Montessori elementary classrooms are fundamentally different from traditional elementary school rooms. In fact, they are so different that it can be hard to understand how they work, and why they are so great at helping children thrive.
While it would be easy to write volumes about this topic (and some have: read Paula Polk Lillard’s book,Montessori Today, if you want a detailed description of the Montessori elementary classroom), here are five key differences, and how they matter to your child’s success.
Teachers are guides, not lecturers. They individualize instruction to keep each child optimally challenged. In traditional elementary education, much instruction happens at an all-class level; students generally move through the same curriculum at the same pace. This is more true now then ever, as mandatory standardized testing forces teachers to ensure that all students meet common minimum standards. This approach by definition fails to optimally challenge most of the students, most of the time: a child who is advanced in a subject will be bored; one who is behind will quickly become anxious and concerned about his shortcomings. Montessori is different. Most instruction happens in small groups: teachers observe students and bring together children who are ready for a particular lesson. After a lesson, each child has time to practice a skill or further explore an area, either alone or with freely chosen partners. Writes Lillard: “Because the children are in a period when they have immense energy and curiosity, the secret to maintaining their interest is to keep them challenged.”In a Montessori classroom, an advanced student will be challenged to perform at his best: it’s not unusual for a 3rd grade Montessori student to tackle what would typically be considered 5th grade math, for example. At the same time, a child who struggles can get the extra support he needs, without suffering the negative effect on his self-esteem that comes from needing remedial work in a traditional elementary school setting....