major differences between montessori and traditional preschoolWhen determining where to send your preschooler to school, it is important to know what your options are. There are several preschool types with varying philosophies, from traditional preschool programs or religious programs to parent co-ops or Montessori. 

Montessori education is based on an Italian-inspired schooling approach. Developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, this philosophy allows students to choose which activities express their interests and move at their own learning pace. Aligned with the Montessori philosophy, the Montessori preschool teaching method is based on the belief that the child is born into this world full of potential.

So, what makes a Montessori preschool different from a more traditional preschool?

The biggest differences between a traditional preschool and a Montessori preschool program are:

1. Classroom Schedule 

Although preschools differ in the length of their days, traditional schooling is likely to be split into small chunks to make time for everything planned for the day. In a traditional preschool, it is common for teachers to have one lesson for the entire class and spend learning time instructing the class as a whole. Preschool teachers may move students into small groups or work with them one-on-one, later moving into hands-on playtime, circle time, lunchtime, and so on.

The Montessori schedule is different from the traditional preschool method. A Montessori school day is broken into two 2 to 3-hour stretches — morning, and afternoon — giving children time and autonomy to dig in and master the concepts they are exploring. The Montessori method of using long blocks of uninterrupted time provides more space for independent discovery, letting children learn at their best pace and in a self-directed style. 

2. Play, Play, Play

A traditional preschool usually begin the day with students arriving, having a morning meeting, then going in-between stations with building blocks, toy cars, and dress-up. Soon after, the teacher will redirect creative play to bring the class together for storytime or a lesson on counting. Play is an important element in the conventional preschool classroom but is more likely to occur in spurts between teacher-guided lessons. Traditional preschools permit children to play in without much structure.

Play in a Montessori setting is considered the child’s job, and a major part of their learning process. The Montessori preschool philosophy focuses on the idea that the way your children play is how they engage with the world around them.

While both traditional and Montessori preschools are centered around play, the primary difference between them is the goal of playtime for children in each program. In a traditional classroom, all kinds of playthings may be present, like legos, puppets, and dolls, but in a Montessori classroom, the materials and toys available to preschoolers are there to help further their learning process.

3. Tailored Lessons

Possibly one of the most significant markers of a traditional preschool class is that instruction is determined by the class as a whole, as opposed to being based on the individual. Because traditional classrooms have to stick to a somewhat inflexible schedule, the children's progress is based on the successes of the majority of preschoolers. This results in the class spending more time together as a large group and following the same lesson, rather than tackling a range of individualized lessons.

This isn't always a bad thing and works for some children, but it does not account for the fact that young learners — even when they are the same age — develop at a different pace.

The Montessori classroom environment is child-oriented, allowing your child to immerse in the world around them and organically build knowledge, in a way that comes naturally to them. The Montessori method recognizes and understands that not all children learn in the same manner. Because of this, lessons and activities are tailored to the needs of each child's developmental stage and scholastic capabilities.

4. The Classroom

Standard preschool classrooms are often colorful, full of toys, and busy. You may find materials and playthings on the floor or unsystematically placed on shelves of different heights around the space. In a Montessori preschool, you will find a room designed to welcome children in, but you won't see bright colors or lights.

Instead, you'll find well-lit spaces and purposeful stations stocked with preschool-friendly, hands-on materials. Montessori classrooms have many materials conceived to encourage self-education and endless creativity. After lessons, the young learner is inspired to explore the materials from additional perspectives.

Montessori classrooms are arranged in a way that promotes readiness, accessibility, and a love for learning. Classrooms are clean, organized, and inviting, creating fewer distractions so young learners can focus mainly on the skills they are developing. As a parent of a Montessori preschooler, you will notice there is a huge emphasis placed on the way the classroom is organized. A Montessori environment has child-size furniture placed in a methodical way that allows for exploration and creativity no matter what the activity is.

5. Class Age and Size

Traditional preschools usually have disproportionate teacher-to-student ratios, since traditional preschools receive high numbers of applications. Montessori classes usually have a smaller teacher-to-student ratio, where students receive more one-on-one aid. In many Montessori preschool classrooms, there are two teachers or one teacher with at least one assistant.

Additionally, in a traditional preschool setting, you'll typically find a classroom full of children who are the same age. In a Montessori classroom, you can expect to find rooms with children ranging from two to three years apart in age. For example, your child's preschool classroom will contain students ranging in age from 3 to 6.

One of the tenets of a Montessori education says that multi-age classrooms provide more significant opportunities for a child's education and development. It is observed that young children benefit from the direction of older ones. Furthermore, when older children are given the chance to instruct the younger ones, they can retain the information better for themselves.

These are just five major differences between a more traditional preschool program and a Montessori preschool. If you would like to learn more about what a Montessori program can offer your preschooler, visit Montessori School of Newark or contact us for more information.


The Montessori School of Newark applies the educational philosophy and methods of Maria Montessori, M.D., a renowned Italian physician, and child educator. Our teaching method is based on the belief that each child is born into this world full of potential. We aim to help your child reach their greatest potential. Visit our blog to learn more about our method or reach out today to begin your journey with The Montessori School of Newark.