Montessori Schools?
November 9, 2004 6:58 AM   Subscribe

Montessori schools? We're looking into sending our toddler to a Montessori pre-school next year. Anybody have any experience with them? Most of what we've read is pro-Montessori but I'm looking for personal experiences from people who have sent their own kids or who have gone themselves. I realize our pre-school choices probably won't affect him when he's thirty but I would like to start him off on the right foot. [There is nothing more inside but your many helpful comments.]
posted by bondcliff to Education (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My niece is in one, and she's almost 2...she loves it, her parents love it, and it seems pretty neato to me.
posted by agregoli at 7:06 AM on November 9, 2004

I absolutely loved Montessori - I was only there for preschool, and I can still remember many aspects of it. I guess it just fit the way I work/think - I can remember dancing, drawing, playing with the bunnies, climbing, etc. Even though I can't have been more than four years old, I could remember the whole school so clearly that I had that fun experience of being totally shocked at how small everything actually was when visiting a few years ago. Making school a positive experience from the get-go is one of the better aspects of Montessori, I believe. I don't have any experience with Montessori schools above that level though.
posted by fionab at 7:21 AM on November 9, 2004

The only real criticism I have heard from friends with kids in Montessori schools concerns the lack of structure. Of course, many feel this to be their strength. Some kids seem to have a hard time controlling their behavior without a more structured environment and some kids seem to have a harder time adapting to the more structured environment of a public school after a few years in a Montessori school. Nevertheless, I think the right teacher in a Montessori school can provide sufficient structure for those kids who need it, without burdening those who do not. Also, I do not think most kids experience a difficult transition into public school.
posted by caddis at 7:22 AM on November 9, 2004

I really love my daughter's Montessori preschool. The mixed age groups seem to work very well -- the younger kids try hard to do things the older kids can do, and the older kids benefit from teaching the younger kids. I also like the emphasis on respect for and kindness to others.

That said, different schools have different levels of adherence to the Montessori philosophy, which can be very rigid and seems a little outdated at times. For example, some Montessori programs don't have centers for dramatic play (dress-up, etc.), and some are also very strict about how the materials may be used. So a kid might get corrected if they pretend the stacking blocks are trucks. We chose a program that is pretty laid back on those issues, but others might prefer a more traditional approach. Take a look at a few different schools and figure out which one would be best for your child.
posted by nixxon at 7:32 AM on November 9, 2004

I went to Montessori from pre-school through first grade. It was awesome. Like fionab, I still remember it fairly well, much more than subsequent years at public school.
posted by mkultra at 7:52 AM on November 9, 2004

We sent my son to Montessori school for pre-school. We would have continued him in the program through the sixth grade level, but my job changed and we moved several states to the right. There was no equivelant school or program where we landed.

My wife and I have nothing but good things to say about Montessori. My son did very well and it got him started with a good foundation for school in general. He was very much ahead of the kids in his kindergarten class. Many of them were older than him as well.
posted by rglasmann at 8:13 AM on November 9, 2004

I'm a rare one who was in Montessori pretty much exclusively until sixth grade (my elementary stint in public school was very positive, but my teacher had the same ideas about education that govern Montessori, so I don't count it as "real" public school), so my ideas about it are colored by the fact it wasn't just preschool for me.

I also went to Montessori schools across the country, and I would warn you that there is a LOT of difference from school to school, as has already been mentioned. I went to two different ones in California alone, one was definitely using the term for a front for a very unstructured, "unschool," while the other adhered to the regular Montessori principles. The following praise is restricted to those schools I felt were "properly" following Maria's ideals.

If you can find a good school, I found the best benefits to me of my Montessori education was the exposure to a lot of different learning styles and abilities. I wasn't expected to learn in any particular way or pace but my own, if I was great at reading they had the capacity and desire to accelerate me in that while still letting me take some more time with math as I needed. The focus on the individual as well as the group is enormously beneficial. I never felt singled out because I was reading at a higher level than my age group, because there were kids in higher "grades" in the same classroom as me. Teaching to and learning from your peers is one of the things I missed most about Montessori until I got to university. Age was just irrelevant.

Another note is that at the schools I went to, special education students had their aides but weren't separated from us. In second grade there was one boy who on reflection probably had some form of autism, but I didn't notice because he played with me on the playground as much as anyone else. I also had a good friend in sixth grade who had severe cerebral palsy, and he was integrated pretty fully into our class.

I didn't find either of these boys to be a distraction either, since Montessori doesn't hold "class" the way they do in public schools. There aren't any desks, just tables and chairs that anyone can use, and carpet squares to move around the floor. We had assignments to complete within a week or two (on our own or with a partner), and there would be designated times for our Spanish teacher to come in, or for working on projects with your book groups, but how and when and with who we did things was pretty open ended.

