and retain the information better themselves.

This doesn't mean that you'll find a 3-year-old in the same classroom as a 10-year-old. However, you can expect to find rooms with children ranging from two to three years apart in age. For example, a preschool classroom will contain students ranging in age from 3 to 6.

Preschool

In a traditional preschool setting, you'll typically find children who are the same age. Depending on the school, they may have assigned seating or be expected to follow a rigid daily schedule going from one lesson or activity to the next. They also follow a pre-determined discipline/reward policy to regulate behavior. Although the design does vary by school, you're more likely to find classrooms painted with bright colors and pictures, as well as clutter and piles of toys around the room. A traditional preschool setting is also often noisier than its Montessori counterpart.

Perhaps one of the biggest trademarks of a traditional preschool class is that the pace of instruction is determined by the group, rather than the individual. Because they adhere to a relatively strict schedule, the class must continue to progress based on the successes of the majority of students. This means that the class spends more time together as a large group and also follows the same lesson, rather than splitting up to tackle a variety of lessons.

Age Groupings

An age grouping refers to what age groups are present in a single classroom. Age groupings differ between Montessori classrooms and traditional preschools.

Montessori

Teachers are only one example for children to learn from. The Montessori classroom includes mixed ages to allow children to learn from each other. Typical Montessori preschool classrooms include children between the ages of three and six. The Montessori philosophy focuses on how children can learn from their experiences, including the children they interact with.

In the Montessori classroom, a broader age group allows younger children to learn from their older peers. Older children have the chance to act as leaders for their younger classmates, which helps them build confidence and their sense of self. The Montessori classroom gives older students opportunities to reinforce the skills and concepts they're learning as they teach younger students through their interactions with them.

Montessori students learn social skills by building friendships and working through scenarios with their peers. A mixed age group exposes students to a wider variety of complex social interactions so they can learn how to communicate and work with others.

Preschool

Preschool classrooms typically enroll children of the same age. For example, a preschool may limit its enrollment to three-year-olds or a mix of three and four-year-olds. While a limited grouping allows children to interact with their own age group, it leaves no opportunities for younger students to learn from interacting with older children.

Class Size

Typical class sizes can differ between Montessori classrooms and other preschool classrooms. Class size refers to the number of children enrolled in a classroom.

Montessori

The Montessori class size is typically larger than other preschool programs.

While many people assume that small class sizes are ideal for preschool-age children, the Montessori method works best with larger class sizes. While Montessori teachers fulfill an important role, they primarily act as a guide, letting children learn more from each other than from the adults in the room.

Having more children in a classroom gives students more peers to interact with. A larger number of students also lets the children form groups with peers of their own age. The Montessori classroom typically strives to have approximately 28-35 children in a room, which helps students develop language skills and learn about being part of a community as they interact with each other.

Preschool

Preschool class sizes vary. Some preschools prefer to keep enrollment low to create small class sizes, while others maintain larger ones. Texas limits public preschool classrooms to 22 students or fewer per classroom based on the prekindergarten age group. However, Montessori classrooms thrive with a larger number of students due to their mix of age groups. By having both older and younger students in the classroom, the larger class benefits children.

Outcomes of a Montessori Toddler/Primary Education

Research into the effectiveness of Montessori methods is ongoing, but several studies show that children may benefit socially and cognitively from Montessori principles. A 2017 study comparing Montessori students and traditional school students between the ages of 3 and 6 found that students who were educated with the Montessori methods displayed "elevated outcomes" in several areas, including:

1. Social Cognition

Social cognition refers to the way that a person receives and stores information to be used again later. This study did find that the Montessori students appeared to develop social cognition at a more rapid pace than their traditional counterparts. In other words, Montessori students displayed significant elevated academic achievement levels in comparison to their traditional school peers over the three-year time span. One thing the researchers found, however, was that it took some time before this became obvious. Initially, students in the traditional and Montessori programs were tracked and shown to be on similar academic levels. But the longer the Montessori students stayed in the program, the bigger the academic achievement gap between the two groups became.

2. Interest in Academic Topics

Researchers in the study found that children enrolled in the Montessori curriculum were more likely to display positive feelings about school and academic activities than their traditional classroom peers. This didn't mean that they didn't like traditional childhood activities such as playing sports or watching television. However, Montessori children were more likely to express an interest in reading and other academic pursuits in addition to those other childhood activities.

3. Mastery Orientation

This term refers to a child's confidence in their ability to tackle a problem, such as a puzzle, and solve it. Children who were in the Montessori program were more likely to choose harder puzzles when offered a selection of options, and they also expressed more confidence in their ability to complete a complex puzzle. The researchers theorized that this might be, in part, because of Montessori's emphasis on personal satisfaction as the ultimate reward for a job well done, rather than the tangible reward system often used in a traditional classroom setting.

