What Is the Montessori Method — and Is It Right For Your Kid?

Choosing the right school or learning style for your little one can be overwhelming and often feel like a major life decision. After all, you want to start them out on the right foot and pick an education style that fosters their best self. But with all the different curriculums out there, it can be tough to know which one will suit your kiddo.

When it comes to parenting and education, the Montessori method continues to be a popular choice for its unique and holistic approach. Developed by Dr. Maria Montessori more than 100 years ago, the Montessori theory emphasizes independence, self-directed learning, and respect for the child's individuality. It's often criticized on social media for being a more free-range style of learning (and parenting) that encourages self-sufficiency. But is Montessori curriculum the best choice for every child? POPSUGAR spoke to the experts to find out everything parents need to know about Montessori.

What Is a Montessori School?

Montessori educators believe in "an educational approach that centers around the child and is grounded in scientific observations from birth to adulthood," according to the American Montessori Society. "Montessori education is student-led and self-paced but guided, assessed, and enriched by knowledgeable and caring teachers, the leadership of their peers, and a nurturing environment."

Today, Montessori school span from preschool through high school, and there are more than 3,000 Montessori schools in the US alone, according to the National Center for Montessori in the Public. And of those, more than 570 are public programs.

The Montessori Method

"The Montessori Method assumes that children have an inherent desire to learn and will do so without incentives or pressure from their teachers," Christine Carrig, a Montessori teacher since 2006, and owner of Carrig Montessori in Brooklyn, NY, tells POPSUGAR.

"Montessori believed that learning goes from the hand to the brain, so many of her materials are designed to be used in a hands-on way so that children can have an embodied learning experience," Carrig adds.

Montessori Theory believes in developing the child emotionally, physically, socially, and intellectually, according to Montessori Academy, and the theory behind Montessori is based on ten key principles:

  1. Respect for the child
  2. Absorbent mind
  3. Sensitive periods
  4. Education for the whole child
  5. Individualized learning
  6. Freedom of movement and choice
  7. Prepared environment
  8. Intrinsic motivation
  9. Independence
  10. Auto-education

"In a nutshell, Montessori philosophy holds that schools should create an environment that harnesses this natural curiosity with the object of increasing children's self-confidence, self-reliance, and self-development," Cindy Chanin, founder and director of Rainbow Education Consulting, tells POPSUGAR.

Montessori Curriculum

"The learning environments of a Montessori classroom are prepared in a way that allows children opportunities to learn in various subject areas, some of which are traditional and some of which are unique to Montessori," Carrig explains. Instead of having a very rigid and structured curriculum, Montessori believes strongly that kids should be able to direct their own learning at their own pace.

"Activities are typically presented individually or in small groups, and children are free to move around the classroom and work at their own pace," Chanin explains. "This contrasts with traditional educational systems, which typically have a set curriculum and timeline for all students to follow, with more emphasis on direct instruction, testing, and grades."

The way the learning environment is structured in the Montessori curriculum encourages independent and self-directed classroom learning. This often includes smaller classes with mixed ages (often spanning a three-year age range, like 3-6 years, 6-9 years, or 9-12 years), natural toys, and supplies that encourage kids to use their hands and are always arranged so they're within reach. Teachers will also take a more laid-back approach in a Montessori classroom. They are "viewed as facilitators rather than instructors," Carrig says.

Is the Montessori Approach Right For Your Child?

"When deciding whether a Montessori school is right for their child, parents might consider their child's personality, learning style, and their own values and expectations for education," Chanin says.

She notes that Montessori could be a good fit for a child who is "curious, independent, and enjoys exploratory learning," and it should feel right for the parents, too.

"Parents should consider visiting a Montessori school, observing the environment, and speaking with teachers to get a sense of whether it would be a good fit for their child," Chanin suggests.

Carrig adds to this by saying there are some situations where the Montessori classroom may not be the best fit, including "instances in which the freedom of movement in the Montessori classroom may be overwhelming to a child," such as kids who "may have sensory processing differences." She suggests in these cases, parents should consider whether "a more structured and contained environment may be more supportive."

Ultimately, parents will know if the learning method is right for their kids, Carrig explains. "Parents should always consider themselves the expert on their own child. If they tour a Montessori school and don't get the sense that it would be the right fit for their child, they should trust their own judgment."