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Intermediate students in a math class
Lessons for Life >>

Topics And Prospective

Parents who are not familiar with Montessori education ask us what makes it different from other schools and educational approaches.

In this section, we offer our perspective on some of the most frequently asked questions, with emphasis on the life-long lessons we know children receive with a Montessori education.

Conventional approach:

Most schools house large numbers of students and are often located in population-dense areas. The average public elementary school in Maryland enrolls approximately 400 students. These students often share very limited space in terms of a playground and other recreational facilities. Depending on where the school is located, the surrounding area may be suburban or urban, with little to no natural environment adjacent to the campus.

In the past two decades, childhood has moved indoors. The average American boy or girl spends as few as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day and more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen. This shift to the indoors has profoundly affected the wellness of our nation’s kids. Childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in the past 20 years; the United States has become the largest consumer of ADHD medications in the world; and pediatric prescriptions for antidepressants have risen precipitously.

Our kids are out of shape, tuned out and stressed out because they’re missing something essential to their health and development: connection to the natural world.

Montessori approach:

Butler Montessori is sited on a beautiful, 22-acre campus on the edge of Seneca Creek State Park. This offers students the opportunity to explore, learn and play in a nature-rich environment.

Dr. Maria Montessori was an early proponent of experiential learning and considered the outdoor environment a natural extension of the classroom. The Montessori connection makes sense: Contact with nature affords opportunities for rich sensorial experiences, a vital element of Montessori learning. It also supports the whole child—body, mind and soul—and promotes respect for all living things.

Dr. Montessori’s vision for schools was always a combination of indoor and outdoor classrooms. This was a way to study the interconnectedness of all things, a way for children to be able to study math and science, nature and the universe.

Dr. Montessori had deep reverence for the natural world, and her cosmic education curriculum—which runs from the infants and toddlers through the Intermediate program at Butler Montessori—stresses the importance of grounding children in an understanding of themselves as a part of the greater universe. Dr. Montessori believed that we best develop an understanding of self when we understand the interconnectedness of all things—that true respect for self grows together with deep respect for others and for nature.

…because in real life:

An environmental-based education is essential not only for making connections between the classroom and the outside world, but also in developing a respect for nature. As nations around the globe confront the effects of climate change, extinction of plants and animals, and other environmental threats, the next generation will play a pivotal role in creating solutions for problems it will have inherited from those who came before.

Students in schools with environmental education programs score higher on standardized tests in math, reading, writing and listening. Research also suggests exposure to natural settings may be effective in reducing ADHD symptoms and that children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces.

Outdoor play promotes children’s emotional development, creativity and social skills. It also increases fitness levels, builds healthy bodies and promotes healthy lifestyle habits.

“The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”—Richard Louv, author, Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle.

Conventional approach:

Constant testing is a central feature of contemporary American education. Testing is based on proficiency of skills that can be easily measured.

Testing is promoted as a way to bring accountability to schools because it yields troves of numerical data. Administrators use this numerical data to measure and rank students. This intense focus on testing is reducing teachers to enforcers.

Montessori approach:

A Montessori education emphasizes developing skills that are not “testable,” such as working in teams, empathy, organizing one’s environment, and creative thinking and play.

We believe that children and teachers should wake up in the morning full of anticipation for the happy and interesting day ahead.

…because in real life:

Intensive testing results in “studying for the test,” a skill that has no value after graduation. The irony is that “studying for the test” does not prepare students for the requirements of today’s work environment and that of the future. The skills that actually matter for success, such as creativity, independence, leadership and consensus-building, are not testable.

Subjects that enrich the human spirit cannot be measured numerically, so they are marginalized in American education. Art, music, creative writing and drama are disappearing, depriving children of a lifelong source of inspiration, joy and self-discovery.

Conventional approach:

Research shows that a classroom with fewer students improves learning and grades. In teacher-centered instruction, the teacher speaks while students listen, take notes and ask questions. Students move as a group through a lesson unit, and a smaller class is necessary to make it easier for no child to be left behind. Children who aren’t able to keep up and those who become bored and disengaged are often shortchanged in this style of instruction.

Montessori approach:

The Montessori approach is child-centered and based on the child’s stages of development.

In the Primary classroom, lessons are presented mostly to the individual child, tailored to the development of each student. Following the progress of the child, new lessons are presented. In the Elementary classroom, lessons are presented mostly to small groups.

In a Montessori classroom, children of different ages work independently and seek help from the teacher or other students as needed. Working in this manner facilitates peer-to-peer learning, which allows students to deepen their understanding of the material.

…because in real life:

The Montessori method is uniquely suited for preparing students for today’s highly dynamic work environment. Here’s just one example: The Agile methodology has been widely adopted in leading technology and research enterprises.

The similarities between Montessori and Agile are striking. The Agile Manifesto describes it as “a collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional groups promoting adaptive planning, evolutionary development, and rapid and flexible response to change.” This describes what takes place every day in a Montessori classroom.

Conventional approach:

American children are loaded with hours of homework from a young age. The stated goal of homework is to increase proficiency through additional drilling and exercises.

Montessori approach:

The Montessori approach recognizes the critical importance of unstructured play time to develop social skills. We believe that children need to play, enjoy interactions with their family or simply be left to their own devices to explore the world around them. They need time to discover their passions and nurture their creativity, including sports, music and the arts.

Butler Montessori does not assign homework until the 7th grade, when students enter the Intermediate program and it is developmentally appropriate for them to take on academic work outside the classroom.

..because in real life:

A large body of research since the 1990s indicates that homework overburdens children and disrupts families and does not contribute in a meaningful way to enhanced learning.

We highly recommend the award-winning documentary film “Race to Nowhere.”