Proponents of Montessori education have long known about its unique and effective curriculum for building strong, confident students. But the benefits of Montessori extend well beyond academics, according to a recent study reported in Psychology Today. Researchers found a Montessori education to be superior to traditional learning methods because it builds higher levels of well-being and long-term psychological health in kids — and that extends to their adult lives, too.
“One of the ways we describe the benefits of Montessori education is in the way it develops a sense of purpose in our students, whether they are doing the work in front of them, creating a long-term project, or even engaging in sports or robotics,” says Dr. Alan Carter, Headmaster at Creative Montessori Academy, a tuition-free K-8 Montessori public school in Southgate.
Because working on meaningful activities is a hallmark of the Montessori curriculum, students never wonder when in their lives they will use the knowledge and skills they are acquiring. “A math worksheet is a good example,” says Dr. Carter. “Yes, math facts are important, but worksheets can quickly become meaningless to a child.”
Younger children solidify their understanding of how numbers work by manipulating beads and blocks to create patterns. “The minute they can see patterns, they get excited. Mazes and puzzles are so important to young children and the use of concrete materials makes numbers meaningful, helping them learn size and volume and their physical place in the world,” he explains.
As they grow, Creative Montessori Academy students embrace conceptual representations of numbers — yet they are learning so much more than solve for x, Dr. Carter says. “In algebra, it’s not always about finding slope, but discovering the unknown. How do we find that unknown and make it known? At this stage, they are truly solving problems and using patterns, and this is a skill they will use for the rest of their lives,” he says.
Agency and self-confidence
Following Maria Montessori’s pillar of self-reliance, children of all ages at Creative Montessori Academy build self-confidence by taking charge of their own work and determining for themselves how and when to tackle their assignments for the week.
“Maria Montessori was famous for her belief in not doing for the child what the child can do on their own, even down to pouring juice. When they master this, even if they spill at first, they become a self-reliant kid who can pour their own juice and clean up their spills,” Dr. Carter explains. “As an adult, kids with a Montessori education are able to do for themselves and then also serve others, and this broadens out to caring for their own homes, families and finances.”
What Dr. Carter sees in the classrooms at Creative Montessori Academy aligns with the University of Virginia study’s finding that “people who had spent at least two years in Montessori had higher well-being than people who never went to Montessori,” the article says.
Because teachers at Creative Montessori Academy encourage children to take risks, they build confidence from trying — and even from failing. “There’s a lot to learn from failing and being OK to get back up and try again,” Dr. Carter says, adding that long-term well-being comes from the resilience gained by overcoming failure.
Compared to traditional classrooms where all students work on the same tasks and subjects simultaneously, Creative Montessori Academy students engage in weekly work plans, and this is a typical practice for Montessori education. “Students practice self-efficacy because they make their own decisions regarding how they do their work,” Dr. Carter says. A student who loves math might do the entire week’s worth of math by Tuesday and save reading for last.
“Students might even partner to do their work and this is where they learn who has similar interests. Teachers might guide students to engage and it’s the work of the educator to steer the ship a little bit.”
Learning to make decisions from an early age helps build well-being for future adults.
When Creative Montessori Academy students get to college or into their career of choice, they will be able to assess the work they have and prioritize tasks to meet deadlines. “They’ll assess the work that needs to be done and the end goal. They will look forward three months and know they have a 20-page paper to write, so they may choose to start now. Build that agency into elementary school and at college, it’s not a big deal,” says Dr. Carter.
Project-based learning helps kids access problems in their own lives and environments and apply solutions in creative ways, which builds the skill of self-determination to lean on as they grow to adulthood. In this way, students are learning problem-solving skills with relevant real-world applications — precisely what they will be called upon to do in their careers as adults.
“One student may create a project based on how to encourage soccer teammates to pass the ball more, and they’ll research statistics about passing and scoring and figure out how to present that data to their team,” Dr. Carter shares. “Or they’ll tackle a problem of indecision and come up with tips to help make a decision. As they become teens and young adults, these lessons stick with them and the data shows it does.”
Collaboration in multiage classrooms
According to researchers, the human-centered Montessori model provides better social stability and cohesion because students remain with the same peer group and teacher for three years. At Creative Montessori Academy, first, second and third graders work together in a way that promotes mentoring and supporting each other throughout the day and from year to year. This is repeated in fourth through sixth grades, and then again for seventh and eighth grades.
“There’s a sense of safety and community and family for the child that comes from empathy, support and following and leading,” Dr. Carter says. Children practice teaching each other, which provides a great learning opportunity and a chance to reinforce skills.
And, from a teacher’s perspective, the multiage model means there’s a lot less “getting to know you” time required at the beginning of each school year. “Teachers know what level of reading and math their students are, and they know socially what engages them. And, while kids do change and grow over the summer, the teachers know the students and there is a quicker start at the beginning of the year,” Dr. Carter says.
As a K-8 tuition-free public school with a fee-based preschool program, Creative Montessori Academy has room to grow. “We’d love to bring on babies and toddlers and high school grades, too,” Dr. Carter says. “That would be a great babies-to-grads Montessori experience for families.”
Learn more about Creative Montessori Academy at creative-montessori.com.