Does Montessori Prepare Students for the Real World?

Adapted from an article by Catherine Weaver
Wilmington Montessori School (Wlimington, DE)

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Every day, as part of my work at Wilmington Montessori School, I spend time with parents who are thinking about enrolling their child in a Montessori program As we walk through the building, observing classrooms and admiring facilities, we talk about the needs and interests of their child.

How will my child benefit from this?
How will the teachers work with my child?
Will her strengths be nurtured?
Will his special needs be addressed?

Parents, from the first visit, need to know how we plan to work with their child. It is easy for parents to observe in our school. As we visit toddler, preschool, and elementary classrooms, parents see for themselves the hands-on interactive style of learning. They watch children pouring sand and water in practical life. They see them practice number and counting skills with the golden bead material. They hear children engaged in conversation and witness growing social skills. Parents sense the focus and independence that are common when children in Montessori classrooms love their work! One of the best parts of my job is watching parents decide for themselves that this is the educational experience they want for their child. Inevitably though parents also want to know:

What happens after this?
Where do your children go from here?
What will happen to my child when he gets to the “real” world?
How can she survive after the loving and nurturing environment here?”

Even though the benefits of process-oriented, non-competitive education and a nurturing environment are evident in the daily Montessori experience of each child, parents still tend to be goal oriented when it comes to their children. They need to know that their child will be ready for “the next step,” whatever that may be.

“There’s nothing that can help you understand your beliefs more
than trying to explain them to an inquisitive child.”
– William Stafford

These are important questions that I find myself trying to answer as both a parent and an educator. My oldest daughter is approaching the time when she will need to leave the wonderful world of Wilmington Montessori School for the seventh grade. Where will she go from here? Does she have the preparation she really needs? How can schools help parents to feel comfortable with the answers to these questions?

My first response is a personal one. I can’t help but comment on the self-confidence that I see in my daughter and a willingness on her part to try just about anything when it comes to learning. She is just as comfortable working out a complicated mathematical problem as she is reciting lines from Shakespeare on stage. I know that gentle guidance from our talented teachers, in hands-on Montessori classrooms, is responsible for the development of these qualities. All of my children love learning and coming to school. And the motivation for learning is internal rather than external. It’s what they want to do! I believe that these skills will serve my children well, whatever comes next for them.

tieshoesI also know that my children will leave Wilmington Montessori School with certain values. They have a deep respect for the needs and capabilities of other people and an appreciation for diversity in all forms. They are concerned for the environment and are becoming advocates for social justice. This might have happened in other school environments, but I am proud and grateful that it has happened for my children in a Montessori.

Wilmington Montessori School also has much anecdotal evidence to support the preparation that Montessori education provides for each child. Here are some examples from recent graduates.

Lauren McNamee, a tenth-grade student at a local independent school writes: “My Montessori education helped me build a good foundation for learning. I developed strong writing skills for reports and essays at Montessori. In mathematics, I learned basic properties as well as skills needed for algebra, geometry, and other high-school math courses. Montessori also helped teach me how to interact with people in a positive and friendly way.”
Kanika Gupta, an eighth grader in public school, reports that Montessori: “… helped me to plan and organize my work. I learned to express my creativity on projects, posters, and dioramas. I also feel more confident about sharing ideas with other people. I learned so much about myself!”
And parents (past and present) are often as expressive in their analysis of the Montessori advantage. Michele Hess, a former WMS parent whose daughters now attend another private school, says:

“… my girls were well prepared across the curriculum. They are doing well in all areas of study and managing a course load with advanced language and math. Reports from guidance counselors mention their confidence and problem-solving skills as real strengths. Montessori had a lot to do with developing these skills.”
Lois Kaylor, Great Books teacher at our school, has a unique perspective. For many years she served as a reading specialist at other schools. She notices certain trends in the preparation of Montessori students:

“These children have a great respect for one another and are not afraid to speak up for themselves. Their self-esteem is as remarkable as their ability to recognize and appreciate the strengths of their peers. These children dare to take risks in their work in a cooperative learning environment.”
Lois also cites the involvement of parents in the educational process as an important factor in the differences she sees in Montessori children. “In Montessori, parents are an integral part of the educational process. Their involvement is critical to the success of each child and the school.”

“Children are one third our population and all of our future.”
– Panel for the Promotion of Child Health

There are a wide variety of options available to Montessori children in their life choices, careers, and education. We believe that Montessori is really an educational decision that has an impact for life!

The answer to the question, “What’s next for my child?” is inevitably a personal one for each and every child served. And that’s just as it should be. Providing the educational challenge and personal concern needed by each child in our program is the pledge we make to our families and the mission we set for ourselves.