Many people are critical of the traditional public school system in the United States. Public schools have definitely had their share of problems, and it has lead many to look into alternative education options for their children. One of the options that some are embracing is the Montessori curriculum.
The Montessori educational system is named after its founder, Maria Montessori, who was born in 1870 and who was the first female physician in Italy. Her medical career focused mostly on pediatrics and psychology, and she was a practicing physician, not a teacher, at the University of Rome. Still, she was considered a leader in the field of early childhood education and mentored various other experts in child psychology and education including Anna Freud, Jean Paget, and Erik Erikson.
Dr. Montessori believed that children have a natural inclination to learn, and through her research she found that when children were put in a setting with their peers where learning opportunities were available, they learned everything from reading and writing to botany without official lessons. While some children begin Montessori education as young as 18 months, the most common starting place is at 3 years of age. Children are grouped in wider age spans, typically 3-6, 7-9, and 10-12. Some Montessori high schools are also available, but they are less widespread.
The lessons learned are discovered more than they are taught, and include not only academic subjects but emphasize keeping things in order, respecting one another, and allow children a better opportunity to learn from, and teach one another.
While the Montessori curriculum originated in the late 19th century, many consider it a modern approach to education. Each child is given an individualized plan for their education, so they are not rushed to learn something they are not ready to learn, nor do they have to wait for their peers to catch up before they can move forward. Since children are given choices in their education, they learn to pursue their own interests. The children learn to learn for learning’s sake, to find their own order, and respect their surroundings.
Because it focuses on children learning at their own pace, many see Montessori education not only for children in the middle of the learning curve, but also for those who are either gifted or have developmental delays. Students also retain the same teacher for three years, which allows for teachers to know the students well and address any concerns that may arise.
While Montessori education is effective in many ways for many children, the method has had its share of criticism. Formal testing does not exist in the early stages, and many worry that the lack of structure will put a child at a disadvantage. Another concern is with the cost of Montessori education. Most Montessori schools are private, and often when parents do enroll their children during their early years they are not able to keep up with the program.
Some children may have difficulty making the transition between Montessori school and a traditional classroom. The culture is different in the regular classroom, and there is less freedom to move around. Children are expected to listen to the teacher above all others, and at times the inquisitive nature that is encouraged in the Montessori system can be seen as disruptive or challenging to some traditional teachers. The pacing can also be an initial problem because a child might be way behind in one area, and way ahead in another.
Since 2010 there has been an overall initiative to develop more comprehensive educational standards for children across the country. Forty five states so far have embraced the standards suggested in order to prepare a child for a productive college or work experience. While the majority of schools are private, more publicly funded charter schools are being designed with a Montessori like format. With the stringency of standardized testing, and the free structure of Montessori schools, some are concerned that children may have trouble meeting the standards as they should.
Montessori schools are working toward providing guidance to students by leading them to learn what they need to know to meet Kindergarten standards during their 3-6 year phase. Third grade standards are expected by the time they are through with the 7-9 year time period, and 6th grade standards are expected by the time a child turns 12.
But the Common Core State Standards asks for more than the knowledge to subjects such as English, mathematics, or science. It is just as important for a child to learn to demonstrate independence, develop knowledge in many different areas, be adaptive in their communication skills as to respond appropriately to various situations and relate to various perspectives and cultures. They should also develop critical thinking skills and know how to utilize technology and digital media for research and problem solving. All of these are areas that are stressed within the Montessori curriculum.