Parents often ask “What are the main differences between a high-quality Montessori school and a traditional daycare nursery?”
Our first answer is seeing is believing! Come and visit us, then compare what you see to your observations at a traditional daycare.
Here are some differences parents noted and our elaborations:
1. A calm, orderly environment vs. a messy, noisy place. Many daycare settings have a high noise level, and some seem proud to announce how messy they are! Messy play can still be orderly. We love for our children to run, sing, play in the mud, model clay, finger paint, or explore foam, etc… but there are specific areas for these to allow each child to practice courtesy towards their peers, who also need to deeply engage in other activities without interruption and distraction.
The Montessori environment is surprisingly calm, orderly and busy, since our goal is to enable children to engage joyfully in their chosen activity and thus improve their skills and self-esteem.
2. A focus on child-led exploration vs. adult-set group activities. Typical daycare centres have adult-set schedules in which children are shuffled into a new activity every 20-40 minutes: circle time, followed by art, followed by outside play etc… Typically, the whole group is required to move together from activity to activity, whether they are engaged in the current activity or not. Instruction happens in a group setting, at a group pace, even if some children move more slowly or more quickly than others.
In contrast, the Montessori curriculum supports a child’s emerging independence and his self-discovery. Children have the luxury of time to choose their own activities, to fully explore them at their own pace and to move freely in the environment. Most instructions are one-on-one presentations. Teachers follow the children’s interests, allowing them to explore the materials, giving them the opportunity to continue to practice until they are satisfied and understanding the optimal approach to the activity in order to build the unique child’s knowledge and skills.
3. A deliberate, educational curriculum teaching life skills through play, vs. undirected play. In the right environment, toddlers are eager to learn through exploration and practice, and so their free play is what Montessori called ‘work’. Toddlers in a Montessori classroom are surrounded by exciting opportunities to develop life skills such as spooning, pouring, matching, organising and much more.
The activities we provide in the class offer children the opportunity to think creatively and develop problem solving skills. Further, our trained teachers are able to extend the activities following the interests of the unique child for deliberate purposes, such as exercising the specific muscles in the hand needed for successful writing and drawing. This is in contrast to many daycare settings, where shelves and boxes are full of plastic toys you child already has in other contexts and where the young untrained adults have limited knowledge and scope for purposeful action.
4. Grace and courtesy vs. group conformity. Many parents want their child to become socialized when they start nursery. But “socialization” can mean different things in different settings. In a Montessori classroom, we guide children to develop what Montessori calls grace and courtesy.
- We establish some clear rules that support a peaceful classroom such as children may only take activities from shelves, never from another child.
- We give children the language they need to express their needs (“I am playing with this; you may have it when I am done,” or “I feel angry because you messed up my work.”)
- Teachers model benevolent and cooperative behaviour such as role playing with children scenarios demonstrating how to solve ‘conflicts’.
The Montessori focus on teaching individual, pro-social skills is different from the group conformity at many daycare centres, where developmentally inappropriate skills, such as sitting still for an extended circle time, or indiscriminate “sharing” of toys may be expected from toddlers, without regard for the actual cognitive and emotional needs of the child and stages of development.
5. A focus on developing inner discipline vs. obedience training. In Montessori, the goal is to help children acquire self-discipline: we want children to understand the right course of behaviour, and to be internally motivated to behave well.
- Our teachers don’t expect immediate obedience from toddlers, nor do they offer rewards (praise, stickers etc.) for ‘good’ behavior, nor punishment (time outs, withdrawal of rights e.g. no pudding) for ‘bad’ behavior.
- Instead, we believe that children naturally behave acceptably, and that by setting up the right environment, and role-modelling kind, respectful behaviour, we can guide your child to develop inner discipline.
When a child does behave in undesired manner, we emphasize positive alternatives e.g. instead of “No running!” we calmly explain, “We walk in class. Let’s go back and walk to the sink together.” For the older children we may discuss logical consequences of their actions through calm non-judgemental discussion “What happens if you run? What else could you do instead?” And because we have mixed aged classrooms, older returning students are able to model healthy behaviour and younger children benefit from the example of their older peers, and older children benefit from the opportunity to mentor and guide their younger peers.
6. A mixed age classroom vs. segregated classrooms by age
In a Montessori setting, we value the influence of other children and peers on the learning and development of individual children and so encourage mixed-age classrooms, whilst ensuring the safety of the very young.
When a child can teach another, that child consolidates knowledge for him/herself as well as developing valuable social skills. Importantly, a more able child is the best and most interesting teacher / role model to another child.
Lastly, there are much greater opportunities for developing social skills and strengthening our classroom community when the knowledge, skill sets, abilities and ages of the children are mixed.
“The main thing is that the groups should contain different ages, because it has great influence on the cultural development of the child. This is obtained by the relations of the children among themselves. You cannot imagine how well a young child learns from an older child; how patient the older child is with the difficulties of the younger” – Maria Montessori
7. A higher ratio of trained teachers vs. lower ratio of untrained young adults. Most daycare centres overcrowd the classroom with children and swap trained teachers with untrained young students/graduates to maximise profits. A low ratio of untrained young adults, unfortunately, makes it all but impossible to provide a quality learning experience for toddlers. 2-3yo still need help with their daily tasks and in a large classroom with untrained young staff, by necessity the adults have to do these things for the children. There just isn’t the time to wait for each child to learn and the adult to guide the process!
In contrast, in a small Montessori classroom with no more than 18 children and at least 5 qualified teachers and their trained assistants, our students are actually nurtured and they learn with joy. The increasing independence helps with their self-esteem, creating a positive loop of joyful learning. In this way each child has the optimal environment to be guided in his unfolding into a bright, capable, confident, energised and enthused student.
8. Trained teachers, vs. revolving-door daycare providers. Most childcare staff have minimal training (often the minimum required by law) and many daycare centres have high staff turnover as poorly trained and poorly paid daycare providers get burned out with the challenge of managing classes overcrowded with toddlers.
In contrast, in a small Montessori setting, our lead teachers either join us with a Montessori teaching credential, often from a MCI training program, or complete their training while employed with us. Further, as Montessorians, we believe in practising what we preach and our staff are treated with great respect, encouraged to self-reflect and self-improve, taking the lead of their own independent continuous learning. Furthermore, a very low staff turnover provides the much needed stability and consistency young children need in their first attachment bonds with their key teachers.
9. Oversight by a Montessori-trained Head of School and Manager, vs. administrative management. Montessori Garden is led by educators – a Montessori-trained Head of School and Manager, a Montessori-trained Deputy Manager and a Montessori-trained Owner, ensuring consistency of high standards and a unified direction. Our managers are hands on in our small setting, teaching and observing, providing feedback to teachers to help them improve their practice, and actively working with parents in partnership for the further optimisation of their children’s learning environment. In contrast, most traditional daycare centres are run by administrators and owned by financial investors, not by educators, which can sometimes give rise to conflicting directions and reduced efficiency in their delivery of the Montessori curriculum.
Does our Montessori approach work? We invite you to come and see for yourself! Most parents are astonished to see how calm, capable, confident and serenely happy the children in our Montessori classrooms are. If you doubt that your own rambunctious, active toddler could ever be like that, rest assured that the children you now observe calmly seated eating snack together came to us no different than your child. The Montessori toddler environment really is that different from other daycare settings, and that’s why Montessori children behave differently, too!