6 reasons Montessori schools are bad! (Are the pros even worth it?)

Every parent only wants to choose the very best for their child. So while you’re on the search to look for suitable schools and curriculums for your child, you may have stumbled upon “Montessori education.” And we’re not claiming that it’s one of the “best” types of curriculums available today. Because we would like to leave that up to you to decide. However, Jeff Bezos, NBA MVP Stephan Curry, and Anne Frank are some of the notable Alumni of Montessori schools. With such Alumni, it becomes essential to question if Montessori schools are worth the hype. Are the notable alumni a result of Montessori education, or is it just a coincidence? It could also be another expensive excuse for schools to loot parents of their hard-earned money.

Whatever it may be, the answer will only reveal itself when we examine what Montessori schools are and what kind of ideology they’re selling parents.

What are Montessori schools?

Through the early 1900s, Italian physicist and teacher Maria Montessori put together a self-enriching student curriculum in Europe. Maria studied the work of Edouard Seguin and Jean-Marc-Gaspard-Itard, both authors of books written to instruct better those who were especially challenged. Edouard Sequin went as far as opening the first world-renowned school for those who were intellectually disabled in 1839.

montessori toys

Later, she herself worked with children that were mentally challenged to develop purposeful methods of teaching. Through working with these children, she observed that sensory-rich environments appealed to these kids. The ability to choose the pace at which they’d like to learn was also something that helped them meet their respective goals. With what she thought was insightful information, Montessori developed several learning games, activities, and strategies. They aimed to help teachers connect better to students’ learning.

In 1914, Montessori published all her findings, philosophy, and teaching methods in a convenient handbook. This handbook was the first official milestone of what came to be known as Montessori education. Once she applied her education methods to mentally challenged children, she began adapting her methods to fit preschoolers. Later she moved on to elementary school children, and finally to secondary level education.

That was only the background of how Montessori education came into being. It still doesn’t prove why it may be a viable option for your child. Let’s learn a little more about it.

Montessori Philosophy

As debated as it might be, the Montessori philosophy revolves around children picking their challenges in the classroom. Children choose the topics they are most interested to learn and work on them at a pace they also decide for themselves. On the other hand, teachers are only there to support and aid them stay engaged in their work. According to Maria Montessori’s handbook, whenever children are given freedom, they would shout, “I want to do it.” In Montessori schools, they say, “help me do it alone.” This representation explains the ‘philosophy of individualized learning. Can children even be trusted to teach themselves worldly concepts and other important subjects?

To better understand if Montessori schools are a suitable form of education for children, we’ve purposefully picked holes in the system. Here they are:

6 reasons Montessori schools are bad

  1. The curriculum may be too relaxed.

One of the most common worries faced by parents of Montessori schools may be that the curriculum is way too relaxed. Yes, it allows children to choose what they’d like to work on at their pace. And when children are interested in what they’re involved in, they are much better engaged.

Nonetheless, this school structure hardly represents what the real world looks like. The real world is full of deadlines and countless mundane tasks that one may not be interested in. However, they still need to be performed and get done. It goes for everything in life, whether it’s a job or household chores.

And even if we keep the real world aside for a second, children may not learn all they need in school with this curriculum. For example, they may be more interested in languages and social science and not focus on mathematics and science.

In this regard, Montessori schools may be detrimental in developing a mindset where they can get out of things they aren’t interested in.

  1. Focus on individualistic goals and pace may be too much.

How can we trust children to decide their goals and pace for themselves? As already mentioned when we expressed our skepticism toward Montessori schools, children can hardly be trusted to be left on their own. How could they possibly learn subjects important to function as civilized individuals in a society?

Besides, they might get too comfortable working on their own. And when exposed to real-life scenarios where teamwork is required, they might find themselves uncomfortable and unequipped.

