Did you go to a Montessori school?
April 3, 2015 6:52 PM   Subscribe

There's lots written on ask about putting kids into Montessori, but I'm curious about the grown-ups who experienced it themselves. We are thinking to enroll our daughter in a Montessori program, but it's hard to evaluate what's best in general, let alone specifically. If you grew up in a Montessori school, would you say it was a positive experience? Did it feel like it prepared you for the world, or sheltered you from it, or neither of those? Just curious what kinds of adults Montessori kids grow up into, and what you attribute to that experience.

Knowing this is profoundly unscientific, just so curious to hear what it was like, looking back as adults.
posted by cloudscratcher to Education (22 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
There are two different types of Montessori school; there's an American tradition and European tradition. I'd have to look over my records to be sure that I was getting this right but our kid went to two. The European/international one focused more on art and was much gentler and easy-going, and the American one was dogmatic, rigid, and 'wire mother'.

There's a question about this in my AskMe history if you're interested and if you're interested I'll dig through my email to determine the two traditions and make sure I'm identifying them correctly but it's important to understand what's required to label oneself "Montessori" and that there are distinct traditions and also that there aren't laws surrounding this.

I understand that you're asking about adults so I can't ask my six year old to help you here, but I know she loved the arty/European one and hated the wire mother one.

She was right, too, when I realized how bad her second Montessori school was I cried for like a month. We'd signed a contract. Those people hated* kids. Surprise! I didn't know that was a possibility. We had toured the school and everything, and we're in a super progressive area. I worked hard to make sure she was in that school, and they were a bag of dicks.

The first Montessori school I still have affectionate remembrances of and hold them in very high regard. I guess I'm saying be careful about how you use the word 'Montessori'.

*I'll say hate and distinterest are the same thing when you're talking about kids.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:06 PM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I went to Montessori preschool. This was in the US. I used to cry at regular preschool everyday and so my mom put me in a Montessori pre-K and I didn't cry or have separation anxiety or anything at all anymore.

The teachers were very sweet to me and never yelled at me. My memory from the regular preschool was that there was a mean lady there and I think they probably weren't as well trained as the Montessori teachers.
posted by discopolo at 7:08 PM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I went to a Montessori school until 5th grade. Based on A Terrible Llama's description, I guess it was based on the European tradition.


1. The kids who went there were very sheltered, kept away from the mean memes that percolate through other school systems. I always hated when kids would start going to regular schools part time because they inevitably seemed to become meaner.

2. I can learn pretty much *anything* -- I feel like it really taught me to love to learn and to have a knack for learning as opposed to memorization.

3. It fostered real curiosity and encouraged children to learn about things that interest them. Since the classes were not very rigid, students could develop passions and interests at a very young age.

4. I feel like it encouraged creativity and imagination. Due to the general lack of structure, I recall doing things like writing plays and publishing student newsletters just because that's what the students wanted to do at that time.


1. Homework and regular tests were a rude, rude awakening when I went to public school in 5th grade. I never really got used to them, and pretty much loathed every moment of it. It felt like work for the sake of work rather than anything particularly edifying. I never adjusted to public school at all, really.

2. Attendance at the Montessori school wasn't rigidly monitored, but missing school at a public school has real consequences and I often struggled with that.

3. When I got to 5th grade, my math skills were way, way way behind. I remember not being able to add numbers greater than ten, or do long division. However, I caught up in about two years, and by 7th grade I was in advanced math classes.

4. I didn't develop a thick skin to deal with the cruelty of children. Montessori school was gentle and kind, and life -- especially tweens and teenagers, are definitely not. That was hard. I ate lunch alone pretty much the entire time I was in public school.

I think it all turned out okay. I struggled with attendance and homework all through college, but I have no problems with that when it comes to my job/career. It can still be hard to apply myself to things that I see as jumping through hoops or ticking boxes, but I can usually manage. I am now a statistician and I'm still a bit of an odd duck but I'm more or less happy and I get along pretty well, day to day.
posted by ZeroDivides at 7:30 PM on April 3, 2015 [17 favorites]

In the more progressive places I've lived the majority of preschools are Montessori. My kid did two years at one.
Since many families that choose Montessori are already well educated and interested in their child's development, the kids are generally pretty good and thus thinking about various outcomes... Kindergarten readiness or being a kind human or whatever... Well, these kids are going to do better than average.

