The Montessori system of education is founded on the belief that children learn best at their own pace and in their own way. To allow them to do this, Montessori nursery schools allow children to explore a set of educational games and toys as they choose, in an unstructured setting. Each class includes children from a three-year age range, so older children and younger children can learn from one another.
Although hard academics are not the primary concern in preschool, a study conducted in the United States in 2006 found that children who attend Montessori nursery schools were more ready to learn reading, writing and math than their preschool counterparts (see Reference 1). Another study conducted by the University of London found that 5-year-olds in Montessori nursery schools were cognitively ahead of the national average and the national expectation (see Reference 2).
The 2006 study also found that the Montessori-educated children were more peaceful and cooperative and less aggressive than other children in their age range (see Reference 1). This may be because of the Montessori policy of grouping older children with younger children, so the nursery school students have role models and helpers in the classroom with them. Another theory is that the testing and time pressures common in traditional education make children stressed and unhappy, and eliminating those pressures makes them generally better-adjusted (see Reference 2).
The Montessori philosophy encourages students to develop their "soft skills," the unquantifiable life skills such as responsibility, fairness, independence, adaptability and positivity. Montessori educators believe that allowing children to determine the ways they spend their time in the classroom helps train them to be self-disciplined later in life (see Reference 2). Studies show that Montessori nursery students do have superior soft skills to those of other children their age, displaying better behaviour and greater willingness to cooperate and collaborate with their peers (see Reference 1).
Critics of the Montessori system believe that students need testing, grades and homework to teach them discipline and to measure their progress. Some parents also worry that their children will not transition well to more competitive environments later in life (see Reference 3). The program deliberately lacks structure, which may not be an ideal fit for all children; some young children function better with more instruction. Also, like many private nursery schools and preschools, Montessori schools can be expensive, which may make the program infeasible for some families (see Reference 2).