Another negative aspect of individualized learning may be that it doesn’t challenge kids enough to step out of their comfort zones. Children become habitual of picking and learning whatever they’re interested in and comfortable in. Therefore, suppose challenges and risk strike in their more prime academic years (university) or the workplace. They might not be able to take on the load.

Too much pressure might leave them drained emotionally or underconfident. Since they haven’t been out of their comfort zone as much, they may doubt their ability to accept and overcome the challenge.

  1. It’s downright expensive.

With a specialized curriculum comes specialized learning tools and resources. These schools are expensive as they equip their schools with adequate instruments and educators that are thorough with the Montessori form of education. An approximate estimate is that a full-time Montessori school costs $14,750 a year. As more and more notable alumni pass out from this specialized form of education, the bigger the hole they create in parents’ pockets! With the popularity of people seeking out admission to Montessori schools, they’re bound to take advantage.

  1. For most, it’s difficult to gain access.

Spending a few thousand dollars out of their pocket for their child’s schooling is a big deal for most parents. It’s especially when free public education is available in their country. It is exactly why most students that attend these schools come from privileged and well-to-do backgrounds.

But there is this one thought. Even if one were capable of affording Montessori school education, should parents admit their kids to a school where children come from similar backgrounds? Wouldn’t public schools make for humbler individuals where kids are exposed to making friends from more diverse families and cultures?

  1. Lower scores in standardized tests

Whether standardized tests can accurately judge a student’s intelligence or capabilities is a vastly debated topic. Nonetheless, obtaining a good score is crucial in landing admission to a reputable university or school. And when it comes to the performance of Montessori students, they tend to underperform. According to the book “The Montessori Controversy,” John Chattin-McNichols researched how their students tend to score lower on standardized tests of both creativity and intelligence.

When children are learning in a self-paced environment, they can excel. However, there are also chances of them falling behind and being unable to compete with the rest of the world.

  1. Not all schools are the same.

Unfortunately, no measurement metric can qualify a school as an “accredited” Montessori school. It means that practically any school can call itself a Montessori school. It makes it hard to decipher whether a school implies the philosophy and teaching methods or whether it’s just a word they have added to their institution’s name.

It means that parents must research diligently and verify the expertise a school offers in its teaching methods. When choosing a school, it’s always a good idea to only judge a school through first-base references.

Pros of Montessori

montessori wooden toys

If we’re debating the legitimacy of the schools, it only makes sense to discuss the pros and cons. Since we’ve already discussed the cons, it’s time for the pros. Fortunately, there are plenty of advantages that Montessori schools offer over traditional schooling. Let’s take a look at them below:

  1. Students fall in love with learning

Thanks to ditching the non-traditional method of students attending a cumbersome long lecture, Montessori students don’t have to wait for a bell to ring for their learning to start or stop. The schools offer a non-threatening curriculum that doesn’t force deadlines and harsh grades on learning. Instead, grades and goals are based on each child’s interests and pace. It creates an environment where the students fall in love with learning.

  1. The multi-age classroom mirrors the real world

One Montessori classroom is a learning ground for children from three different age groups. It is an aspect of the education that you’ll come across in each of their schools. Learning with different age groups enforces the idea that everyone can learn from everyone, regardless of age. It is a mirror image of the real world. There are no set deadlines for achieving milestones such as:

  • completing school
  • graduating from university
  • getting a job
  • marrying
  • or even birthing kids. 

When kids have an earlier realization of comfort that they can lead their lives at their own pace, they will find it easier to make “non-conventional” decisions in their life. They realize that age and the pace of their life don’t necessarily have to do anything with each other.

When children are fluent in concepts their peers don’t understand, they can use this knowledge to bring other children on the same page. It develops their leadership skills and encourages a sense of community and morale.