To be honest, my kid (late birthday) could have probably benefitted from a more academically focused second year of preschool than what his Montessori provided him, but oh well.
If this is at the preschool level, I'd go off how the teachers are and if the kids seem happy. Then everyone goes on their merry way for kindergarten.

If this is at the elementary school level, I'd suggest that some aspects of Montessori are really neat for some kids - multiple ages in one room etc. But my actual kid (not my hypothetical kid) needs more structure than Montessori could provide and is now soaking up so much in regular kindergarten and I'm so pleased.

I've seen some kids that transition out of 5th or 8th grade Montessori do poorly in traditional schools. But others probably do fine.
Tl;dr do what is best for your kid.
posted by k8t at 7:36 PM on April 3, 2015

I was a Montessori kid 40ish (!) years ago. The individual project-based approach and mixed age classroom served me well. I was an early reader and ended up succeeding academically (for traditional definitions of academic success, which is not necessarily what I'm looking for now for my own kid...), though I think that likely would have happened regardless of which preschool approach I'd experienced. What I'm now finding as a parent is that I prefer schools that take some best practices from various approaches (Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, etc) over those that adhere more rigidly to any one philosophy.
posted by judith at 7:50 PM on April 3, 2015

I went to a Montessori preschool and my memories of the place are basically suffused with a Hollywood-style golden glow of happiness. My husband went to a different Montessori preschool and loathed the nun who was his teacher with such a fiery passion that he still remembers hate-peeing in the closet several times before his mom sent him somewhere else. We're both well-adjusted professionals with graduate degrees now.

So, you know, YMMV. I have a relative who is a Montessori teacher (AMI--European style--as opposed to AMS) and she pointed out to me once that a lot of alleged Montessori schools are actually "Montessori inspired" rather than actually incorporating the full Montessori curriculum. AMI-accredited schools are much more scarce on the ground than AMS schools. I'm not sure I would say one is intrinsically more rigid than the other--the AMI schools can be very strict about adhering to the Montessori method--but the people who would get an AMI accreditation in the US where most places are AMS and it's much harder to do are probably an intrinsically different type of people who are doing that specific thing that they believe in (or they're European immigrants, like my teacher was).

I have 2 young kids and I originally really wanted to send them to Montessori school, but it didn't happen for various reasons. They are now at a play-based preschool that is explicitly intended to teach a religious tradition that our family does not share. They are doing great, which leads me to think that having teachers who are engaged, creative, and empathetic are much, much more important than the specific philosophy of the school.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:03 PM on April 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

I attended a Montessori preschool, and have discussed a lot of that experience with my mom, so I have a bit of an adult perspective mixed in. My biggest concern would be about the shelteredness--not of the curriculum, but of the student body, which would be my concern at any expensive private school. An odd slip of fate led me to spend my fourth year of life with the DC elite, with the rest of my childhood being solidly working class. And hoo boy, those children could tell. (I had basically the opposite experience of childhood cruelty compared to what ZeroDivides describes.)

The curriculum is great for a kid who wants to learn stuff and who will do so if given a room full of manipulatives and maps. But a lot of the stuff surrounding the curriculum is not so great, and strongly disinclined me to send my child to one.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:32 PM on April 3, 2015

I went to a Montessori school from pre-school to 8th grade, and both of my parents are Montessori trained (although both work in higher education now). My mom corroborates The Elusive Architeuthis' statement about a lot of schools being "Montessori inspired," so you might want to watch that.

My experience at school was maybe unusual because my mom worked there the entire time I was there, although never as my instructor. I think having parents who are engaged in your education in whatever way they can be mitigates whatever problems the school itself might have.

