I am not an expert on the Montessori philosophy. Both of my daughters went to a Montessori preschool. At the time, this was mainly because it was the closest preschool to our house and they didn’t charge quite as much as other daycare facilities in the area.
Given this is where my daughters would spend their days I did, of course, do some research. From what I found, it’s mainly self-directed, independent learning. The kids choose what subjects they’ll tackle at any given time and choose independent activities that jive with their ambitions for the day. If the kid is really feeling the math bug, they can do math the entire day if that’s what they choose to do. The teacher is there to guide learning. He or she gives an initial “presentation” to show how a particular activity is done and then provides guidance if the activity isn’t going as it’s supposed to. The teacher is NOT there to give positive feedback on a job well done. This positive reinforcement is supposed to come from within the child.
As a parent who had kids in a Montessori preschool, I can say it made my life easier. Since my daughters didn’t go to a “normal” preschool, I can’t say a normal preschool would have been better or worse. However, I do appreciate that after attending their preschool my daughters were both able to (at the age of 3) drink out of a normal cup, pour their own juice, and pick up after themselves with little complaint (at least until they got a little older).
As a new substitute teacher, I have had the opportunity to teach at elementary schools (both “normal” and “Montessori”) throughout my hometown. From my experience so far, the children in the Montessori school are given much more freedom to make their own decisions, they’re much better behaved, and they’re much more willing to help each other out.
Lunchroom duty at a normal elementary school in the area consists of moving from child to child, opening milk cartons, opening ketchup packets, opening Go-Gurt tubes, cleaning up when lunch trays are dropped, and giving kids permission to get a glass of water. The children are told where to sit and they’re given a very precise time limit on when they can eat. Lunchroom duty at a Montessori school consists of sitting with kids, joking around with them, and opening these items only when every other child at the table has already tried. Montessori kids help each other out, they clean up after themselves, and they don’t bother to ask to get water (because they’re thirsty and they need water – why would you say “no?”). They’re allowed to sit where they want and are given their entire designated “lunch” and “recess” time to eat – which totals about an hour.
In my town Montessori is only available through grade 5. After that, it’s on to normal middle school. I’ve heard middle school teachers complain about children from Montessori schools. The children are used to doing what they want and when they want, so they refuse to move with the class. I think this is more the product of the child’s temperament and personality rather than the product of having a Montessori education, but I may be wrong. If they are having difficulty, what’s to say the problem is the child?