Niche Resources

Traditional vs. Montessori Preschool and Kindergarten

Determining the best place to send your child to preschool or kindergarten is a big decision. There are a million factors to consider as you try to decide where he or she is the most likely to flourish. In many areas, school options and types abound, making the decision, in some ways, more difficult. One option out there is a Montessori school. But how exactly does a school like a Montessori known for its progressive ways differ from a traditional preschool or kindergarten?

Below are a few of the key differences.

Mixed Age Classrooms

In a traditional kindergarten, every child in the classroom will have had his or her fifth birthday by a certain cutoff date (typically September 1). This means every child in the classroom will be 5 at the start of the year with some turning 6 during the school year.

However, Montessori schools have mixed age classrooms. A kindergarten classroom includes children from ages 3-6. Ais Her is the Director of Schools for Fountainhead Montessori School in Dublin, CA. She has been with Montessori for six years and sends her children to a Montessori program. According to Her, one benefit of the mixed age classroom is that it gives older children a chance to be leaders. “On a daily basis, I see older students telling younger students ‘step back and watch’ and the older student teaching the younger student.”

Besides the confidence this is sure to bring the older child, it is also a way to demonstrate mastery of the information and prove it was retained. The younger child is comfortable learning from someone who they can easily relate to.


Individualized learning is one of the buzzwords in education these days. Just about every school – from the most traditional to the most progressive — promises to offer individualized learning, but in practice, it does not always occur. Plus, the degree of individualization varies.

Montessori schools, however, are founded on a belief of individualization, and adhere to it in practice. Everything is done at the child’s pace with the understanding that every child hits milestones in their own time. “We take a child where he/she is at currently and help them follow a path of development,” says Her. “They build their skills at their own pace.”

A child can even learn in a position of his or her choice. “Here you can sit at desk, lay on a rug, or move freely about the classroom,” says Her. “There are options available in order for children to find what makes them most comfortable.”


In a traditional preschool or kindergarten classroom there will be hands-on activities, as educators recognize the need for children to be engaged. But Montessori differs from traditional schools in regards to the degree to which hands-on learning is utilized.

According to Her, “Everything in a Montessori [classroom] is very tangible and hands-on.” There is the goal to involve as many senses as possible with learning. To the child, the hands-on learning in a Montessori preschool or kindergarten might seem more like playing and or having fun, but it is purposeful.

Right For Your Child?

While Her says any child can excel in a Montessori skill, she points to motivation as giving students a boost. “The students who do particularly well are intrinsically motivated,” says Her.

Other traits also boost a student’s chance for success at a Montessori school. Students who like to collaborate, socialize, and work on their own tend to do well in a Montessori school. The expectations for these sort of things is lesser when it comes to kindergarten students. “Younger students are still developing the traits that will help them at our school and therefore they get more guidance than those in the higher grades,” says Her. “Ultimately, the Montessori program is designed to work well for all students as it is respectful to the child.”

The Bottom Line

While a Montessori classroom is different than a traditional program, they do share some similar ideals. These include a love of learning, instilling skills that will help children be successful, and personal responsibility. At a Montessori school, the goals revolve around four traits: order, concentration, coordination, and independence. “If children can inculcate these traits, they can apply them to anything they are doing and be successful,” says Her.

As you consider what type of school to send your child too, know there are many options. With diligence and patience, you can find a program that will enable your child to maximize his/her potential.

Continue your research:

Why Montessori Works for My Family

Find a great Montessori school near you

Author: Larry Bernstein

Larry Bernstein lives in North Jersey with his wife and two sons. In addition to serving as an adjunct and tutor, Larry is a freelance writer who focuses on education, construction, and retail. He has been seeing green rainbows since his beloved Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl.