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Oct 3, 2020

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Is a Montessori school right for your child?

Exploring the potential fit of a Montessori school for several different types of kids


In finding the right school, you’ll need to look at both the school and your child. Here, we look at the fit of eight different child types in Montessori schools. Note: our aim isn’t to tell you whether a Montessori school is right or wrong for any type of child, but to highlight some vital child-specific factors you should consider when making your decision.

To learn about how to choose the right school in general, read the Our Kids step-by-step advice guide and questions to ask private schools. To customize school 350+ profiles with insights unique to your child's traits, create a child profile through your user account


How several different types of kids fit in Montessori schools

On this page:

Extroverted

If you’re considering a Montessori school for your extroverted child, make sure to look into the amount of unstructured social time it provides. Some Montessori schools don’t have recess, and may limit free time, which is often when kids get their most stimulation. While kids spend plenty of time interacting in a Montessori classroom, a very outgoing child might find the lack of unstructured time less invigorating. Note: The more “orthodox” the Montessori environment, the more it tends to limit recess and unstructured social time.

To access our report on the fit of extroverted kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Introverted

At a Montessori school, your introverted child will often work independently on their own tasks, e.g., during two-hour-plus uninterrupted work periods, which can boost their focus and concentration. They’ll also often work in small groups with kids of different ages, where they’ll learn from and mentor their peers, which can help them come out of their shell, be more assertive, and learn critical social skills. Ask how much, if any, unstructured social time is provided, since this varies between Montessori schools.

To access our report on the fit of introverted kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Highly focused

At a Montessori school, your focused child will often work independently on their own tasks, e.g., during two-hour-plus uninterrupted work periods, which can further enhance their concentration. Since many of these schools don’t have recess, this will also give your child more time to focus on their work, pursue their interests, and absorb knowledge. An additional benefit: in a Montessori classroom, your child will often work in small groups with kids of different ages, where they’ll learn from and mentor their peers, which can help them become more assertive, develop important social skills, and if they’re on the shy side, come out of their shell.

To access our report on the fit of highly focused kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Distractible

At a Montessori school, your child will often work independently on their own tasks, e.g., during two-hour-plus uninterrupted work periods, which can benefit kids who get distracted by too much stimulation. Also, independent study time can boost a child’s ability to concentrate and sustain their concentration, as professor of psychology and renowned Montessori researcher Angeline Lilard points out in Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius.

That said, since some kids with shorter attention spans will find it more challenging to work independently for long periods of time, carefully weigh the pros and cons of this learning environment for your child.

Finally, if you’re considering a Montessori school for your distractible child, make sure to look into the amount of unstructured social time it provides. Some Montessori schools don’t have recess, and may limit free time, which is often when kids get their most stimulation and which gives them a chance to renew their energy. This is especially important if your child is social, energetic, and enjoys physical activities.

To access our report on the fit of distractible kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Very physically active

If you’re considering a Montessori school for your active, energetic child, make sure to look into the amount of unstructured social time provided. Some Montessori schools don’t have recess, and may limit free play, which is when young kids tend to be most physically active. While Montessori environments give kids plenty of time to interact inside the classroom, a very active child might find a lack of unstructured time challenging to cope with. Note: The more “orthodox” the Montessori environment, the more it tends to limit recess and unstructured playtime.

To access our report on the fit of very physically active kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Less physically active

At a Montessori school, your less active child will often work independently on their own tasks, e.g., in two-hour-plus uninterrupted work periods, during which they can pursue quieter learning activities. Since many of these schools don’t have recess, this will also give your child more time to focus on their work, pursue their interests, and absorb knowledge. Another benefit for your child: they’ll sometimes work in small groups with kids of different ages, where they’ll learn from and mentor their peers, which can help them become more assertive and confident, learn critical social skills, and come out of their shell.

If your child is looking to get more physically active, just make sure a school offers plenty of opportunities to do this.

To access our report on the fit of less physically active kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Intensively academically-focused

Montessori schools offer highly individualized learning, allowing your child to move through the curriculum at their own pace and focus on tasks of interest (with some teacher guidance), which can strengthen their love of learning. Also, during two-hour-plus uninterrupted work periods, your academically-focused child will have the opportunity to work independently on their own tasks, which can bolster their focus and concentration. And, since many Montessori schools don’t have recess, this will give your child more time to key in on their work, pursue their interests, and absorb knowledge. 

That said, keep in mind that most Montessori schools don't assign grades at the primary level. If your child is fixated on academic achievement and measuring themselves against their peers, they'll likely find this practice challenging.

To access our report on the fit of intensively academically-focused kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Less academically-focused

Montessori schools offer highly individualized learning, allowing your child to work at their own pace and choose tasks of interest, with teacher guidance. This can help motivate and inspire them, and cultivate a love of learning.

That said, since some less academically-focused kids may find it difficult to work independently for two or more consecutive hours each day, during Montessori schools’ uninterrupted work periods, carefully weigh the pros and cons of this learning environment for your child.

Finally, if you’re considering a Montessori school for a child with less interest in academics, make sure to look into the amount of unstructured social time it provides. Some Montessori schools don’t have recess, and may limit free time, which is often when kids get their most stimulation. This is especially important if your child is social, energetic, and enjoys physical activities.

To access our report on the fit of less academically-focused kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Arts-oriented

If you’re considering a Montessori school for your arts-oriented child, make sure to look into its policies regarding the arts and creativity. The Montessori approach is not known for encouraging certain kinds of creative pursuits: for instance, many Montessori schools don’t include fiction in the curriculum or offer dedicated art classes (though they do encourage creativity in other ways). If your child is highly interested in the arts and various forms of creative expression, they may find these particular schools less engaging than schools with more of an arts focus.

To access our report on the fit of arts-oriented kids in several different school types, read our guide.


STEM-oriented

Montessori schools’ child-centred, self-directed focus gives kids the flexibility to pursue their interests and dive deeply into STEM subjects. Their interdisciplinary and experiential approach to STEM learning will also appeal to many kids. That said, “Ensure any prospective school doesn’t allow students to focus on these subjects to the detriment of others—e.g., focusing on science or math disproportionately, while leaving other academic areas by the wayside,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners. 

To access our report on the fit of stem-oriented kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Gifted

Montessori schools vary greatly. Some allow gifted students to accelerate their studies. Since students are given leeway to determine the focus and pace of their learning, gifted learners may choose to move quickly through their academic activities and into areas they find challenging and engaging.

Other Montessori schools, however, are reluctant to move kids too quickly through the curriculum or to move them to a higher age-level class. These particular schools may be a poor fit for some students—especially those who test higher than the 98th or 99th percentile in terms of their learning abilities. “Because Montessori schools are not all alike, it’s important to avoid making assumptions about them. It’s prudent to check out whether the educational environment will provide a suitable learner-learning match for your child, and to keep monitoring that if you choose to enrol your child in this form of schooling,” says Joanne Foster, gifted education expert and author of ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids.

To access our report on the fit of gifted kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Special needs

Students with special needs can benefit from Montessori schools’ unique emphasis on individualized learning. Since students are given the freedom to determine the focus and pace of their studies, with teacher guidance, the curriculum will be tailored to their abilities, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. This can allow a child to work on a specific area of need, such as organization or impulse control.

That said, not all Montessori schools provide the right environment to meet the learning needs of kids with exceptionalities. “Some don’t provide the explicit, teacher-directed instruction that some research indicates is beneficial for students who learn differently,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners. “Students with weak executive functioning or other learning exceptionalities, for instance, may not have the independent work skills necessary to thrive in some Montessori environments.”

Of course, since different Montessori schools have different approaches, speak to school directors and staff to gauge whether your child is likely to be a good fit.

To access our report on the fit of special needs kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Learning disabilities

Many kids with learning disabilities (LDs) will find the calm and quiet learning environment of most Montessori classrooms peaceful. They can also benefit from Montessori’s special focus on individualized learning: since students can help choose their tasks, with teacher guidance, their work should be tailored to their abilities and interests. 

That said, not all Montessori schools offer the right environment for kids with LDs. “Some don’t provide the explicit, teacher-directed instruction that some research indicates is beneficial for students who learn differently,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners. “Students with weak executive functioning or other learning exceptionalities, for instance, may not have the independent work skills necessary to thrive in some Montessori environments. Also, progress monitoring and assessment tend to be qualitative and observation-based, which can be challenging for parents who prefer to track their child’s progress through more measurable data.” 

Of course, since Montessori schools vary in their approach, speak to school directors and staff to determine whether your child is a good fit.

To access our report on the fit of learning disabilities kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Social/emotional issues

Many kids with social issues will find the calm and quiet learning environment of the typical Montessori classroom soothing. “The degree of self-direction and individualization in a Montessori school can be ideal for a child experiencing mental health issues,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners. “Its close-knit, supportive environment is sometimes empowering and reassuring for an anxious child, for example, who may feel more comfortable taking risks.” 

That said, not all Montessori schools provide the right environment to meet the needs of kids with social issues or disorders. Some kids may need more supervision and one-on-one support than some Montessori schools are able to provide. “Students with severe behavioral issues, for instance, may not have the independent work skills necessary to thrive in some Montessori environments,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Consulting. Of course, since different Montessori schools have different teaching approaches and classroom environments, speak to school directors and staff to gauge whether your child is likely to be a good fit.

To access our report on the fit of social/emotional issues kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Conventional learner

Montessori schools’ decentralized, individualized learning environment often works well for unconventional learners. Many conventional learners, however, tend to prefer more whole-class lectures, teacher-led instruction, textbook learning, and graded work than Montessori schools tend to provide. 

That said, since not all Montessori schools are alike, inquire about the learning environment and approach a school provides. For instance, ask if it offers whole-class lectures (and how often), direct instruction, and textbook learning.

To access our report on the fit of conventional learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Unconventional learner

Montessori schools offer highly individualized learning, allowing your child to move through the curriculum at their own pace and and focus on areas of interest (with teacher guidance), which most unconventional learners love. Also, during two-hour-plus uninterrupted work periods, your child will have the opportunity to work independently on their own tasks, which can enhance their engagement and cultivate a love of learning. Another benefit: in a Montessori classroom, your child will sometimes work in small groups with kids of different ages, enabling them to learn from and mentor peers. 

That said, if your unconventional learner is arts-oriented, make sure to look into a school’s policies regarding the arts and creativity. The Montessori approach is not known for encouraging certain kinds of creative pursuits: for instance, many Montessori schools don’t include fiction in the curriculum or offer dedicated art classes (though they do encourage creativity in other ways). Some artsy kids may find these particular schools less engaging than more arts-focused schools.

To access our report on the fit of unconventional learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Independent learner

Montessori schools offer highly individualized learning, allowing your child to move through the curriculum at their own pace and focus on areas of interest (with teacher guidance), which independent learners love. Also, during two-hour-plus uninterrupted work periods, they’ll work independently on their own tasks, which can boost their engagement and foster a love of learning. One more benefit: in a Montessori classroom, your child will sometimes work in small groups with kids of different ages, where they can learn from and teach their peers. This can help them become more confident, develop critical social skills, and, if they’re on the shy side, come out of their shell. 

That said, “Ensure any prospective school doesn’t allow students to focus on specific subjects to the detriment of others—e.g., focusing on geography, say, disproportionately, while leaving other academic areas by the wayside,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners.

To access our report on the fit of independent learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Collaborative learner

Montessori schools have a child-focused educational approach with lots of individualized learning. For some schools, this includes uninterrupted independent work periods of up to three hours a day, which can be daunting for some collaborative learners.

That said, most Montessori schools, from preschool to the secondary level, provide kids with plenty of opportunities to work in small groups on specific tasks and projects. Classrooms are also normally divided into three-year age groups, which will enable your child to both learn from and mentor their peers, something collaborative learners tend to love.

To access our report on the fit of collaborative learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.

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