I just found that in Montessori, learning is celebrated, not demanded. We were allowed to find our own reasons for caring about what we were being taught, and it was taught to us in as many forms as possible until we grasped something. I learned to take a lot of personal pride and responsibility in my education, plus the assignments were always really interesting. I can remember a lot of detail about how I learned things, as well as what I learned. For example, with young children, math can be brought in very early because they use tactile, concrete tools like sandpaper covered numbers and strings of colored beads representing 1-9, and the 10, 20, etc up to the 100 cube (it was gold). I can remember using those beads to do my math work in 2nd grade, because I could use anything I liked in the classroom.

I think any exposure, especially at a young age, to the idea that learning can be fun and personally rewarding is fantastic. But I have a hard time deciding whether I would advocate keeping your child in Montessori for as long as I was there. It really does shoot you ahead of a lot of the kids in public school. I did ridiculously well in public middle school and my first years of high school, but I hated it. Literally hated the public school environment. I know I'm not any naturally "smarter" than my peers, I just knew better how best to acquire and own knowledge for myself, because I hadn't been expected to be like everybody else from the get go. I still loved the learning, but I suffered for not having close connections with my teachers, for being labeled the "nerd," for not being able to handle large classes, for generally not being in any way prepared for the competitiveness and pettiness of a lot of public school.

I was fortunate in that I had other options available to me for high school, something I sought out and asked for myself (my parents found out about it when I handed them the paper to sign), but know that while Montessori will greatly benefit your child and their desire to learn, it will also know it could make him/her "different" from the average.

Not that this is a bad thing!
posted by nelleish at 8:30 AM on November 9, 2004 [2 favorites]

I went to Montessori until fourth grade, and I echo most of what nelleish said, with the additional caveat that I didn't hate my public school, but that was because it was a "gifted" magnet school, so it was very different from the norm. And I would also agree that the lack of structure can be bad for certain kids; I myself still have a hard time with deadlines and systematic work, and that's probably traceable to Montessori. But if you're consistent about providing a sense of that elsewhere in a kid's life, then Montessori will probably be great.
posted by logovisual at 9:02 AM on November 9, 2004

I went to Montessori from ages two to four and had a wonderful experience, as did my three younger brothers. As a small kid, you aren't really thinking about things like "structured" or "unstructured", but I remember a lot of individual attention, lots of time with art and music and really enjoying the actual "learning" parts of things - reading, counting, etc. It definitely gave me a headstart over my peers when continuing on to kindergarten and grade school.
posted by judith at 9:09 AM on November 9, 2004

Another positive vote for Montessori: to this day, I'm continually surprised at the vivacity and frequency of memories from that time of my life.
posted by AmaAyeRrsOonN at 9:12 AM on November 9, 2004

All these opinions are from people who went through Montessori or have kids in the program. Let me give you the opinion as someone who was a teacher in a private grade school. Kids coming in from Montessori were behind academically compared to their classmates. Two of our first graders were demoted back to kindergarten. Not only were they behind academically, but they couldn't function within the structure of the classroom, which led to them having problems socially as well.

And the parents of Montessori kids were the biggest pains in the ass the staff ever came across. It was never a problem with their child, and they were always fast to blame the school and teacher for any failing.
posted by FunkyHelix at 9:32 AM on November 9, 2004 [1 favorite]

Our 3.5 year old has been going to a Montessori pre-school for 3 afternoons a week for about 6 weeks. She loves it, would go each day if possible, and I have noted a marked increase in her attention to numbers and letters (she can type/spell her own name already). Oh, and each day when I ask her what she did? She says painting. Apparently painting about numbers and letters...

We are very happy and are considering bank robbery so that she can continue in Montessori throughout her education. Even up here, north of the 49th parallel, public school doesn't sound so great compared to Montessori. So, in total, we are huge fans of Montessori.

On preview: Wow Funky Helix. Just wow. I have never heard anything like that.
posted by Richat at 9:50 AM on November 9, 2004

After a moment's reflection...FH: This private grade school, was it particularly structured, and also, did it have exceptionally high educational standards? Do you have any ideas as to why the Montessori kids struggled? Did they struggle as hard or harder than other kids from public grade schools?
posted by Richat at 9:54 AM on November 9, 2004

Wow Funky Helix. Just wow. I have never heard anything like that.

Most people don't ask teachers. They ask other parents. The kids that did the best came out of small, privately run day schools or pre-K programs run through the local churches. Kids out of franchise and concept schools always needed extra attention.

posted by FunkyHelix at 10:01 AM on November 9, 2004

Response by poster: That's interesting getting it from a teacher's perspective, FH. I appreciate the viewpoint, even though (or, especially because ...) it's contrary to everything else I've heard. Do you think they were actually behind in knowledge or did they just have a hard time fitting into your schools way of doing things?

