What are the key differences between Montessori and conventional teaching practices?

Multi-age, family like communities.

Most play-based programs segregate children by age into the 2's, 3’s and 4’s, and so on. Montessori preschools instead group 3- to 5-year-olds into one class. A child stays with the same teacher for two years. This builds a strong, family-like community, with lasting relationships between child and teacher, and friendships between children of different ages. Young children look up to and learn from older ones; while the 5--year-olds gain confidence as they become classroom leaders and mentors for their younger peers.

Uninterrupted “work periods.”

Most preschools follow tight, adult-led schedules, with a new group activity every 15-30 minutes. In contrast, authentic Montessori preschools offer long, uninterrupted work periods that allow children to fully engage in tasks that they have chosen for themselves, under the careful, individual guidance of their teacher. Montessori children thus have repeated opportunities to get really engrossed in their activities, and experience regular states of concentrated focus. Visit a good Montessori preschool, and you may see a 3-year-old spending 30 minutes carefully arranging color tablets in a rainbow pattern, or a 4-year-old tracing, coloring and labeling a map of the world. As adults, we can’t focus when we know we’ll be interrupted soon; neither can children. Unstructured, child-led time is key in building concentration skills at the foundation of all learning.

A carefully sequenced, activity-based curriculum that engages hand and mind.

While most play-based preschools have the same type of toys you already have at home—think lego, dress-up corners, coloring pages, trains and blocks—Montessori preschools offer something different to your child. Displayed beautifully on low shelves, you’ll find dozens of scientifically designed learning materials: a Pink Tower, Color Tablets, pouring activities, a Movable Alphabet, math materials that teach the decimal system and arithmetic into the thousands, and so much more. Each activity has been selected because children at hundreds of Montessori preschools chose it freely, repeatedly. Each one teaches multiple skills and enables the preschool child to problem solve, to use his hands and all his senses, to repeat an activity and achieve mastery. By progressing at his own pace through these activities, a Montessori preschool child joyfully refines his gross and fine motor skills, and, ultimately, progresses to reading, writing and arithmetic into the thousands, all while in preschool.