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What is the advantage of Montessori?

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
My dd is 3 so I have awhile to ponder this. Just wondering what is so great about Montessori schools? They seem popular and expensive(!) and everyone seems to think they are wonderful for children to attend.

There is a Montessori school in my area that turns into a charter school for K and up. Dh and would be willing to pay the $400/mo. her last year of preschool to get her into the charter school if there is some great advantage to it vs. public schools. I would have to get a p/t job but it is worth it if she's going to get some great advantage in life or her learning. I have some vague concept that they are structured but free at the same time.

My dd craves structure and gets a bit undone if she's not guided from one activity to another. Within the activities she's allowed a lot of freedom and can be very creative. For example finding many uses for an object. The other day she had some chopsticks and started laying them on the floor to create different shapes and letters.

So can someone clue me in on why it would be to her advantage to attend Montessori? Why are they so popular and expensive?

post #2 of 15
My ds goes to a Montessori preschool and we love it, but we didn't send him there because it was a Montessori per se. We chose it because I like the way the teachers deal with conflict resolution, it's small and friendly, they start each day with singing, the kids have the freedom to choose their activities and learn to invite others to work with them. Now, what aspects of all that are Montessori, I don't know. I don't know much about Montessori education, to tell you the truth!

Just as Waldorf schools can be wildly different, and you'd always have to check out the individual school no matter what you might read about the "philosophy", I think it's the same with Montessori. I'd say, visit, talk to the teachers, see what it's like, and evaluate whether this particular school - not so much the Montessori method - would be right for your dd.
post #3 of 15
My daughter has gone to a montessori school for the last three years (preschool and kindergarten). I would have to say the biggest advantage is the respect and understanding she is treated with. Montessori's usually use gentle discipline, as opposed to punitive forms of discipline. My daughter can be challenging sometimes, and her behaviors have always been responded to in a kind, gentle, encouraging way. There is a big focus on community service, and giving back/helping others. The older students do multiple community service projects over the year. Also, I love the strong multi-cultural focus on the program. She is in such a wonderfully diverse class, and they really take advantage of that. In December, parents will come in and describe how they celebrate different holidays. They learn about each continent, and several of the countries in each continent. The parents of the other children have come in and showed pictures of their homelands, cooked ethnic foods to try, brought in indian saris and bangles so the children could dress up, I could go on and on. And I love the child-led learning philosophy...each child is allowed to progress at their own pace. I have found that this has been very important with my daughter. She has very different ability levels...she reads fluently, but up to a few weeks ago, completely refused to even try writing. They were wonderful with these different levels....providing work at her own level in reading, and just giving her time to develop an interest in writing. In a public school kindergarten, the refusing to write would have become a huge issue. Also, because of the way they teach (using many manipulatives, following the childs abilities and interests, etc), it seems that the academics are more advanced than at regular schools.

The disadvantages I have seen are that it is a very academic based program. Dd is highly imaginative, and she does not seem to have an outlet for her imagination at school. It is a great program, but I am not sure that it would be the best program for dd in the long-term. Also, our school becomes outrageously expensive when you shift to the full-day program (over $8000). This is much too expensive for me and many other families. So while her class is very diverse culturally, it is not at all diverse socio-economically. It also has an "elitist" feeling at times, which I *really* dislike. But since your school is a charter school, these last disadvantages probably due to apply.
post #4 of 15
I'm also considering Montessori for dd, but probably not preschool. By child-led learning, does that mean the children can pick which subjects they would like to learn and opt out of those they are not interested in, like at a democratic school? If so, is there a grade at which this freedom ends?

The school here claims to offer financial assistance to families, which would be great since I don't anticipate that we will ever have that kind of money, but I wonder if it's hard to get because if it were easy, everyone would ask for it and then the school could not run. Does anyone know about this?
post #5 of 15
Montessori is not a democratic school, but young children are allowed to choose"work" (activities) that interest them. It doesn't mean they get to opt out of a subject altogether.
post #6 of 15