As far as the specifics of having gone to a Montessori school as a small child, I liked it and did well. I was never behind in any of my subjects, and did really well on standardized tests. My transition to a magnet/public high school went relatively well, and from there I went to Stanford, so there's that. Although it's impossible to know how much of that is a direct result of the style of education I received when I was tiny, I imagine it's not none.

Like ZeroDivides says, I feel like having gone to a Montessori school enabled me to learn pretty much anything, and also instilled an abiding curiosity in me. You could tell, at my old school, who had transferred in in an upper grade because they didn't have the self-directedness required to thrive in that environment, I think. (So I imagine the opposite could also be true, transitioning out of Montessori, but that wasn't, for whatever reason, an issue for me.)

An inordinately large part of my cohort (which was only like 8 people) have ended up working in the arts and/or entertainment. Also, I don't know if it's true anymore, but the generation of Montessori teachers who worked at my school all fell more or less along a spectrum of hippiness. Like, I didn't think it was weird for adults in my life to build harpsichords in their spare time, for instance.

There were definitely sub-par teachers at my school. My advice would be to seriously engage with the particular guide your child would be with.
posted by hapticactionnetwork at 9:00 PM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I went to a Montessori preschool, and I really, really loved it. I think it's part of the reason why, when I went back into 'conventional' education in Asia, I did very well and loved learning, and school. I'm only realising this now, because in college I'm getting my head around the idea that not everyone really has or had that kind of positive association with learning.

I was a sensitive, anxious kid from a family that wasn't social at all, and having that kind of warm, nurturing environment of acceptance and engagement was very helpful. I still have fond memories of the teachers there, and remember really missing it when we moved away.
posted by undue influence at 10:06 PM on April 3, 2015

I was expelled from Montessori preschool for saying I hated a girl in my carpool, or more precisely, for refusing to take it back, because I did hate her, and it would be untrue to say I didn't. It was a confusing experience; I got the impression that the administrators were cream puffs who couldn't handle conflict or a smart, stubborn kid.
posted by Scram at 10:27 PM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Both my sister and my husband went to Montsssori through all of elementary school and have nothing but beautiful memories and warm fuzzies. I've just gone through the process of observing and applying for my 15 month old son (he was admitted 2 weeks ago so I have been thinking about this a lot) and I really like the state of modern Montessori education even if I don't always 100% agree. The class I observed would have made Maria herself proud I think.

The characterization above of American vs European is incorrect. The American model is the less strict, more flexible one. And the European model isn't so much strict as that it has not been updated in 100 years - they only do things the EXACT way Montessori herself suggested and that includes excluding all modern tech and also things she disliked like fantasy, fairy tales, many types of toys, etc. my personal feeling is that Montessori would have updated her curriculum if she had been alive and it's hard for me to understand the rigid clinging to her exact original method.
posted by Cygnet at 3:06 AM on April 4, 2015

I went to one, and loved it. I still have friends from that pre-school (and I was a pathologically shy kid). I went for about 2 years - aged 3-5 - and then started kindergarten at the normal time at a non-Montessori (but still a total hippie) school. I would have loved to stay more than 2 years, but the school lost their lease after my second year and couldn't find a new space. The main problem in switching schools was that I was so, so bored my first few years of normal school (my grade school offered to let me and a friend switching over from Montessori school skip kindergarten and first grade, but our parents said no for social development reasons).

I remember wonderful art programs, and everything was self-paced, which was great for me. I knew how to do math up through and including long division by the time I started kindergarten and loved reading. My time there is by far my happiest school memory (and I really liked my high school and college, so it's not for lack of other good experiences).
posted by snaw at 6:20 AM on April 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I went to one, which in hindsight was not the best one, but was probably my parents' best option here. I'm mostly chiming in because I befriended a Montessori teacher as an adult, and learning more about what defines a Montessori education gave me a much richer appreciation.

The biggest thing I took away about Montessori from her is that each child's individual talents/strengths are nurtured and celebrated so all can contribute. Also, it seemed like the kids were much more involved in problem-solving their own issues than in a lot of schools.

