Montessori schools and have become increasingly popular. More and more families continue to send their children to a Montessori program, ranging from preschool to high school.
But does the Montessori approach work? And if so, what makes it so effective? And is there research to support its effectiveness?
As it turns out, Montessori benefits students with a wide range of learning styles. While more research would be helpful, some key studies seem to confirm this. They provide potent evidence that there are many benefits of a Montessori education. To show this, we'll look at three Montessori classroom practices (and their Montessori benefits): uninterrupted work periods, concrete learning, and student-to-student teaching.
One benefit of Montessori education is uninterrupted work time. Some studies show that uninterrupted work time can boost students’ focus, concentration, and discipline. It can also improve soft “social” functions, such as self-control and regulation.
For instance, Jacqueline Cossentino (“Montessori Schools Help Children Exposed to Trauma,” 2016) discusses how uninterrupted work time gives rise to a similar kind of heightened awareness as mindfulness meditation. Montessori research shows that it can have have similar benefits on our focus and self-control.
“Deep concentration is core to both Montessori pedagogy and mindfulness practice. Just as consistent practice of meditation enables a person to become more calm, aware, and generally self-regulated when not meditating, Dr. Montessori discovered that children who engage in deep concentration on purposeful work emerge from that state more calm, self-regulated, and with higher social competencies.”
Another Montessori advantags is concrete learning. The advantages of concrete learning are well-known. In concrete learning, students use “embodied cognition”: they learn through their minds and bodies. By using their hands to sort and work with objects, they engage many of their senses. They thus learn faster and more efficiently. And, they often become more focused and engaged.
Angeline Stoll Lillard has done plenty of Montessori research. In Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius (2005), she goes into more detail about the benefits of embodied cognition:
“There is abundant research showing that movement and cognition are closely intertwined. People represent spaces and objects more accurately, make judgements faster and more accurately, remember information better, and show superior social cognition when their movements are aligned with what they are thinking about or learning. Traditional classrooms are not set up to capitalize on the relationship between movement and cognition. In contrast, Montessori has movement at its core.”
She adds that
“The mind and body are closely related, and we learn best when we can move our bodies in ways that align with our cognition. This is no wonder, since our minds evolved for action, for behaving in an environment.”
In “Born to Move, Part 1: Movement and Cognition” (2016), Budding and Flores Shaw describe other benefits of concrete learning. As they point out, it can lead to improved motor control, decoding, and reading skills.
“One of the purposes of the Practical Life activities in a primary (ages 3-6) classroom is to refine movement. And the Sensorial materials are specifically designed to both train the senses and develop motor control (among other things). … For example, the white paper Reading and the Brain: Developing the Reading Circuit (this volume), describes how Sensory materials are used to promote audio and visual acuity to prepare children for reading (among other things). Additionally, movement of the fingers to trace cursive Sandpaper Letters facilitates better learning of letter sounds, which is necessary for decoding and later reading skills.”
Finally, another common Montessori practice, student-to-student teaching, can pay huge dividends. As Lillard (2005) explains, it’s often most useful for students playing the role of learner. Students playing the role of teacher, though, benefit as well.
“In sum, situations in which children learn from their peers via specific, structured tutoring are clearly beneficial. Tutees are particularly apt to benefit when they are more involved in the task, as they tend to be with peers who are closer in age. Moreover, peer tutoring episodes benefit both tutor and tutee. Peer tutoring programs can be incorporated into traditional methods of schooling, and they are being used increasingly to the benefit of children in such programs. In Montessori education, they are integral.”
We asked Tim Selding, president of the Montessori Foundation and chair of the International Montessori Council, about the benefits and advantages of Montessori education. To learn more, read our in-depth discussion of questions to ask Montessori schools.
A: What a Montessori school attempts to do is not create a philosophy of education or standardized curriculum, but to follow the child. Schools are designed around what we know about the different developmental stages of children. Our teachers and schools look at each child as a unique individual—we call it child-honouring education. Montessori is not a one-child-fits-all approach but one that is suited to the personality and age level of each child, and allows him or her to learn at their own pace.
A: The content of what's in Montessori schools is equal, if not superior, to that found in most gifted private and public programs. We find significantly better academic performance, emotional maturity and social skills in Montessori kids. The kind of kid that comes out of this education is a professor's wildest dream. They are usually superstars. Some of the world's biggest corporations, including Google.com and Amazon.com, are run by our graduates.
A: Whether a child is wildly gifted or somewhat below average, and even for some children with special needs, it works. The issue is parents' philosophy; many today are very nervous about their child's academic performance and standardized tests. Our kids are not graded. It's about developing inner drive and motivation, and lots of character development, as opposed to offering external rewards such as grades, because the learning only works as long as students care.