Something Weird Going on in that Montessori School


post #7 of 15
That article is a riot!!!
post #8 of 15
Greaseball, to answer your question about financial aid....
each school is different and has a different method of distributing financial aid. I would call your local school, and inquire how they run their program. I really dislike our school's method of financial aid, and think it could be distributed much more fairly. At our school, there is a financial aid pool obtained through a fancy dinner and auction event. You have to be an existing student to apply (which eliminates many families who cannot afford to completely pay for that first year all by themselves). Then, the students who received financial aid the previous years receive the same amount (as long as their finanicial situation has not changed drastically), then they award the remainder of the aid to families from the eighth grade down to the lower grades. So there is not very much left by the time they get to kindergarten. So you might have middle-class familes with older children receiving several thousands of dollars in aid (through the renewal system), and a family with a kindergartner or preschooler getting nothing, for the aid has run out (even though this family makes 1/3 of the income of the first family). I understand the principle (allowing older students to continue through to the end of the program, and guaranteeing families that they will continue to be able to afford a montessori education over the years), but it really prevents lower income families from participating in the schools. But your school might do it completely different so I am not sure if this is even helpful!
post #9 of 15
A lot of schools just have a scholarship fund that people can contribute to, but if the fund is empty, the family has to wait for it to fill up again. So it's not like a "sliding scale" at all. The waldorf school in town had a fundraiser - people could go to a certain dentist and pay $100 for a tooth whitening, and all profits from that day would go to the waldorf scholarship fund.

I think other schools just require a lot of volunteering from the parents, but from what I hear, even the parents who pay full cost do a lot of volunteering.

I guess I'll just have to look into it when dd is older.
post #10 of 15
: greaseball, thanks for that link!
post #11 of 15
My son is towards the end of his first year at Montessori. He started at about 21 months, IIRC.

I am not sure that I can give you a very technical answer as to why it is "better," but I can share my experience. I went to Montessori in the early 80s (as did my two siblings). We L O V E D it. Unfortunately, the program went only through Kindergarten age. All three of us have very fond memories of this time and loved the experience. Of course, first grade was a major let down after that! :LOL

Naturally, I wanted the same experience for my kids as well, so I began researching before we made a big move (from MA to FL). It was then I realized that we were moving to where the Montessori Foundation was headquarted! So there is a GREAT school just 10 minutes away from us. There is also a charter school (ie. FREE!) farther away (30 mins) that takes 3 year olds that don't wear diapers.

The cost is a bit hard to swallow at times - $8,500 for full day toddlers thru primary (this school goes through HS). My daughter is starting there in the fall too (about 22 months then), so that will be a big pill. But honestly, I cannot imagine them anywhere else. We actually toured a couple of schools that start at 2 years old and OMG, what a train wreck! Bratty toddlers fighting over playdough, whining, ugh. It was so bad - and these were schools winning "top honors" and charging a pretty penny as well (just not as much as our current school). We needed no convincing that we had to stick where we were.

One of the BIGGEST things that Montessori has taught our son s respect. Respect for everything and everyone. He was (is?) a VERY spiritied child. Walking at 8 months old and never stopping after that. Very strong willed and a bit wild. We believe VERY much in gentle discipline and treating our children with the same respoect that we treat each other (ie. we don't yell at each other, so we don't yell at our kids either). Montessori reinforces these same ideas. I love that he is with 18 month olds to 3+ year olds because they all learn from each other and teach each other things. AJ has thrived there. They teach them life things - like how to set the table (each child must bring a placemat, napkin and silverware for lunch so they can set the table beforehand), sweeping, planting and growing, folding of lanudry, etc. AJ always requests his placemet and napkin for his lap at dinner - he loves the structure of it. He is always thinking of others before himself (at 2.5 years old!). He has a sister 11 months his junior, and if he gets a snack, he ALWAYS makes sure Gracie has one first. He initiates taking turns (makes sure to tell everyone when it is AJ's turn and then tells everyone it is Gracie's turn, etc.). He listens VERY carefully to requests from us and instruction on how to do things. He is incredibly focused and has intense concentration when working on things. Just the other day, his teacher mentioned that AJ took HER trash from lunch and threw it away when she was done - even when he didn't have any of his own. She was floored! They model such compassion and the kids pick that up so well. I love that he has other adult figures in his life that model and reinforce the behavior that we do. It makes our parenting enjoyable since we are not at war with him! I can't wait for our little girl to start too - although I can already see him rubbing off on her.

As far as why it is so expensive...we wondered that too. AJ's class has 9 toddlers and 2 teachers. If they all pay $8,500, that is $76,500 in a year. Let's assume that 1 child pays half tuition because of financial aide - so that is $72,275. I have no clue what the teachers make, but one is a ten year verteran there (been teaching Montessori even longer). Let's say they make 55,000 and 35,000 a piece (and I would like to think that is a LOW estimate). That right there is more that our classroom pays in. Even if you don't assume one child gets assistance. So really, I am paying for a small class size and therefore a higher level of devotion from the teacher (among many other things). I cannot even compare the choas that we saw at the other schools we looked at to his classroom. The Montessori classroom is tranquil and organized. Everything is in its place. All lessons are laid out on shelves and replaced properly by the students. Of course, they are kids and act as such, but there is just something amazing about the sense of calm around them.

For AJ's second birthday, we had his entire class to Gymboree Play and Music. All three teachers separately stopped me at the end to ask where these kids went to school. They said they were the best behaved, best listening group of kids they had ever led there. They attributed this all to their school. I have to agree - there is just something about Montessori kids.

