Make It Montessori

The community in which I live is considering construction of a new school.  If built, the school will be located in an area of town whose neighborhood school closed in the 1960s to achieve integration through busing the minority children who live there to other schools in the district.  I am enthusiastic about the prospect of what it will mean for the children and families in this area to have a school nearby again, and believe that being able to design a school from scratch offers a unique opportunity to re-imagine every facet of the school environment.  My hope is that the new public school will adopt a Montessori curriculum, and that the building and grounds will be developed with this unique educational approach in mind.

Maria Montessori observed that human beings are wildly capable creatures.  She saw this in the transformation of children in her care as she removed barriers to their discovery.  Children who had been dubbed “uneducable” began to read and write. Why?

Montessori-style learning offers an approach which deeply honors the individual student and builds creativity and confidence.  There have been a few recent articles about how the leaders of today’s most innovative organizations were Montessori educated—the founders of Google,, and Wikipedia to name just a few.  (See The Wall Street Journal article by Peter Sims at  Montessori-educated children are equipped to function in an environment of uncertainty and unprecedented complexity.  They learn to ask questions, discover answers, and feel capable of participating in reshaping the world.  Isn’t this precisely what is required today?  Contrast this with the educational approaches typically geared to at-risk kids, such as Kipp, with its focus on drills, discipline, pay for performance, and extended days.

A few tenets of the Montessori approach include:
–  A carefully prepared environment, more closely emulating a home than an institution
–  Self-directed work and tailored individual plans for each child, with a teacher acting as guide to discovery
–  A cooperative, hands-on approach which leads to exploration and development of total potential vs. achieving set targets—an approach built on intrinsic motivation, designed to align with the normal development of the child and centered around his or her interests, leading to lifelong learning.

A study comparing outcomes of children at a public inner-city Montessori school with children who attended traditional schools indicates that Montessori education leads to children with better social and academic skills.  The study appears in the Sept. 29, 2006 issue of the journal Science.  “Among the 5-year-olds, Montessori students proved to be significantly better prepared for elementary school in reading and math skills than the non-Montessori children. They also tested better on ‘executive function,’ the ability to adapt to changing and more complex problems, an indicator of future school and life success.”

“Montessori children also displayed better abilities on the social and behavioral tests, demonstrating a greater sense of justice and fairness. And on the playground they were much more likely to engage in emotionally positive play with peers, and less likely to engage in rough play.”

Approximately 200 public schools in the U.S. and Canada offer Montessori programs, and the number is growing every year.  The cost per student is typically less than other public schools.  My sense is that Montessori is going to grow in prominence as we explore viable alternatives to the current US educational system.

Peter Sims closes his Wall Street Journal article with this : “We can change the way we’ve been trained to think.  That begins in small, achievable ways, with increased experimentation and inquisitiveness.”  Let’s bring that new thinking to our public schools and begin to align our educational approach with what will best enable the achievement of human potential, especially for chronically underserved and underprivileged children.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Montessori approach, you can find more here:

Evaluating Montessori Education, Journal of Science, Angeline Lillard and Nicole Else-Quest, July 2006.

FAQs on Montessori Education, referenced by The International Montessori Index, Michael Olaf,

A Comparison of Montessori and Traditional Middle Schools:  Motivation, Quality of Experience, and Social Context; NAMTA Journal, Kevin Rathunde, 2003.

© February 2012 by Pam Daniels.  All rights reserved.


One Comment

  1. Could not agree more as both of my kids thrive
    in Montessori environments. However the
    education was more expensive and did not
    allow us to keep them in these environments
    for longer than a year or two. I pray that this
    approach makes into public education.


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