  1. Children can learn and work as they please.

In traditional schools, a schedule is designed and expected to be followed by a large group of students. On the other hand, Montessori schools provide their students with uninterrupted work periods. In these uninterrupted work periods, children can pick an activity they’d like to work on. They can then work on that activity for as long as they’d like, clean up after they’re finished, and return all the items to the respective shelf. Afterward, they can select another activity that they’d like to work on. These quiet periods of work develop a child’s focus and encourage independence.

Now that we think of it, how are traditional schooling methods expecting children to learn at the same pace? Where a bell is run every hour or two, and the class progresses towards a different subject. It creates an interruption in children’s learning. Imagine developing a certain level of interest in a particular subject, and the bell rings. If it happens once, it could be tolerated. When it happens over and over again, it can become frustrating.

  1. It helps develop soft skills.

As Montessori education gives their students freedom of how they’d like to spend their time in the classroom, students inevitably develop various life skills. In a classroom, you’ll often find kids:

  • Waiting and taking turns to use resources
  • Being thoughtful in sharing their space in the classroom
  • Collaborating with other children to perform activities
  • Asking or helping others when it comes to learning from one another.
  • Developing friendships

When children are given a versatile environment to share, they develop:

  • compassion
  • flexibility
  • independence
  • problem-solving
  • and teamwork skills.

Picking up on these skills early in life can enable kids to derive more fruitful results from their other skills.

  1. Unique learning environment
montessori bead toy

One very strong reason parents are attracted to Montessori education is their classroom. The classrooms are well-lit with:

  • natural light
  • wooden desks
  • plenty of space with carpets
  • and open shelves accessible to children.

These classrooms allow children to absorb Vitamin D and choose where they’d like to seat themselves and learn. But the best part is that students are expected to be mindful of their spaces and clean everything as they move from activity to activity.

  1. Toys and learning tools

While one of the cons we listed was its affordability, it may be very well worth it. It is because the tools and resources are like no other. Suppose we were to talk about Math in a classroom, for instance. It would start with introducing bead stairs, wooden number cards, and trinomial cubes in vibrant colors. Compared to pen and paper, these tools are much more fun and promote a much deeper level of understanding of math.

If we talk about learning a language, materials such as:

  • the moveable alphabet
  • foam letters
  • and blocks are used as learning tools.

Later on, the child progresses to using Montessori symbols. The symbols make it a lot easier to explain the topic of grammar to children.

Their tools and materials are not only an ingenious way for children to grasp the subjects of math and language. They also exist for:

  • science
  • geography
  • botany
  • zoology
  • etc.

Montessori curriculum

Like any other curriculum, the Montessori curriculum equips the child with the necessary knowledge they’ll need in the real world to survive. However, they do it in their unique way.

The curriculum consists of three educational levels, all of which employ the same philosophy of independence and individualized pace of learning. The three levels are:

  • Early childhood level (For ages 2.5 to 6 years)
  • Elementary school level (for ages 6 to 12 years)
  • Secondary school level (for ages 12 to 18)

In other regions (such as the US), the secondary level of education may be divided into two more parts, namely:

  • Middle school level (for ages 12 to 15)
  • High school level (for ages 15 to 18)

Montessori Activities

Every level of education has different approaches, metrics, and activities to measure the students’ growth. Below, we have briefly mentioned the subjects and their corresponding activities to give you a more thorough insight into Montessori schools.

Early childhood level

The early childhood level is the most popular level of Montessori education before rigorous academics are brought in. Some schools, such as Montessori Academy of Australia, solely cater to the early childhood development level. At this level, children learn about five key curriculum areas, often referred to as “subjects” in a traditional school. They are:

Practical life: To develop independence in real-life skills such as:

  • spooning
  • cleaning
  • etiquette
  • and social skills.

Sensorial: Encourages children to better understand the world through the five senses of:

montessori toy
  • sight
  • smells
  • touch
  • sound
  • and taste.

It is usually done by having children delve into activities. They involve figuring out the similarities and differences between:

  • shapes
  • sizes
  • colors
  • shapes
  • smells
  • and sounds.

