Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Cons of Montessori

For all its positive features and beneficial outcomes, Montessori has room for improvement is several significant ways:

1. Montessori materials and lessons are outdated. In the “practical life” area, children in Montessori schools today still learn how to polish silver and wash clothes on a washboard. I can’t think of a skill less practical for someone born in 2007 than washing clothes on a washboard.
Another example is that children “wash” their own dishes in two bins of water, and then teachers load the dishes into the dishwasher. While I appreciate the thought of teaching children to help with the chores, it would be more practical to teach them to load their dishes into the dishwasher.

Teachers have held too closely to the literal practice of Montessori lessons and lost sight of the spirit of the method. A final example involves a set of material designed by Maria Montessori that includes wooden spindles for counting. It would seem that, by choosing a then-common (early 1900s) household object, she intended the material to be made with something cheap and readily available. But today, instead of following suite by using buttons, hair pins, wine corks or crayons, Montessori schools not only still use spindles, they buy spindles and a spindle boxes from Montessori Outlet for $32.95.

2. Montessori does not do enough to foster creativity or problem solving. Children must work on one of a few dozen lessons prepared by the teacher. Everything needed for a lesson is kept together. If the lesson requires scissors, a pair of scissors specially designated for that lesson is kept with the lesson. This alone spoils potential for creative thinking and problem solving. Children do not need to think “Now what sort of tool could I use to do this task? Scissors! Now where can I find scissors?” and thus an opportunity for learning is lost.

Each lesson has a specific set of steps for its completion. Rather than figuring out how to do something, children are first shown a set of steps and then asked to repeat the same steps. Even a cube-shaped wooden puzzle is less a test of spacial reasoning and more a test of memory. “Let’s see, my teacher showed me the first step is to put the big red piece right here.”

3. The Montessori method supposes that children learn through doing, but does not include learning through playing. Maria Montessori herself said that she there is no need for children to play. Since then, many studies have shown the benefits of pretend play.

In addition, there was a strong divide between “toys” and “Montessori material.” This distinction along with the distinction between work time and playtime sends the false message that there is a no overlap between learning and fun.


Cassandra said...

This is very interesting! What kind of school would you put your pretend future children in?

Ryan Murphy said...

Do you think maintaining outdated lessons is a marketing ploy for Montessori schools? It seems like parents might be attracted to these quaint, antiquated activities while their kids get no benefit from doing them.

Elizabeth Grace Millsaps said...

I might put my child in a Montessori school. I certainly don't think traditional (Piaget) preschools are necessary better than Montessori. I think research into preschool education is a good ways ahead of whats on the market right now. In that sense I feel like I might "settle" for a school that lacked the ideal curriculum if I thought it provided a fun environment with smart caring teachers. If I were shopping for a preschool, I would definitely check out "lab schools," preschools hosted by universities.

Elizabeth Grace Millsaps said...

In response to Ryan, I do think the quaint aspect of Montessori's outdated lessons is attractive to parents. Montessori also uses the appearance of the classroom to market itself. For example, usually the furniture is all real natural wood. Parents like that natural, back-to-the-basics feel.