Why Montessori Elementary?

A Montessori elementary classroom is profoundly different from traditional elementary school rooms. These fundamental differences provide an ideal learning environment that is in tune with children’s developmental growth and are exactly why the Montessori elementary program helps children thrive. 1) Truly Individualized Instruction In a Montessori classroom, teachers guide, not lecture. Rather than a teacher […]

January 1, 2017

A Montessori elementary classroom is profoundly different from traditional elementary school rooms. These fundamental differences provide an ideal learning environment that is in tune with children’s developmental growth and are exactly why the Montessori elementary program helps children thrive.

1) Truly Individualized Instruction

In a Montessori classroom, teachers guide, not lecture. Rather than a teacher preparing a single lesson plan and lecture to give all at once to a classroom of students, instruction is individualized and customized for every student. A Montessori elementary teacher keeps each child optimally challenged. In traditional elementary education, so much of the day’s instruction happens at an all-class level; students must move through the same curriculum at the same pace, regardless of whether they grasp it quickly and are ready to move on, or if they need additional guidance and practice to learn a new concept or practice a skill.  Mandatory standardized testing has made this situation even more pronounced as public school teachers are held accountable to ensure that all students are able to pass specific high stakes tests. This approach cannot be expected to work effectively for all students. A child who is advanced in a subject will be bored (and possibly more apt to exhibit attention-seeking behavior); while the one who is behind will soon becomes anxious and worried about his shortcomings.

In contrast, in a Montessori elementary classroom nearly all instruction happens in small groups where teachers are able to observe students up close (not across the room while sitting a desk checking email; in fact there is no teacher’s desk at all). Given their keen observation and knowledge of every student’s current level, Montessori teachers bring together the specific children who are ready for a particular lesson. Once the lesson has been given (individually or in a small group), each child has time to practice a skill or further explore an area. They may do this alone or with freely chosen partners. Or they may ask another child for assistance if they are having trouble.

2) Choice and Flexibility in the Curriculum

While the Montessori curriculum is very specific, intentionally-designed and tested, and sequential in many respects, it is not a one-size-fits all curriculum. Montessori teachers continually adapt and modify the materials and launch subjects in the classroom based on the particular needs and interests of the group of students in the class and the individuals within it.

Furthermore Montessori students are encouraged to be curious; to look beyond the immediate lesson and to delve in to find out more. They are often given choices about how they want to approach an assignment. Such autonomy can be incredibly motivating, which is why Montessori elementary gives children a say in their learning. That’s not to say Montessori students are free to do whatever they want, whenever they want to. Instead it is quite structured with clear guidelines of what is expected academically and behaviorally. However, within that clear framework, each Montessori elementary student can acquire skills and knowledge in the way that makes the most of his/her particular learning style.

Of course, each child has to attain certain skills; learning arithmetic isn’t optional. However, instead of forcing every child to complete the same worksheet, repetition of a concept is accomplished using a variety of specially designed, intriguing Montessori materials which ensure plenty of practice of any given skill. For instance, multiplication practice includes work with the Bead Chains, Stamp Game, Checkerboard, Large Bead Frame, and Flat Bead Frame. When we take our students on field trips, the people we encounter regularly comment that our students are the most curious and engaged group of children they have seen. This is a common refrain for Montessori elementary schools: the children love learning, because they have a chance to be actively engaged in the process.

3) Montessori Classrooms are Filled with Hands-on Materials, not Textbooks

Children learn to solve problems and really think, much more than repeat the same thing endlessly on worksheets in class and assigned as homework. Traditional elementary school work is unfortunately focused almost exclusively on work with textbooks and worksheets, created by a handful of publishing companies and changed every few years, promising a “new approach to learning” so that those publishing companies have new textbooks to sell. Make no mistake, this is big business. In contrast, a Montessori classroom is filled with time-tested materials that take abstract concepts and present them in a way that a child can pick up, handle, and put together again to make sense of the abstract concept they are learning.

While there is nothing wrong with books (we love reading), you will not find traditional textbooks and endless worksheets in the Montessori elementary class. Through her observations Dr. Montessori regarded the early elementary years as a critical stage in the mind’s development: a time when the concrete thinking matures further into abstract thinking. In the age 3 to 6 classrooms, children explore many materials, such as the Trinomial Cube or the Golden Beads, primarily for the sensorial interest. As elementary students they now use materials to understand how the world works, figuring out the why and the how of things.  With the Montessori materials, learning is focused on the world; children acquire a mindset of thinking about things and figuring them out, rather than memorizing words or processes as dictated by an adult.

4) Long Uninterupted Work Periods

Rather than children learning certain subjects at set times each day and moving on as the schedule dictates (not as they are ready), Montessori students have the benefit of long uninterrupted work times, allowing them to engage fully with what they are learning. Much like you may block out time in your workday to actually work (instead of attending endless meetings) protecting children from interruptions when productively engaged is key to their development of concentration and interest in their work. Traditional schools have broken up the day in many short time periods leaving many children mentally fatigued despite the alleged benefit of variety, some unable to complete their work in the given time and some left twiddling their thumbs waiting for everyone else to catch up. In contrast, Montessori schools allow children to follow the natural cycle of work for which they are mentally prepared. Children have time to think, to reflect, to truly digest. And they also have time to have a snack, get a drink of water, or use the bathroom when they need to and happily can get back to their work without shame or embarrassment.

5) Mixed-Age Classrooms Support Developmental Needs and Embrace Peer-to-Peer Learning

Rather than competing with each other, students in a Montessori classroom grow into a community, and practice all-important social skills every day. Developmentally younger children (particularly in the preschool years) are more inclined to want to work individually while elementary aged students are hitting the age of needing to develop socially (and are therefore more inclined and able to work in groups or with partners).

Traditional schools are structured just the opposite: preschool aged children are taught primarily in groups and in traditional elementary schools class time is largely focused on individual work, in strictly same-age classrooms, and social interactions is typically limited to recess and lunch. Students are often discouraged to help one another with the fear being that the child being helped is “cheating.”

In a Montessori classroom students are encouraged to help one another and learn from one another. In Montessori elementary, children interact with each other, across age groups, all day. You’ll often see 2-4 children working together on projects, negotiating roles and learning social skills in a safe, supervised setting as they choose co-workers and figure out that they can work with a range of companions, not just with their closest friends.

A Montessori elementary classroom is very different from traditional schooling. These five highlights are just a start to understanding this unique learning environment. Please contact our director, Janet Villella ( or 425-883-3271 if you are interested in learning more and would like to schedule an observation to see our elementary students and teachers in action.


Sammamish Montessori School