This question came up for me last week, when my 3 1/2 year old son noticed the sign outside his preschool and asked me what "Montessori" meant. This caught me little off-guard, but I explained that Montessori preschools and schools are named after a lady named Maria Montessori who had a lot of really good ideas about the things kids like to do and the ways they learn things and that his preschool follows these ideas. And I gave him a few concrete examples of typical Montessori activities he enjoys. He thought about this answer a little and then asked another question, "but what about other schools and preschools, the ones that aren't Montessori? What do kids do there?" I admit this one had me completely stumped. I ended up telling him something along the lines of it being a hard question to answer as non-Montessori preschools aren't all the same - in some the kids might play with dolls and dress ups most of the day, in some they might spend a nearly all of their time outside, in others they might do a lot of group activities where all the kids listen to the teacher at the same time. It felt like I was fudging it though and I would have loved to give him a better answer.
My husband and I chose Montessori because we think it's a great approach and I'd love to be able to communicate some of our reasons with my son. But I'm also very wary that I may be sending the message that non-Montessori schools are inferior... which is something I don't want to do. So it feels like treading quite a fine line.
Would love to hear any thoughts or experience you might have.