A friend of mine went to a really nice hippie preschool, not Montessori. She said that she loved it but that it was really jarring to later transition to public school because she had no idea that discrimination happened (based on race, disability, etc).
posted by mermaidcafe at 6:47 AM on April 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a high school teacher and my best friend's kids all did Montessori from pre-K to 6.

Her perspective jibes with what I've seen and what others note upthread. Montessori families are generally more invested in a certain type of educational experience and their kids are usually creative and open thinkers.

The problems start when the kids have to transition to public school and the requirements and social worlds are very different. Their school days are less creative and more rigid. The social interactions are more harsh and can take time to get used to.

Unfortunately, most Montessoris end at grade 6 or 8. Those aren't wonderful social years for kids in general. So, you throw a Montessori kid into the sharklike waters of middle school, it can be very hard on them. My friend wishes she had transitioned her kids by grade 4 because they really struggled socially and emotionally and yes, a little bit academically (but they caught up because they're intelligent kids).
posted by kinetic at 7:13 AM on April 4, 2015

I went to a Montessori preschool. I'm 30 now. I have no idea if my school followed the European or American tradition.

I can tell you that I loved preschool. My parents tell me that after I got over the initial separation anxiety, I regularly had days where I wanted to stay at school when my dad would come to pick me up.

I can't help but think that my own adult-age tendency to learn through experimentation, to keep trying new approaches when one doesn't work, and just to constantly play and dabble with new hobbies and interests, was planted during my Montessori years. I wonder what it would've been like to stay in Montessori after pre-K...
posted by duffell at 10:08 AM on April 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

As a teacher (high school for a decade, now 6th grade), I could always tell the kids who came from the local Montessori school. They tended to be more divergent thinkers, more creative, more curious, and more of a reader. There were also some kids who kind of struggled to fit into the academic environment. I particularly remember two of my most intelligent students who would sabotage their grades because they couldn't be bothered with anything they didn't consider interesting. But both of them are doing fine now as adults. One is a YouTuber with hundreds of thousands of views, and the other is in college.

But I think it does depend on the individual school, so check it out carefully and make sure you talk to families with older kids, and if you can, parents whose children have transitioned into a mainstream public school. That will tell you a lot.
posted by guster4lovers at 1:13 PM on April 4, 2015

I went to a Montessori preschool in the Midwest and am now 31. It was a real Montessori preschool, but I don't know which subtype it was. My grad student folks drove an extra hour per day to send me there rather than the local regular preschool which they thought didn't take care of the kids very well.

I have very fond, if mostly vague, memories of the place... "suffused with a Hollywood-style golden glow of happiness" as The Elusive Architeuthis said above. No bad memories whatsoever. The things I do remember are rather random, like making cutouts by slowly and methodically poking a pin all along a tracing of a bird or whatever, preparing for nap times, this one time when the kids were instructed to gather snow from the backyard in bowls, drizzle something sweet over it and eat it (which we gleefully did!). I really liked my teachers and still remember them.

My family moved states and I started at the kindergarten level at a regular school just fine, and eventually skipped second grade (the first time someone had been allowed to do so at that grade school in a long while) and continued to do fine socially. Was in the gifted and talented pool of kids throughout grade school. My folks are convinced that preschool Montessori was a good investment for me, and I defer to their judgment since I don't have the perspective to gauge causality.
posted by nemutdero at 10:44 AM on April 5, 2015

The characterization above of American vs European is incorrect.

I think as someone alluded to above, it's more the performance of 'being strict' as opposed to 'strictly following a tradition'. I keep meaning to grab my notes on this but my understanding is that one focused much more heavily on art/cultural stuff and that was the one that my daughter liked and whose staff we liked. But. Just because we like artiness and painting isn't necessarily the thing that made that school good. They were really warm about kids. They understood sometimes a kid needed a hug or a break, not just to be redirected to The Lesson. So it could have been either/or--she could have been Doing the Beads instead of copying Matisse paintings.

