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Montessori schools versus traditonal and progressive schools

Comparing Montessori schools to regular and progressive schools

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Montessori schools have a unique approach. They also have a number of unusual classroom practices.

This makes them part of the broad progressive movement in education. This movement contains different and sometimes conflicting ideas. But generally, it involves a focus on experiential learning, integrated curricula, personalized and collaborative learning, critical thinking, and problem solving, among other things.

Montessori schools, like Waldorf and Reggio Emilia schools, thus have classroom practices that tend to be rather different than regular or conventional schools. That said, a few of their classroom practices are suprisingly quite traditional (even more so than conventional schools).  

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Montessori progressive classroom practices

Many Montessori classroom practices stray from the norm. As we’ve mentioned, many of these practices aren’t used in regular or conventional schools. Below, we list the Montessori classroom practices that are progressive, and that contrast with those of regular schools.


Progressive classroom practices

  • Multi-age classes
  • Teacher guides and mentors
  • Focus on the whole child
  • Integrated curriculum
  • Freedom to move and work in class
  • Students help set curriculum
  • Students set their own pace
  • Main focus on concrete learning
  • Long uninterrupted work periods
  • Minimal grades
  • Minimal tests or assignments
  • Little or no homework

Montessori non-progressive classroom practices

That said, Montessori education isn’t completely progressive. While it’s progressive in most ways, in some ways it’s not. As we can see below, a few of its standard classroom practices contrast with those of other progressive schools.




  • Higher teacher-to-student ratio*
  • Less unstructured learning
  • Less focus on the creative arts
  • Little modern-day technology
  • Lower teacher-to-student ratio
  • More unstructured learning
  • More focus on the creative arts
  • Lots of modern-day technology

*In more traditional Montessori schools

Montessori’s place within the progressivist movement

In short, Montessori education is progressive in many ways, and in some ways it isn’t. While it’s progressive, then, it has its own special place within the progressivist movement.

We can get a better sense of this by looking at its classroom practices more closely. As it turns out, for any standard Montessori classroom practice, it can be ranked on a scale from traditional to progressive. Below, we show roughly where each such practice fits on this scale.  


Classroom practice







Mixed-age groupings



Self-directed learning



Few whole-class lectures



Minimal tests or assignments



Minimal grades



Minimal homework



Integrated curriculum



Experiential learning



Uninterrupted work time




Minimal unstructured learning




Minimal creative arts projects




Minimal modern-day technology




High teacher-to-student ratio




Keep in mind, no school should be judged strictly based on how traditional or progressive its classroom practices are. What really matters is the fit between a school’s practices (not to mention its philosophy, culture, community feel, and the like) and your child.

To learn more about finding the right Montessori school, read our Montessori choosing guide and guide to Montessori questions. For more general advice on finding the right private school, check out the Our Kids choosing a school guide. If your child is younger, check out our preschool choosing guide.

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