When Montessori Doesn't Work

A quick search on the internet will bring up an array of posts and articles about Montessori, both good and bad. I always find it disheartening when I come across ones that are disparaging about Montessori, especially those that are based on personal experience, whether it be as a home-schooler or from attending a Montessori school.

Here are some of the fundamental reasons why I believe Montessori may not work for some:

1. Parents Not Fully Understanding the Philosophy
Understanding the philosophy doesn't come easily to everyone, especially if you have been raised very differently. A lot parents choose Montessori because they have done research or have heard from others that it is the best for the child, but don't research any further than the academic aspect. Parent's who choose Montessori for their children often believe that sending them to a Montessori school is all it takes and it ends at the school gates.

I have seen many parents withdraw their children from Montessori schools because they had preconceived ideas and expectations that were not met. This is why you may across some schools that have quite detailed enrolment process and requirements, these schools are trying to ensure that parents have an understanding of what lies ahead to avoid such misunderstandings.

There are many myths and misconceptions around Montessori (too much structure, not enough structure, too much freedom, not enough freedom, not enough creativity, children get to do what ever they want, etc.) that if you as a parent come on board with some of these perceptions and do not take the time to learn more about the philosophy then Montessori may not work for you.

2. The Child Has an Un-diagnosed Condition
Some children struggle, particularly at the elementary level, when there is an underlying undiagnosed condition. Some conditions are harder to recognise and teachers are not health professionals. While most teachers put a lot of time into professional development and understanding various special and additional needs in children, there are many conditions that present similarly or are difficult to recognise without intensive or formal training.

A good Montessori teacher is also a good observer. Observation is one of the key functions of the Montessori classroom, and so over time the teacher may be able to build up a report of various things he/she has observed that may need further investigation. Unfortunately not all parents are receptive to this type of information and this can put a strain on the parent-teacher relationship.

3. The School Is Not An Authentic Montessori School
Not all Montessori schools are created equal, and in many parts of the world the name Montessori has been co-opted by people or groups who are solely looking to cash in on the name.

Authenticity isn't simply in the appearance of the school or classroom. Having Montessori materials on the shelves does not ensure authentic Montessori practice is at work. Montessori pedagogy must be understood across the board - from the head of the school and teachers to administration staff and educations assistants.

Some key aspects to look for when looking at a Montessori school (and are red flags if they are not present) -

  • multi-age classrooms
  • uninterrupted 3 hour work cycles  
  • work is chosen freely during the work cycles 
  • the school is accredited or affiliated with a national or international Montessori organisation
  • all of the teachers hold accreditation from a known and reputable Montessori institution 
  • a beautiful and well prepared, child-centred learning environment
  • cooperation and collaboration (not competition) 

4. Poor Teacher-Parent Relations
This is a hard one to admit, but teachers are not perfect - not even Montessori teachers. And sometimes parents are not always easy to approach. There can be many contributing factors to poor parent-teacher relations, but in my experience at the heart of most cases are two things that undermine the relationship: assumptions and judgements.

Good communication is key to fostering a mutually respectful relationship between parents and teachers. Neither party can afford to assume to know what happens/doesn't happen (insert alternative scenarios here) in either environment, and it really important to not make judgements about the other party as this will erode any good will that exists.

5. Parenting Style 
Directly related to #1. There are many parenting styles, and this is not a new thing but naming them is (relatively). Fundamentally if your parenting style isn't somehow in line with Montessori values and the child is not receiving consistent messages between home and school then there will be power struggles, fugues and other challenging behaviours that will lead to disharmony and dissatisfaction.

If your approach to parenting is positive, pragmatic, revolves around intrinsic motivation and building your child's independence then you are more than half way there.

Ultimately the method does suit all children, as the approach is based on universal points of development observed by Dr Montessori, regardless of culture or geography. Each child should be met at at their point of development, their needs, and their interests. If there is something not going right the answer is most likely to be found in the prepared environment and it is up to the prepared adult(s) to observe and evaluate what it may be that needs to be adjusted.

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  1. Replies
    1. Thank you for stopping by - glad you did as I am now a fan of your blog! :)

  2. #shill interesting that none of your critiques are about the school/method. Objectivity is over-rated, eh?

    1. This was more of a response to some of the posts out there in the ether that criticise Montessori without truly understanding some of the fundamentals. Is every Montessori school perfect? No. IS every Montessori teacher perfect? No. And likewise for mainstream and other methods of learning. As a blog I am putting forward some ideas and thoughts, often as a response to things I observe and occasionally to things I read. At not point do I purport to be a journalist or to be writing for peer review - it is a blog. Perhaps I will follow up in the near future with a piece looking more at the method, but really - like education in general - any short falls are often to do with the fact humans are not perfect. This is the underlying point of this post.

    2. Here is a good video on the subject, theoctavist


  3. An insightful article, thank you for sharing. I agree with every word! As a Montessori parent myself, I agree that it is so important that we have a parenting style and home life that is consistent with Montessori principles.I believe Montessori suits all children, for the reasons you have mentioned. It doesn't suit all parents, however, so stringent enrollment procedures to ensure that parents understand Montessori - and commit to supporting the principles at home, well before they consider enrolling their child in a Montessori school.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind feedback. I do feel it is the adults, parents and sometimes teachers, that are pivotal in the success of Montessori education. Adults are the most fallible part of the equation.