I'm almost positive that the woman I spoke to said that theirs (first one/positive experience) was the European tradition and that it was more rare but in all honesty I think it had less to do with which tradition it followed and more to do with whether they treated kids like miniature adults. Her second school treated them like miniature adults, but for a sensitive kid that's sort of heartbreaking, like - no one cares. For another kid it might be empowering/challenging/exciting. Who knows?

Anyway, that was our experience. I wish I could identify what I would do differently in retrospect. I know that some of this is class anxiety and based on my own bad experiences in school and the desire to secure my kid a better deal than I got.

She's already got a better deal though, because no teacher ripped her math worksheet to pieces in front of the whole class in first grade. /memories that wound up costing me 10k in Montessori fees.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:12 PM on April 5, 2015

My Montessori school was crazy bad. It looked really nice, but I remember having older teenagers (who were they??? I still don't know to this day) tape my classmates mouths for "speaking out of turn," and they isolated children who would only come in for part-time. They had to sit in the corner, in the dark, and couldn't read, play, participate, or eat lunch. My teacher recommended I go to public school to "learn order." It was all really unideal. I later talked to a high school classmate who was there up until 6th grade, and he told me that the school really fucked him up socially and anxiety-wise due to the arbitrary punishments and grading system.

I read about other people's Montessori schools, and I think they went to a completely different world. During the time my mom put me into schools, there weren't many options besides Catholic pre-schools (which I did not take to, even as a 4 year old I detested organized religion), Challenger (which felt like being in an oppressive prison), and public school. Only when I was in high school that more Montessori schools started being created.

I really recommend not looking whether the children are happy when you visit schools. Look to the corners, and see how the teachers talk or treat the students who "didn't behave well." You will be surprised by how arbitrary the punishments are.
posted by yueliang at 12:19 PM on April 6, 2015

I went to a Montessori preschool and I don't think it was a good idea. They just let me do whatever I wanted which mostly consisted of repetitive solitary tasks and NOT socializing at all. This didn't really prepare me for mainstream education which has, you know, expectations about what you do.
posted by Dmenet at 3:44 PM on April 6, 2015

I went to two different Montessori schools. Honestly, the biggest thing is having a good set of teachers. At the first one, they were great: really encouraged me to learn, try new things, and grow. I got lots of feedback, and it showed that they paid attention to me. And the second one, they basically just left us to our own devices. The teachers weren't engaged, and the classroom size was too big.
Its left me believing that teacher quality matters more than what system they use.
posted by troytroy at 7:22 PM on April 6, 2015

I went to Montessori school from pre-k to 8th grade. I think I turned out at least moderately OK. I think Montessori is *great* for pre-k through about 3rd grade, ok but maybe not the best for 4th and 5th, and if I had to do it again I wouldn't do a Montessori middle school. It's very good at nurturing small children, and helping them become interested in the world around them and giving them tools to engage with basic academic concepts like simple arithmetic and grammar. It's not great for learning actual things, like algebra (ask me how I know). The success of Montessori education depends very much on the child - you need a fairly self-motivated inquisitive kid. If you have a kid who is a bit lazy, for example, it probably won't be great. I, apparently, refused to let go of my mother at the other pre-schools we looked at, but at the Montessori happily wandered off and started playing with the materials. Reccomend you take your kid to visit the prospective school (I would imagine the school would encourage this, if it's a good Montessori) and see what they think of it. Also note that lots of places call themselves 'Montessori' but they actually just mean they don't really do anything with the kids. Real Montessori has specific materials the kids use and teachers that have been specially trained in the Montessori Method.

Editing to add: despite Montessori's failure to teach me algebra in a way I actually understood, when I went to high school I was placed in the most advanced 9th grade math class (how, I have no idea) and then went on to get straight A's in math and everything else and a 5 on the AP Calc exam. So a kid that goes to Montessori is not doomed to underperform at a traditional school.
posted by annie o at 9:16 PM on April 6, 2015

« Older What teen book has this plot?   |   Is it ok to date/meet new people now? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.