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Below, we compare Montessori to academic preschools. This should help you to grasp their main differences and similarities. To learn more about preschool education in general, read our introductory guide.
Montessori schools emphasize concrete learning in the early ages, right up until the end of elementary school. Kids work with many different concrete materials, including manipulatives, which are self-correcting puzzles. As research shows, concrete learning engages many of our senses, which can improve our memory and reasoning. It can also inspire a love of learning.
Montessori preschools have a decentralized classroom. Teachers don’t stand at the front of the class, and kids don’t sit at desks. Rather, kids tend to walk around the classroom, visit different areas, and work at tables or on the floor.
There’s lots of interaction in a Montessori classroom. While kids can work on their own, they often work in small groups.
And a mixed-age classroom promotes lots of child-to-child teaching: older kids guide, mentor, and model behaviour to younger kids. In fact, this kind of collaboration is a hallmark of Montessori learning at all levels.
In many ways, academic preschools resemble traditional schools. The learning environment is mostly teacher-led. Teachers sometimes provide whole-class lessons, and often provide direct instruction to help kids work through the curriculum.
Children have some free-play time in academic preschools. For instance, they’ll usually have at least two outdoor recess periods a day. Normally, though, they’ll have far less unstructured or free-play time than in play-based preschools (sometimes called "play school").
To learn more about the similarities and differences between various types of preschools, read our comparison guides. In separate articles, we compare Montessori to Waldorf, Montessori to Reggio Emilia, Waldorf to Reggio Emilia, academic to play-based, and Montessori to play-based preschools. If you want to compare specific schools one-to-one, visit our compare hub.
Preschool questions (read our in-depth answers)