What is the difference between Montessori homeschooling and unschooling? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 04-26-2011, 07:44 AM - Thread Starter
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Hello everyone!
We intend on unschooling, but I was recently introduced to montessori schooling as well. The way it was described it sounds just like unschooling with a bit more structure. So my question is, what is the difference between unschooling and Montessori homeschooling? Are they quite similar?

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#2 of 6 Old 04-26-2011, 08:57 AM
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I think they are very different philosophically. In Montessori schooling the environment is carefully prepared with an educational agenda in mind, and while the child is given a range of choices to work at, the choices are offered by adults and there is a carefully considered sequence of options available. Montessori also tends to use a lot of materials that give educational experiences that are preparation for things that might be encountered later in real life. So simplistically speaking the causal directionality goes like this: parent decides what is important to learn >> parent prepares suitable learning environment to promote that learning >> child makes choices within that environment.


With unschooling the environment is simply real life: family and community and interests and opportunities as they arise. The child's choices spring from real life, rather than being preparation for it. Sure, if the parent thinks the child would be interested or enriched by a particular type of learning she might offer the child opportunities, but those opportunities are simply strewn into an otherwise open-ended environment in which the child is the orchestrator of the learning. Natural daily life presents open-ended learning opportunities >> child decides what is important to learn >> parent supports and facilitates as needed. 


Of course on a day-to-day basis, particularly with young children, there may be a lot of resemblance between what's actually going on in a Montessori home vs. and unschooling home. Two 4-year-olds may both be stirring buttermilk into muffin batter, or watering a windowsill herb garden, or playing with playdough. But the presence of a particular parental educational agenda in the Montessori home creates a subtly different dynamic, and is motivated by a very different philosophy.



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#3 of 6 Old 04-26-2011, 09:27 AM
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They are very different in practice.


Yes, in Montessori a child does get to choose what they do.  This is the same as unschooling.  However, the choice is contained with narrowly defined parameters and those parameters are removed in unschooling. 


In true Montessori a child is not allowed to "play" unless they have been shown/taught how to use the "toy."  They must progress in defined steps in order to use certain toys.  For example - they will not be allowed to pour a water pitcher until they have poured rice out of a pitcher.  The choice comes in that they have to show interest in the pitchers to use it. 


A Montessori child may be in a room full of toys and probably wouldn't be allowed to use them.  An unschooled child in a room full of toys would have full access. 


Also, new information will be presented to an unschooled child in anyway that works for that child.  New information is always presented to a Montessori child in a given predetermined way which I believe is by showing. 


This is my view of Montessori though so it is very biased.  I started out Montessori and quickly changed since it really didn't work for our family. 


In reality, I think educational philosophies can be melded and meshed to fit your needs no matter how opposite they seem.  Many people think Waldorf and Unschooling are very opposite and yet here I am, one of many "waldorf-inspired unschoolers."

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#4 of 6 Old 04-26-2011, 08:07 PM
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i think those posts explain it very well.  They are really VERY different philosophies, although you may at times see kids doing similar things in each method.  I find that i really like some of the montessori materials, and i do sterw then into our unschooling.  The math manipulatives, for example, i think are great.  

But yes...at the core, although the M child is given some freedom to choose - it is within a HIGHLY structured framework.  And there is a lot of emphasis on doing things "the way you are supposed to" as opposed to free exploration...so for example, using the math manipulatives to build a house for the lego people would be frowned upon lol.  

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#5 of 6 Old 04-27-2011, 07:55 AM
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Originally Posted by beezer75 View Post


A Montessori child may be in a room full of toys and probably wouldn't be allowed to use them.  An unschooled child in a room full of toys would have full access. 


Not exactly. In a Montessori homeschooling situation, the parent wouldn't put out anything the child wasn't allowed to use.


As for the school environment, where there are children at different levels so a child might not be ready for every work that is out, in a good school exploration of all works is expected. Priority for using a work goes to the children who are ready for the work, but any child should be able to interact with any of the works to the extent they can do so without breaking them. The teachers use the children's interest in various works to indicate what works to introduce to help the child get to where they can use the works that they are drawn to. Also, when a new work is introduced to the child, the child should already be familiar with it from seeing it on the shelf and exploring it. E.g. by the time a child gets a 3-part lesson in the solid shapes, they should've already handled the shapes.


Part of the frowning on using works for other than their intended purpose is that the works are for a purpose and other children can't use them for that if a child is engaged in playing with them. Whereas, if one child is actually doing the work, another child who wants to do the same work can come and observe or come and join in. (Yes, collaborative work is okay. At the elementary levels and higher it is expected.)


There's quite a range of how Montessori schools handle things, but a parent doing Montessori-homeschooling can stick closer to Maria's guidelines and, for instance, let their child push over the pink tower to enjoy the thumps of the blocks.


Back on topic: Montessori<>unschooling, but look through Montessori activities for fun things to see if your kids want to do. They may have incidental educational value (cue ominous music), but as an unschooling parent you don't have to make a thing of that.

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#6 of 6 Old 04-27-2011, 08:31 AM
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Yeah.  A small oversight on my part not differentiating homeschool and school.  Details...details..... :) 


I personally take inspiration from Montessori "practical life" which I think is where Montessori and unschooling have the greatest similarities, especially for the youngsters.   I'm all for helping the young children learn to do it themselves and giving them the proper sized tools to do so.  Despite my feelings about Montessori (mine alone), the For Small Hands catalog is big around here.  I find it empowers young children to do it themselves.  In the practical life aspect Montessori bears some resemblance to Waldorf and to just living with young children and teaching them about life (unschooling).  But in those three philosophies it all boils down to how it is presented to the young child and the structure provided. 

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