Everyone else, this is great feedback. Keep it coming, please. I'd really like to hear from more teachers as well.
posted by bondcliff at 10:08 AM on November 9, 2004

It was a Roman Catholic parish school with a secular staff. Kids from the public schools were actually on par or advanced compared to our students. The school I taught at was no more structured than the average public school classroom, outside of the uniforms and mandatory prayer.
posted by FunkyHelix at 10:08 AM on November 9, 2004

No, they were behind in their knowledge. The two that were demoted were unable to read, had no grasp of phonics, and couldn't add simple numbers. Those that progressed with their class remained in remedial reading and math well into second grade. By second grade, everyone evened out.
posted by FunkyHelix at 10:11 AM on November 9, 2004

I have to go with FunkyHelix on this one. The vast majority of children attend public/private (non-Montessori) programs, whether pre-K or grade school. Most of these children do just fine. The number one factor in how kids perform in school is parental involvement with their kids and undertanding their needs. Their is nothing magical about Montessori and it costs a ton of money. Tread carefully with this one and learn as much as you can. Visit all programs and talk with the teachers. Plus, my sister hates it when I say "how did your kids do at Scientology today, um, I mean Montessori".
posted by repoman at 10:14 AM on November 9, 2004 [1 favorite]

As a Montessori attendee for my pre-1st Grade years, i'll tag to what FunkyHelix said with the following: Montessori is an amazing experience to make available to your child, but you should augment it with either/both a more structured extra-curricular lesson as well as keeping open additional reading/math support. Lacking that, both the student and the parent are in for some surprises from a more traditional first grade.

While i attended Montessori, i also enrolled in music lesson, just to get me into a more "rote-schedule" routine . Also, my particular school had excellent math support (i understood the concepts behind fractions and multiplying going into first grade), but i was behind in reading for a year before catching up to and exceeding the standards. However, Montessori exposed me to a lot of science and art that i probably would have missed out on in another setting, which definitely broadened my range of abilities heading into grade school.

In short - yes, for the experience, but only if you have the time/money to supplement it with preparations for subsequent traditional schooling. I would especially endorse it over almost any public-school form of kindergarten or below.
posted by krisis at 10:19 AM on November 9, 2004 [1 favorite]

I went to a Montessori school until 2nd grade and I was ahead of most of my peers afterward, but come to think of it, not everybody I went to school with wound up doing as well academically, so I don't know how much credit to give to the Montessori program exactly. One of my friends was held back after transferring to a private school, but that was because he was technically too young for his grade, not because of academics. He's currently working on his dissertation, so it seems he managed.
posted by furiousthought at 10:25 AM on November 9, 2004

Research on the transition to Elementary school shows that kids coming from Montessori programs do not have a higher rate of problems than kids coming from 'normal' preschools. That info comes from a friend who is a respected Early Childhood Education researcher (I can probably get her to send me the references -- if anyone wants them, send me an e-mail). The local 'academically-intense' private elementary school actually reserves admission slots for kids from my daughter's program, because they are generally very well prepared for 1st grade. But I'm sure there are some bad Montessori programs that don't prepare the kids for Elementary school, just like there are bad preschools of any flavor.
posted by nixxon at 10:27 AM on November 9, 2004

I think it's hard to generalize based on any of our experiences, especially since there are good schools and bad schools (and good teachers and bad teachers) regardless of your educational methodologies. In contrast to Funkyhelix's experience, I came out of Montessori and skipped kindergarten, going straight into first grade. While I was always younger than my classmates, I definitely had academic advantages - even at the more advanced grade level.
posted by judith at 10:45 AM on November 9, 2004

As a former educator I will STRONGLY second Funky's comments.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 11:43 AM on November 9, 2004

Just wanted to chime in as a kid who wasn't meant for Montessori. I tried it out at two different schools. The first school was very poorly run; the second was great but just not for me. I needed more structure and was rather at loose ends there. However, I was a plenty imaginative and smart kid, and did great at the Carden school where I eventually enrolled. I would just pay extra attention to how your kid reacts; I cried everyday before I was sent off and as I had never cried before other daycare, my mom was quick to remove me.
posted by dame at 12:04 PM on November 9, 2004

My son did Montessori for preschool and kindergarten, and then transfered to french-immersion grade one. He struggled the first week with the structure, but he is striving now. I have nothing but good things to say about his good experience, and as far as I am concerned, he came out better than he went in.
posted by Quartermass at 12:43 PM on November 9, 2004

I went to a Montessori preschool in Great Falls, Montana. I don't remember much about it, except bits here and there - the pink tower, the tunnel, the little brown bead structures we used to learn the ones column, the tens column, etc. I do think that they stressed phonics to learn reading though, because my mom tells a story of sitting with me in a doctor's office when I was 3 and hearing me "sound out" the phrase "Crest has stan-u-ous fluor-ide". I wish I'd had more of an opportunity to try alternative schools but we just moved around too much.
posted by bendy at 2:45 PM on November 9, 2004

I just pulled my son out of a Montessori school he went to from ages 2-4 for reasons only tangentially related to your question, but I can say this: I was absolutely in love with the concept/philosophy of Montessori, owing to a documentary on Montessori schools I saw when they were enjoying a resurgence during the 80's when I was in elementary school. I remember thinking that if I ever had a child I would want him or her to go to a Montessori school.

