The Montessori method is celebrating its 100th birthday. What’s it all about asks Slate’s Emily Bazelon, mother of a Montessori preschooler.
The fog of magic and romance obscures the key to a Montessori classroom: It’s all about structure and framework and purpose. Maria Montessori might have called the child “an amorphous, splendid being in search of his own proper form,” but far more important, in the end, is a different canny insight of hers: Those splendid kids crave order.
When the preschoolers are called to their “work,” they purposefully manipulate number beads, letters and cubes designed to teach lessons.
It’s about the appeal of precision: Sailor’s pink cubes fit together only in one way, so she instinctively corrected herself when she mis-stacked them. Montessori isn’t magic. It’s fine-tuned and detail-driven and tactile, like a workshop for two dozen good-humored but serious young elves.
Montessori showed advantages in a recent study, Bazelon writes. Researchers compared students at an urban, mostly minority Montessori school in Wisconsin to similar students who applied for the Montessori school but didn’t get in.
By the end of kindergarten, the Montessori students outscored the others on standardized tests of reading and math, treated each other better on the playground, and “showed more concern for fairness and justice.” By the end of elementary school, the test-score gap closed. But the Montessori kids “wrote more creative essays with more complex sentence structures,” responded better to social dilemmas, and were more likely to say they felt a sense of community at school.
Perhaps constructivists could learn from Montessori’s strategy: While children are learning actively, they’re operating in an environment designed to direct their learning.
Update: Here’s a story on a preschool using the Reggio Emilio method, which focuses on providing a beautiful and nurturing environment for young children. But also “orderly,” the teacher says.