4. Naturally Learned Self-Discipline

Children naturally learn self-discipline in the Montessori classroom. While they have the freedom to choose their activities and how much time they spend on activities, they still have to follow specific rules. The teacher and other students help remind children of classroom rules, and the Montessori environment helps children develop self-control, motivation and concentration.

5. Creativity

The Montessori classroom fosters creativity because it allows students to choose their activities and broaden their view of the world. By enjoying the process of activities more than focusing on the end results, children can develop their creative thinking. Additionally, children are able to expand their understanding of the world around them by learning about various cultures.

6. Cooperative Play

The mixed ages and large group size in a Montessori classroom allow children to play, explore and work together. In this environment, children learn to share, be part of a community and respect one another. They develop the ability to play cooperatively with their peers.

 

How to Choose Between Montessori and Preschool: Questions to Ask

Once you have all of the information in front of you, then the question becomes, Which preschool is right for your child? While many parents believe school is a one-sized fits all opportunity, the truth is that each child has different strengths, different weaknesses and different ways of learning that should all be celebrated. The differences between Montessori and traditional preschool are many. However, the choice of which is best for a particular child doesn't always lie in educational philosophy alone. When trying to decide between a traditional preschool classroom and a Montessori classroom, ask yourself these four questions:

1. What Is the Purpose of Sending My Child to Preschool?

For some parents, the goal is to find childcare that also incorporates basic social and academic skills like counting, colors and sharing. This is a trademark of many traditional preschool classrooms. For other parents, preschool is a time for their child to identify and cultivate a love of learning and discovery that will carry them through their years of school. In other words, these parents view preschool as the precursor to years of academic success. This is where Montessori preschool comes in.

2. What Kind of Environment Will Benefit My Child?

Traditional preschool classrooms are often known for bright colors, decorations and the hustle and bustle of large groups of children at play. In a Montessori school, colors are more muted and natural light provides the "bright" atmosphere for children as they learn. In both cases, the play of children is their "work," but the traditional preschool emphasizes imaginary play as a means of learning and growth, while Montessori emphasizes playful activities that are also academic in nature, such as wooden alphabet blocks or learning to tie a shoe.

3. What Kind of School Do I Want My Child to Attend After Preschool?

The Montessori method of education is designed with the understanding that children will start by age 3 — or even sooner — and then progress through the program for several years. Although some schools will accept older students, Montessori schools typically discourage enrolling elementary school-aged students into their programs if they haven't participated in a Montessori preschool program first. This is because younger children who don't have other school experiences have an easier time adapting to the Montessori method of doing things.

On the other hand, a traditional preschool classroom is set up to mimic the traditional classrooms students will encounter throughout their academic career, regardless of the school they attend. Unlike Montessori, a traditional preschool is only equipped to teach children until they reach elementary school.

4. What Does My Child Need?

This last question encompasses your thoughts and feelings regarding the three previous questions. There are certainly pros and cons surrounding both types of programs, and it all boils down to your child. All accredited, reputable preschool programs share the goal of nurturing your child, preparing them for kindergarten and cultivating a love of learning. They are regulated by the state government and accountable to the standards it sets.

Each child has different gifts, different challenges and different learning processes. What stimulates and inspires one child may bore or confuse another. Although traditional education is designed with a one-size-fits-all mentality, there is no one-size-fits-all child. When you are trying to decide between Montessori or traditional preschool, stop and look around. Where do you think your child will thrive? And what will benefit them more as they grow? The answer to that question is, in the end, all you need.

 

Montessori School in Central Texas

Research shows that children who start their academic career in a Montessori preschool are set up for academic and personal success later on in life. They're intelligent, engaged, responsible and often display a zest for learning that outpaces their peers in other schools.

At the Sapientia Montessori School, our goal is to educate the whole child through close adherence to Montessori principles. Our classroom environments are designed to allow each child to thrive and relish the joy of learning. We firmly believe that a child's first school experience can establish their love of learning, so we make it our job to cultivate that from the first day they step into our preschool classroom.

Our multi-age programs are designed to address the unique academic and developmental needs of each child, and our highly experienced teachers are committed to helping each child succeed on their own terms, at their own pace.

Sapientia Montessori is recognized by the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and its local affiliate, AMI-USA. This accreditation means that we implement the authentic Montessori Method of Education and regularly meet a rigorous set of requirements and reviews.

Learn more about our programs today!

 


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