Montessori education: Research in US suggests long-term benefits

Published by Scott Challinor on January 11th 2022, 8:03am

Research published in Frontiers in Psychology has suggested that the Montessori method of education may be superior to its more traditional counterparts, particularly concerning the long-term psychological health and wellbeing of pupils.

The leading author of the paper, Dr Angeline Lillard of the University of Virginia, explained: “Wellbeing, or the felt experience of health, happiness, and flourishing, predicts several desirable outcomes including better health and work performance, longevity, and more positive social behaviour and relations.

“[In our research] we explored whether a different childhood experience, Montessori education, might predict higher adult well-being.”

The study brought together 1,905 American adults that had attended Montessori or conventional schools, ranging from the age of 18 to 81. The participants were asked to complete a series of wellbeing surveys, with the researchers uncovering that there was strong evidence of elevated psychological wellbeing among those who had attended a Montessori school during their formative years.

Dr Lillard outlined: “What surprised us is that pretty much everything in the sink turned out significant — on almost every survey, people who had spent at least two years in Montessori had higher well-being than people who never went to Montessori.

“This was true even among the sub-sample who attended private schools for their entire pre-college lives. We also found that the longer one had attended a Montessori school, the higher their level of wellbeing.”

These results even held water when the researchers factored in other issues known to influence childhood and adult wellbeing, such as age, race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status during childhood, and private schooling.

In the US, there are an estimated 500,000 children attending Montessori schools, and Dr Lillard and her research partners expressed a hope that their findings will encourage parents to look at the method more closely.

Dr Lillard said: “The study is one more data point in a growing body of research suggesting Montessori pedagogy is better for humans than is the common model. Since it is over 100 years since people began implementing Montessori, it has been beta-tested — we know how to implement this pedagogy and are doing so all over the world. More people should know about it.”

Furthermore, the researchers have suggested that the Montessori curriculum’s focus on activities that promote self-determination helps boost wellbeing by enabling children to choose their own work the majority of the time, take charge of their own education, partake in meaningful activities, and boost their social stability and cohesion.

The research concludes: “Montessori warrants further study, as it is the most common and long-lasting alternative progressive pedagogy in the world and has several features that are endemic to well-being-enhancing educational environments.”

While US researchers hope that the Montessori method of education is embraced further on their side of the Atlantic, it is also alive and well in the UK.

Census data suggests that there are around 700 Montessori schools in the UK, with over 30,000 children receiving such an education across all of them, and its presence and demand is growing.

Indeed, the UK’s Montessori Schools Association [MSA] - founded by the Montessori St Nicholas Charity - had 4,000 members as of 2014. This figure and the number of Montessori schools and attendees in the UK is expected to grow as more parents continue to be drawn to the system.

The MSA believes that Montessori nurseries are attractive to parents because children tend to be “very socially comfortable and confident because they have been encouraged to problem solve and think independently.”

One Montessori provider in the UK is Snug Nursery Schools, which owns and runs Ascot-based Storybook Montessori. Owner and founder Mary Brosnan spoke to The Leaders Council in a 2020 interview, highlighting how as a traditionally “hands-on” nursery school adhering to the Montessori curricula, Storybook had needed to find ways to adapt through periods where Covid-19 social restrictions were in force during the pandemic [below].

Having successfully managed to do this, Snug Nursery Schools is now looking for premises in the country of Berkshire to expand the nursery group and make the Montessori method of education more accessible and prevalent in the UK, with its flagship nursery having been well established in Ascot.

It is not solely at nursery school level that the Montessori method is beginning to find a home on British shores either. In September 2017, the first Montessori secondary school to be endorsed by Association Montessori Internationale [AMI], The Montessori Place, opened its doors in East Sussex.

Paul Pillai, the school’s co-founder and director told the Guardian that the partnerships between students and their ‘guides’ are “a different relationship” to the usual teacher-student dynamic.

He said: “I’m more of a coach, or a line manager. I meet with the students individually, we discuss goals and how we’ll achieve them, and then we meet again and see how they’ve got on.”

According to Pillai, selecting what each pupil specifically works on as part of the Montessori method involves looking at what gets the individual “fired up”.

He explained: “If we don’t find that [spark], we are wasting our time. From there, we work together to plan a series of activities loosely covering recognisable curriculum areas such as the humanities, arts and maths. And then the students more or less get on with it.”

Students take GCSEs in English and Mathematics with the option to take Science and other subjects by request, but qualifications are not the main focus in Montessori schools, whose aims in Pillai’s words is to “feed a passion” within each pupil.

The pupils also get to grips with real-life work and are taught the value of looking after the community and actively take part in cooking, cleaning and maintaining their school.

While more research in the UK is required into how UK pupils undergoing a Montessori style education benefit in the future when measured against their counterparts who have experienced more traditional forms of teaching, there is no doubt that demand for Montessori is growing on both sides of the Atlantic, and it is a corner of the British education sector to watch closely as we move into the future.

Photo by Gautam Arora on Unsplash

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Scott Challinor
Business Editor
January 11th 2022, 8:03am

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