Mathematics: Introduces the fundamentals of mathematics through Montessori resources and toys such as:

  • beads
  • counters
  • wooden numbers, etc.

Language: Language resources are used to increase the understanding of languages, such as:

  • Sandpaper letters
  • command cards
  • and sentence strips.

Phonetics and proper pronunciation of each word are also explored in depth.

Culture: Children discover concepts of:

  • Geography
  • Zoology
  • Music
  • Art
  • History
  • Science
  • etc. through Montessori activities and tools.

Elementary school level

As the children turn 6 and move to elementary schools, their curriculum becomes vast. It encompasses many more subjects such as:

  • Geometry
  • Astronomy
  • Cultural Geography
  • etc.

The classroom has become a place of debate and grouped learning. It’s because the teacher stirs up discussions and debates and assigns group projects to work on. All subjects taught in traditional elementary schools are taught but in a way that guards the Montessori philosophy.

Secondary school level

The secondary level is the last stage of education before adolescents enter the real world. And so, the secondary level curriculum encapsulates:

  • physical
  • emotional
  • social
  • and cognitive approaches. 

All Montessori aspects remain the same. Aspects include uninterrupted work periods, studying with different age groups, and setting your own pace. Nonetheless, it goes hand in hand with rigorous academics that can help you get into good universities. Something called the “spiral curriculum” is popular among Montessori secondary schools. It allows teenagers to dig deep into separate but related topics. It results in students acquiring a much more extensive and all-embracing point of view of the world.

Montessori vs. Waldorf

montessori busy board on wheels

When you’re looking up various forms and philosophies of schooling, you’re probably going to come up with more than one name. One such name is Waldorf, which has a similar approach to Montessori.

What are Waldorf schools?

Waldorf schools, also known as Steiner education, was founded by Rudolph Steiner. Steiner was a keen follower of anthroposophy. It’s a spiritual movement that advocates the existence of a spiritual realm that humans perceive. It is why concepts such as karma, reincarnation, and spirituality are all topics heavily delved upon in a Waldorf classroom. 

When it comes to comparison with Montessori, there are some major similarities. The similarities include

  • An individualized curriculum and pace
  • Focus on cognitive, behavioral, and imaginative development instead of just focusing on academics
  • Mainstream standardized subjects such as mathematics, English, and science aren’t introduced heavily until the child is a little older.
  • There is a lot of focus on nature. Whereas Montessori classrooms are filled with natural light, Waldorf schools also encourage playing outside to develop social skills.
  • Lots of focus on creativity

Suppose you were to look at some differences to figure out what school would be the most suitable for your child. The differences are:

  • The schools still focus on standardized core subjects, even though they might not be named the same. For example, English is usually called language, and culture is a combination of various zoology, history, and arts. On the other hand, Waldorf schools don’t introduce core academics until elementary school.
  • The schools encourage more work and less play. The teachers don’t encourage pretend play at all, whereas pretend play is a huge part of the Waldorf system. The Waldorf philosophy incorporates pretend play as it enhances creative thinking and imagination.
  • Though the schools also have plenty of artistic activities in their curriculum, Waldorf focuses more on the arts. Waldorf educators try to weave music, dance, drama, and other performing arts into academics so students can stay engaged in long classes and understand better.

Final Thoughts

You may have started to read this article looking for faults in the Montessori education system. However, it is up to parents to decide what their child’s education should look like. Many parents choose the traditional form of education, as they’re most familiar with it. Thus, they value knowing their child’s curriculum so they can help them out whenever they like. On the other hand, the philosophy encourages independence. Perhaps that’s what you’d like for your child as well.

Even if one weren’t to enroll their child in a full-fledged Montessori system of education, they could still use various forms of learning in their day-to-day life. Incorporating Montessori toys, beds and resources will also promote sensory-based learning and independence in the child’s behavior.

Hope you find what’s best for your child. Good luck.