Early childhood education is foundational to a child’s success in all areas of their life, helps build their foundation, and can help determine their overall trajectory.
During the first 6 years of life, the brain develops faster than at any other time and it sets the course for all future development.
Choosing where to send your child for their daily care and education is an enormous one. Not only because it could be the first time they’re away from home, but because of the impact that it will have on the course of their life, their stability, and even their personality. It’s a decision that requires careful thought and consideration.
While I was getting my Master’s degree in Montessori Education, I taught at a daycare center, so I have the unique perspective of having worked in both environments. If you’re deciding between daycare and Montessori, weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each with our helpful guide.
The Main Ways Daycare and Montessori Are Different
While daycare describes any place where children are being cared for by a professional, either by a nanny, an in-home daycare, or a center-based facility, as we compare Montessori with traditional daycare, we will be referring to the latter.
Daycare centers are non-residential buildings that can accommodate at least one classroom, but typically have multiple rooms for a wide variety of ages, an outdoor space, and provide full- and half-day options. In this way, daycare facilities and Montessori schools resemble each other closely.
Although both provide safe childcare options for children of various ages, both are vastly different in their approach. Let’s take a look at some of the main differences.
Montessori is a holistic approach to education based on the Montessori philosophy, which was developed from the research of Italian-born physician, Maria Montessori. There are many aspects to Montessori education, which are deeply rooted in the child’s development, their natural curiosities, and their relationship with the environment.
Traditional daycares vary widely in their approaches to educational philosophy. Because there is not necessarily a deeper ideology behind their programs, they aren’t necessarily fueled by any other guiding, educational force. Teachers plan activities and the curriculum and while there are certain goals in place, they aren’t always consistent.
Montessori schools, even a Montessori preschool, require specific Montessori training that includes a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree. This level of education can lead to a deeper understanding of the child’s development and classroom management, which in turn results in a more peaceful classroom, consistent teaching, and happier teachers and students.
Daycare centers don’t require the same level of training or education. Their experience and background is often minimal and turnover can be high due to the low pay and challenging expectations.
Central to Montessori is the child’s sense of independence, self-discovery, and learning at their own pace. Child-led and teacher-guided, students are encouraged to follow their own, natural interests, think critically, to work collaboratively, and be accountable to themselves and the community.
There is often more group time in daycare facilities, where all of the children are expected to do the same thing and group conformity is the norm. In many cases, students are shuffled from one new activity to another, aren’t able to choose their own activities, and what they want to do isn’t always a consideration.
In a Montessori classroom, the goal is for children to be self-disciplined, and to find within themselves an inner discipline. Montessorians believe that children want to behave and be good, so they are set up to do so.
There are clear boundaries, teachers model the behavior they want to see, praise good behavior when they see it, and there is a deep regard for the environment as well as the people in it.
In a Montessori environment, the goal is that students are intrinsically motivated to show respectful behavior. Teachers offer a positive alternative, opportunities for cooperation, the nurturing of social skills, and natural consequences. The emotional needs of the child are prioritized in an environment that’s highly individualized.
In many daycare centers, there is a more traditional approach to behavior management, with a focus on instructor-led discipline. You’re more likely to see punitive punishment, such as time-outs, the expectation of immediate obedience, and directives to the whole group versus the individual.
Daycare instructors will often use stickers or sticker charts to reward the right course of behavior, focusing on the current situation rather than the long-term goal. The focus tends to be on the group instead of the individual, whether it’s during circle time or snack time.
Montessori classrooms are lined with low shelves that hold Montessori materials, on which the curriculum is based. Once teachers give individual or small group lessons, children work at their own pace on their chosen activities. With a keen focus on practical life skills, children could be washing tables, tying laces, cutting with scissors, or learning to string beads.
Preschools that are in a daycare setting are usually set up in stations, based on the theme. There could be a pretend kitchen, a craft area, board games, puzzles, toys, and so on.
Classroom composition and management
In a Montessori school, there are multi-age classrooms, specifically designed to create unique teaching and learning opportunities, socialization, and accountability.
Younger children learn from older children and vice versa, creating a community of learners. Older students can act as a mentor to younger students, as they teach activities, model grace, and courtesy, and provide encouragement.
Montessori students can work without the threat of interruption, learn to clean up their own messes, choose the activities that interest them, and enjoy plenty of outside play. In many ways, the child runs their own schedule within the group setting, inspiring a natural love of learning.
Daycares are usually run on adult-set schedules that revolve around group time, circle time, meals, nap time, craft and play activities, and something I remember being called “centers”. Center time was an opportunity for free choice. Each child was able to choose a center in which to play, as long as it wasn’t full.
More traditionally run, daycare preschools tend to run on more strict schedules, with expectations that children will comply with the current activity. This tends to bring the noise levels higher than in a Montessori classroom, as students are less engaged at any given time.
The environments, feel, and structure of daycare versus Montessori differ pretty drastically. So let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each.
Pros of Daycare
- Many daycare centers and instructors follow creative, research-based curriculum and have a set structure.
- Gives you the peace of mind that your child is safe and well cared for while you’re at work.
- While daycares vary from center and location, they are typically a fraction of the cost of a Montessori school.
- Since it’s a more traditional classroom, children who attend daycare will likely have an easy time transitioning to a traditional elementary classroom.
Cons of Daycare
- When your child is in a daycare setting, they may not receive much-individualized attention or education.
- Not all daycares and daycare instructors are overseen as much or as rigidly as some parents might hope or assume.
- There is no education or training requirement in order to work in most daycare centers.
- Not all daycares focus on the education or development of the child.
Pros of Montessori
- Montessori often builds a deep sense of self-confidence, independence, and personal responsibility in children through its child-led classrooms.
- The Montessori Materials offer hands-on learning opportunities at every stage, in every subject, and during every lesson.
- In every classroom, there is a deep focus on learning in the areas of language, math, culture, and practical life. Children are often inspired and encouraged to go above and beyond, following their own curiosity, and deepening their understanding of the world around them.
Cons of Montessori
- The cost of most Montessori schools is similar to a private school, making them difficult for many families to afford.
- Due to the need for Montessori-trained teachers, there may not be a Montessori school in your area.
- Some critics believe that because of Montessori’s individualized approach, students may have a difficult time adjusting to traditional education, both in terms of social skills and classroom expectations.
How to Decide Which is Right for You
Choosing the right environment for your child can feel overwhelming as there are so many different things to consider. The best way to know which is best for your little one is to take a look. Most Montessori schools will allow you to observe classes that are in session and daycare centers are usually happy to set up a tour.
Talking to the director, see the classroom in action, and meeting the teachers are the best ways to know which is the right fit for you and your family.