I was so in love with the concepts that I didn't pay enough attention to whether or not the school we chose actually adhered to them. By all accounts they appeared to, but in actuality they were extremely rigid. Collaboration between kids was discouraged in ways both subtle and overt. It was very "step out of line, the man come and take you away."

My son came home crying about "contracts" and it took me a week to figure out what was going on: the teachers made the kids sign contracts promising to learn certain things, and then rode their asses about it, accusing them of breaking their promises. My son's contracts included such things as tying his shoes, writing his name, and learning all the queer shapes (rhombus, octagon, et cetera). I thought this was a bit much considering he was three at the time and I knew these were not goals he chose--hell, these were not things he was interested in. Had it been something like learning all his dinosaurs or learning how to play a c scale on a piano (which he did on his own without intervention from anyone) it might have been okay, but this was somebody else's dream for him, and a lame, boring dream, if you ask me.

We pulled him because the school was being investigated by the state because of their policy of putting kids in the bathroom for time outs. Aaaaaand sometimes naps. Aaaand sometimes with the door forced shut and the lights off. We were the only parents who removed our child; the other parents--doctors, lawyers, and engineers all--supported the director.

Two months later, in a non-Montessori school that more closely resembles a Montessori school than did the actual Montessori school, he knows how to write his name and actually is beginning to express an interest in academic pursuits, which is new. All of a sudden he "just knows" his letters and numbers and shapes--I assume because they are not being forced upon him any more with a guilt trip. Toward the end, he didn't even like for me to read to him, a phenomenon I later figured out was due to their policy of putting him in the bathroom if he stood up or wiggled or spoke during story time.

In hindsight, we look dumb, I know, but at the time I really had no idea. :(

Anyway, a lot of that was very specific to our situation, but what I'm saying is: don't put a lot of bank into the name Montessori . . . I know this seems obvious, but make sure you are comfortable there and that they truly espouse the philosophy that makes the Montessori education so appealing to you now. In particular, don't be reluctant to make a change if things don't look right--even if there is no other Montessori school available.
posted by littlegreenlights at 2:50 PM on November 9, 2004

I went to very traditional Montessori schools from pre-kindergarten ("casa" in Montessori-speak) to grade six. I was well ahead of the curve in every standardized test I took.

That said, I feel pretty strongly that educational styles are not one size fits all, what suits some children doesn't suit others. All through my childhood education, I did much better in less-structured environments than in highly-structured ones, this is unlikely to be the case for everyone (although one could certainly make an argument that starting Montessori so early encouraged me to be a more independent learner).

I loved going to Montessori, and would definitely choose to send a child of mine to a Montessori school, as long as I could find one which adhered to the traditional Montessori style. Some schools which call themselves Montessori schools simply aren't truly Montessori schools, and I suspect that these may skew people's (and teachers') opinions about them.
posted by biscotti at 9:29 PM on November 9, 2004 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
So... um... Montessori worked out well.

Today I have the day off so I can attend his 8th grade graduation, his final year in a Montessori school he has attended since kindergarten. He went to a different preschool, which was also Montessori.

I don't think Montessori is for everyone. We knew from the start he was a different sort of kid and Montessori seemed like the right fit for him. It was. During his time there more than one of his classmates left to go to a public school, or a different, non-Montessori private school. Every kid is different.

I don't really know how to describe the teaching methods. Early on it was a lot of hands-on stuff, beads and blocks to do basic math, etc. No times tables. He really got a great understanding of math and science and he seems to be headed in that direction as he goes to high school. Getting into upper-elementary school and middle school, it became a bit more like a regular school with more structure.

I know the joke is that Montessori kids can do what they want, that they get graded in little Elvis stickers like Maeby Funke, but that's not the case. Things were very structured, they had to do what was expected of them, and as far as I can tell every kid is leaving with a well-rounded education, most of them ahead of where they'd be in a non-Montessori school. But, again, these are all kids for whom this sort of school is a good fit.

The teachers, faculty, and parents were all very dedicated. We found a great community in the school and have made many life-long friends. I have no idea how this specific school compares to others though.

While I often wonder how things would be different if we'd chosen another path, I have no regrets sending him to a Montessori school and I'd do it again if we had another child, which we won't, because hell no.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:54 AM on June 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

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