Traditional vs. Montessori Classrooms

What is the main difference between a traditional classroom and a Montessori classroom?

The Student/Teacher Relationship

The Montessori classroom is based on collaborative work between the student and the teacher. More traditional classrooms typically will not have such an individualized and interactive student/teacher relationship.  Teachers are specifically trained in the Montessori method which, among other things, emphasize the teacher’s role as a guide who observe each child carefully and address the needs of each child.  This demonstrates the importance of having a low student-teacher ratio.  Most kindergarten classrooms or daycares follow a different student-teacher relationship, and many do not have the low student-teacher ratios.

Emphasis on Individual Development

In a Montessori classroom, the teacher introduces a child whether on an individual basis, or in a group, to materials in a systematic manner, depending on a child’s developmental needs – this is unique to the Montessori learning environment, where lessons are given according to a child’s interest and development readiness.    Children stay in the same classrooms with the same teacher in three-year cycles. These instructional groupings are based on developmental stages, rather than age or grade divisions. Children of different ages but similar developmental needs work independently and together; older children sometimes guide and help the younger ones who have first received instruction from a teacher.  The traditional classroom on the other hand does not place an emphasis on the individual child and his/her readiness, but rather moves along the standard curriculum according to a predetermined standard which children are considered to be able to meet at a certain age. Montessori classrooms don’t just move children through “grades.” In the student, they build enthusiasm, self-awareness, and concern for others.

The Montessori Curriculum

The Montessori classroom is designed to promote self-discipline, independence and responsibility. Academically, children develop a foundation in language and math skills, physical and cultural geography, zoology, botany, physical science, history, music and art. They also learn practical life skills such as cooking, carpentry, sewing and cleaning. One of the most important aspects of our classroom is to instill as sense of respect, independence and improve self-esteem which leads to confidence.

Below is a table that generally summarizes the difference.

Traditional Approach to Education

Montessori Approach to Education

Children grouped chronologically Non-graded (two or three year age span)
Class seated at desks much of time Students “work” at tables, group lessons on floor with freedom of movement
Class, as a group, studies one subject at a time Children pursue their own self-paced curriculum, individually or in small groups, in various parts of environment
Class schedules and frequent interruptions limit child’s involvement Long blocks of time and relatively few interruptions permit invaluable concentration
Postponement of cognitive development until first grade Critical cognitive skills developed before age six
Basal readers (traditional “see and say”) or “whole language” (non-traditional “see and say”) Phonetic-based, multi-sensorial; more flexible writing and reading opportunities
Teacher “corrects” pupils’ “errors” Children learn from peers, self-correcting materials; teacher’s role as a guide
Children are different.  Some can learn – others cannot All children can learn.  They are the same all over the world
No implicit trust and respect for every child Implicit trust and respect for every child.
Teacher centered Child centered
Teacher is transmitter of knowledge Children learn through their own discovery and experience
Homogeneous grouping Multiage grouping for community atmosphere
Answers are provided by teacher Children correct themselves through control of error
Time periods allotted No time restrictions
Some are held back, some are pushed ahead Each child learns at his/her own pace
Children are dependent on the teacher Children work independently
Teacher-directed with very little choice Children are self-directed and make their own choice
Subjects are compartmentalized Subjects are intertwined
Competitive Non-competitive
Rewards and punishment (grades) Self-motivation
High student to teacher ratios At Glen Abbey Montessori School, the student to teacher ratio is 8:1 or lower.