Sorry for the novel...I could go on and on too! If you have any other questions, please let me know!

post #12 of 15
Actually, one question I've always had is why a lot of the schools don't go beyond 8th grade.

Also, do they give letter grades?
post #13 of 15
Hmmm, interesting questions!

Honestly, I think a lot of parents do not understand Montessori and have misguided views about what it is. Many concerns are expressed in a couple threads right in this forum. Given this, I think there is not a huge "demand" for higher than 8th grade (if that makes sense...). I know that our school goes through 12th grade, but those classes are small - but growing every year.

This is from an article about elementary eduction in Montessori:

In addition to the obvious concerns that arise for many parents because the elementary Montessori approach sounds so different from what we experienced as children, there is the other issue with which we began. Sometimes, elementary programs get started because a group of enthusiastic parents and teachers have not realistically understood what it takes to make the classical elementary Montessori model work.

Montessori elementary programs require a substantial investment in Montessori apparatus and supporting educational materials. A fully equipped classroom can easily cost more than $40,000 in the first year of operation.

Secondly, the program is complex and intellectually challenging, and an elementary Montessori classroom should be led by an extraordinary teacher; a multi-talented Renaissance man or woman. Obviously, world-class teachers do not come cheap, and top-notch experienced elementary Montessori teachers are in short supply.

Finally, a stable elementary class seems to depend on a group of children who have grown up in Montessori, but often over the years, as children leave Montessori for other programs, Montessori schools will admit new students transferring in from more traditional schools. Sometimes these children work in very nicely, but they may also bring with them attitudes and behavior completely different from those we attempt to foster in Montessori programs. Children who find it difficult to work independently, who have lost their spark of curiosity, often see adults as potential adversaries and hard work as something to be avoid. The introduction of "cool" behavior, teasing, social competition, cliques, and "put-downs" can wreck havoc among a group of children who have grown up "Montessori."
The bottom line is that it takes real commitment to quality and a significant financial investment to create a topnotch elementary Montessori program.
And this touches on the grades thing:

Homework, tests of students' knowledge of classroom subject matter, and report cards are three issues that often stir up a lot of controversy in Montessori elementary school programs. Without getting into a long discussion on the merits of these issues, other than to point out that there are ways in which these activities can take place without promoting competition among students, I think we can agree that they at least serve as three additional ways to ensure accountability.
Standardized testing, another hot issue among some Montessori schools, is an additional opportunity to provide benchmarks of accountability not only for the individual but for the entire school community.

As parents, we would love to believe that our children learn because they love to learn. This is certainly the ideal, but not always the reality. Regardless of the motivation behind the learning, by the time children reach the elementary years, they need to know that they will be held accountable for information that they must learn, and schools need to be held accountable to parents to assure them that their children are learning what they need to learn.

If you have a child that is enrolled in an elementary Montessori program that does not test, assign homework, or grade, this does not mean that the school is wrong. It may be following a model that this particular school community endorses. However, it is then up to you as a parent to assess your level of comfort with this situation and decide if you are satisfied that your child's academic growth meets your expectations.

So it looks like it varies from school to school. My son actually gets a "report card." It lists basic skills (for toddlers) - things like remembering, listening, helping others, etc. and they are "graded" based on where they fall among their peers and how they have improved. I am assuming that the older kids get report cards as well. But some schools may not.

Our school also does standardized testing just like the other students in public and private school. They are a college prep school, and tests are a part of life.

I would be interested to hear other experiences with this!

post #14 of 15
Lots of good info here!

My son has been in a Montessori environment since 1st grade. He is now in Middle School. (How did that happen so fast?!) I think it has been the perfect place for him. I love the child-led study, the self-correcting learning tools, the non-competitive and respectful atmosphere and the multi-age classrooms.

As a 7th grader my son is kind, thoughtful and respectful, is confident, knows how to research for information, is good at prioritizing tasks, can patiently explain a concept to someone else, can find creative solutions to a challenge, is accepting of others' differences, appreciates diversity, is a good critical thinker and generally enjoys school and learning.

Could he have turned out so great after public school? Of course. But I know that much of what he has become can be attributed to what he's done in his Montessori classroom.

To the OP--spend some time in the classroom that would be your dd's. There is both structure and freedom in a Montessori class. The students get to choose their work, but the facilitation of the teacher ensures that no work gets neglected. By observing a class, you'll get a feel for whether or not your dd would thrive in this environment.
post #15 of 15
Oh, and we do have some testing. It's a charter school, so we have all the standardized stuff. They do spelling tests. As the kids get older, they do more tests to determine mastery of a subject. No letter grades, ever.
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