Montessori approach to teaching / learning involves strategies that seek to develop the whole child. What are the Montessori strategies and how to they work? What are the criticisms, and which of those are valid? This paper reviews and critiques those strategies and evaluations of Montessori, based on the available literature.
According to the Montessori website the strategy in the Montessori classroom is to place the children not by grades but rather by age. So, children ages 2 and 3 years are in one group, children ages 3 through 6 are in another group and children ages 6 through 12 are in yet another group. Why group the children by age? This tactic helps children "…develop social skills," it challenges them to "learn" and to "work together" and because directresses and directors carefully observe the activities and guide the children so the students may develop "at their own pace" (Montessori.com).
During the time when the "basics" are being taught to the children, teachers encourage the children to "…explore other styles of learning and expression" which include the following creative endeavors in the classroom: musical activities, spatial, "body-kinesthetic…interpersonal, intrapersonal and intuitive" (Montessori.com). In Montessori schools there are no grades, per se, as in other traditional schools. But certainly teachers do keep records and carefully observe the progress of students to get the most out of the children's experiences.
The development of self-esteem, and self-confidence in each child is part of the approach to develop the whole child that Montessori prides itself on. The Montessori strategy is to help a child grow in a way that he or she can learn to solve problems and approach questions with the confidence that helps him or her find answers.
The idea of developing the whole child is based on the theory that Dr. Maria Montessori developed early in the 20th century: preparing a child academically is just part of the task of enlightened schools because the child also needs social and emotional development. The whole child approach incorporates more than traditional private or public schools. To wit, the Montessori approach emphasizes the following: a) "cognitive and social development" rather than just social development; b) teachers who are "unobtrusive" as opposed to teachers that are controllers; c) the Montessori environment encourages self-discipline while in traditional classrooms teachers enforce discipline; d) individual instruction rather than group and individual instruction; e) groups of students of various ages vs. same age grouping; f) students help to teach each other rather than the teacher doing all the instructing; g) children have the option of choosing what projects they work on; h) the pace of learning is up to the child; i) students learn "self-care" (polishing shoes, cleaning up, etc.); and j) children find their own errors on their work rather than teachers showing children their mistakes (Montessori.com).
Writing in the peer-reviewed journal Curriculum Inquiry, Jacqueline Cossentino reports on the in-depth investigation she conducted into how Montessori approaches the education of children. Cossentino's work was done with an eye toward comparing Montessori to traditional educational experiences. Cossentino reviews the various criticisms that the Montessori approach has received from traditional educators, criticisms that include an attack on the "work" concept in Montessori. In traditional educational settings, "work" means preparing the child for a financially productive adult future -- something very young children should not be engaged with -- but in Montessori "work" simply means allowing a child to choose his or her own projects.
In Montessori, work equates with "desire" to create something meaningful. But critics insisted that the emphasis for very young children should be on "the play spirit" which is "the purest, most spiritual activity of man at this stage" of childhood (Cossentino, 2006, p. 66). But Maria Montessori pushed back against those criticisms, saying that "work" in the Montessori method is really about "development" which is "…both natural and effortful" (66). Moreover, Maria Montessori pointed out, "work…serves as the bridge between development and pedagogy" for the child and in the Montessori approach pedagogy offers the "proper design of an environment within which to work as well as the protection of the child's concentration once work is underway" (Cossentino, 66).
Work, in the Montessori school, helps the child become whole because it is both "the path to and the manifestation of a particular conception of 'goodness'" (Cossentino, 68). The real value of work in a Montessori environment is that the child, not the teacher, directs what work will be achieved, and in fact because the child makes those decisions it helps to "set free" the child's emerging personality (Cossentino, 68).
Cossentino -- whose son attended a Montessori school, stimulating her interest in the Montessori concept of "work" -- explains that "Joyful work, freely chosen," links the development of the young person with that child's "social progress" (69). In a Montessori school the concept of work embraces development of the moral, spiritual, intellectual and social world for the child, the author continues. On page 87 Cossentino takes a swipe at "No Child Left Behind" in the sense that schools obsessed with "test scores" offer very little in the way of the "goodness" that a child should experience during the educational experience. Because most traditional schools are "narrowly focused on productivity" and test results -- and less interested in developing the whole child with a holistic worldview -- Cossentino believes future educational reform should be centered around the Montessori model (88).
An educational research study conducted in Turkey -- involving 25 five and six-year-old Montessori students and 25 non-Montessori children of the same age in a control group -- reflected the fact that the Montessori Method makes what the authors called "…positive contributions to preschool children's readiness to primary school" (Kayili, et al., 2011, p. 2104). Moreover, the researchers determined after a full school year of evaluating the Montessori children's progress compared with the control group's progress that the Montessori Method "…is more efficient than current preschool education program[s]" (Kayili, 2104).
The authors were impressed with the physical elements found in a Montessori classroom (furniture that is "suitable to child's height" and cupboards with hangers and locks that little children can easily reach and "soaps that fit to their hands") and they noted that the Montessori Method increases the reading maturity of the child as well as the "…numeric maturity," the "social skill level," and the ability of the child to develop "concentration" skills (Kayili, 2107). Learning to concentrate is important because in a child's life there are many distractions that can interrupt a positive learning endeavor (Kayili, 2107).
On page 2108 the authors were also awed by the fact that the Montessori materials were designed to allow children to "find and correct their mistakes"; this is accomplished because with each "work" assignment, there is usually just one major problem to be solved. Allowing children to find and correct their own mistakes -- rather than having a teacher hand them back their papers with corrections already made -- aids in a child's ability to "gather more attention on the subject" and also to learn to concentrate on specific tasks in order to succeed in finding solutions (Kayili, 2108).
Meanwhile, for those critics that assert that children involved in the Montessori Method learn all about work with little or no creative fantasy and play, Cathleen Soundy presents a peer-reviewed article in the Early Childhood Education Journal that sets the record straight. In truth, Soundy points out that only recently has the Montessori Method opened up the opportunity for imaginative play. Notwithstanding the fact that play is thought to be an "immediate and natural tool for generating and expressing ideas" it has not been "supported or encouraged sufficiently in Montessori settings" (Soundy, 2009, 381). The hitherto dearth of playfulness and fantasy modes as part of the Montessori experienced has caused some scholars to…