Montessori vs. Traditional? Let's Ditch This

Somebody had to say it.

There are some cool little graphics I've seen floating around the web comparing traditional education to Montessori education. They're not new.

I've seen these charts inside teacher manuals and passed out by Montessori schools, included in welcome packets or at fundraisers. Heck, I've even passed them around myself.

I didn't know then what I know now.

The comparisons are false, and they do not help the Montessori movement.

I don't want to give you any links to the graphics because I don't want to point a negative finger at anyone. There's no ill intention. The people who post and spread them around are only acting as I was back then. They want to celebrate the uniqueness of Montessori and spread the word.

They want a newbie to "get" Montessori at a skim. They want parents to understand why one might choose a Montessori school over any other school. I want all of these things, too.

No Comparison

Here's a sampling of the kinds of way people compare Montessori and traditional school. Keep in mind, I am not cutting and pasting from ONE chart nor picking only the negative comparisons. I just did a quick Google search for Montessori versus Traditional (I urge you to do the same) and wrote down some of the many comparisons that popped up.


  • Same age grouping

  • Non scientific

  • Much role-play and fantasy

  • Most teaching is done by teacher and collaboration is discouraged

  • External discipline

  • Emphasis is on the teacher

  • Equal/group lessons

  • Abstract learning

  • Emphasizes conforming to the group

  • Adults do things for children

  • Goal is to master core curricula objectives


  • Multi-age grouping

  • Scientific method of teaching

  • Reality based

  • Children are encouraged to collaborate together on ideas

  • Internal self discipline

  • Emphasis is on the child

  • Individual lessons

  • Concrete learning

  • Respects individual differences

  • Children learn to care for themselves and develop independence

  • Goal is to foster a love of learning


I could keep going on and on because there are plenty of comparison charts out there, but I'm going to pause here and tell you what's really going on.

We (Montessorians) are bashing traditional educators.

Did you grimace and feel a little defensive? Well, so did I. It's not cool. I'm going to tell you right now that there are amazing educators out there, respecting and trusting the inner voice of the child (like we do!), and they work in all types of schools.

This is something I had never thought of before.

Defining "TraditionaL"

Let's back up and take a look at the word traditional. Who is it, exactly, that we are comparing ourselves to? Are we talking about preschool teachers in general? Or maybe public school teachers?

If we're not, then we need to be pretty clear about who exactly those "traditionalists" are. But no matter who this generic "other" is, I need to tell you what's going on in education.

There's a progressive movement happening world-wide, and the Montessori name is being left behind in the dust because we continue to segregate ourselves from the "traditionalists".

Common Cause

During my time teaching in a regular public school, I considered myself a progressive educator first and a Montessori teacher second, and I still do. There's a good reason for that.

Yes, there was an emphasis on standards (an emphasis that I did not agree with), but there was also an emphasis on progressive techniques.

In fact, teachers today in regular (non-Montessori) elementary schools are reading books, attending workshops, and utilizing progressive methods that are no doubt heavily influenced by Montessori.

Some of the hot button words in modern elementary schools are collaborative groups, peer teaching, choice, brain-based learning, and differentiated instruction (individual lessons).

And goodness, we haven't even talked about early childhood / preschool teachers! Those teachers are talking about all of those things and more. They are confident about their hands-on approach, and they know that their children are concrete learners.

Not Unfamiliar Territory

They often use base 10 blocks and cuisenaire rods (those are much like the golden and colored beads), as well as counters and number cards to teach math. They've usually got tactile and magnetic letters (that's the sandpaper letters and moveable alphabet). They call these manipulatives, not Montessori materials.

The negative comparisons between traditional and Montessori education are false and do not help the Montessori Movement

They read stories about the earth and teach about other cultures. They allow the children to move and explore their bodies. They sing and dance and plant gardens. They are especially passionate about fostering a life-long love of learning.

It is true that some schools operate in a rigid, teacher-directed, standards-based fashion, but in general, I have found that today's modern teachers agree with many Montessori principles.

While all schools and methods of teaching have a unique approach and spirit, I believe that with our comparison charts, we've been dishing out some harsh and completely unnecessary criticism.

Montessori teachers and parents, I am begging. Please do not isolate yourselves from the majority of the world's educators. There is no battle to fight - only respectful ways to share our teaching methods, and those ways must be shared with the grace and courtesy we believe in modeling for our children.

If we wish to change the world, the only path is love. You know that. Let's ditch the chart.