A few days ago, I had a conversation with a friend whose child is in a Montessori school. She said to me, “You know, I love Montessori and when I read about all the positive outcomes in Montessori children, I feel I would love to see them in my child, but really, I have not seen them in him yet. I have seen many children from other traditional schools and nothing seems any different in my child.” I was immediately defensive and started telling her what I believe in and how Montessori children are “better”.

Reflection on it is not “us” versus “them”

However, soon after, I started to reflect on our conversation, as I usually do and realised that it is not “us” versus “them”. I remembered what Dr. Maria Montessori had said about human beings. She had said that all human beings have the same tendencies and fundamental needs, irrespective of the culture in which they live in. This means that the characteristics they show at each stage of their life would also be the same. So yes, there may be less apparent differences between a child going to a Montessori school and a child going to a traditional school. It is not “us” versus “them”, as ultimately, all children exhibit the same developmental needs and tendencies as the universal child.

When Dr. Maria Montessori came up with the Montessori Method, she had no goals of setting herself apart. She wanted everyone to understand how human beings develop and through her method, she sought to support that development.

A scientist, doctor or an inventor, would want their research, medicine or device to be used to benefit as many people as possible. In the same way, Dr. Maria Montessori wanted her scientific observation and the observation of thousands of other Montessori school teachers to be used to benefit children around the world. That is why she never went on to patent her name and make her schools exclusive. Her method spread across six continents and Montessori schools were opened by all who were inspired by her method.

Realisation that it is not “us” versus “them”

Now we come back to the same question, “Why then would I send my child to a Montessori school when everything seems the same, and sometimes, it is more assuring for me as a parent if my child goes to a traditional school since it is the choice of the majority?”

My answer to that is:

A good Montessori school knows and understands the development of children in their specific planes of development and tailors its curriculum to the needs and characteristics of children in that plane of development.

A traditional school, on the other hand, comes with the adult agenda of giving a curriculum to the children based on what they think will benefit children. To know what that is, they look at the expectations of the country, culture, society and world at large. The needs of the children and their characteristics are mostly overlooked. This leads to children unable to meet their needs in a traditional setting, and in turn, they struggle or give up.

Haven’t we heard of innumerable children complaining about homework, about tests, about teachers’ expectations, about the school’s expectations, about their parents’, grandparents’, and sometimes, even uncles’ and aunts’ expectations? We have also seen from experience, and in varying degrees, the dire repercussions for the child who is struggling or wanting to give up. Have we even paused to think what the children are looking for and what they need?

Conclusion that it is not “us” versus “them”

As adults, we are still a work-in-progress, and we are still figuring ourselves out. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the needs of our childhood were appropriately met at each stage and we figured out ourselves right then?

In a Montessori school, learning is also effortless. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had effortlessly learnt all that we struggled with in our childhood? That is what happens in a Montessori school. Acquisition of immense knowledge is effortless. It is driven by the children themselves, with no one else’s expectations but their own.

What education looks like in a 6-12 classroom is a story for another day, but for now, I have my answer for “Why Montessori?” and my friend is reassured. It is not “us” versus “them” – it is how well the children’s needs are being met and fulfilled.

“The child’s work is nothing more or less than man-building! Day after day, hour after hour, from minute to minute, that incessant labour goes on. There must be no break in his activities, for that would mean death. He must surmount every obstacle in his path, he must vanquish every difficulty. Humanity, unaware of what it is doing, has blocked his path of development with countless difficulties; so that the child’s labour through the ages has been broken by cries of lamentation and drenched in tears. Now that we know what he suffers; now that we realise the fatal consequences of frustrating this development which goes to form the man, we have been awakened to the consciousness of the need for a new kind of social crusade – a social crusade on behalf of the noblest of beings, the least protected of all workers – the child. Let humanity awake! Let her give the child such conditions of living as he requires – if he is to achieve his task – which is sacred – no longer amid strife and lamenting, but full of joy, and aided by the society in which he lives.”

(Montessori, Maria (1935). A Message from Maria Montessori in December, 1935. Holland: Communications)

Anjum is one of the founders of Lodestar Montessori School. She wishes that everyone discovers Montessori the way she did. She lives in Singapore with her husband and son.