To Reap the Benefits of Early Childhood Education, We Must Look at Teaching Methods

It’s time we took a closer look at the Montessori method as a meaningful path forward to solve for gaps in education.

Jenna Wawrzyniec

Content Specialist

It’s well established that investing in early childhood education has a greater return on investment than any later period. If we care about our children’s futures, then we cannot ignore how foundational the early years are in setting them up for success.

The importance of the early years doesn’t arbitrarily start at age three or four, though, because it’s not merely a matter of age. As a new study revealed, a traditional approach to teaching preschoolers can cause long-term harm even where the opportunity exists to support long-term strides. In other words, sooner isn’t automatically better — and could even be worse than nothing.

Researchers of this latest study found that traditional preschool actually worsened academic performance in later grades and caused an uptick in behavioral challenges. As reported by Psychology Today, cited possibilities to explore include:

  • An early emphasis on academics being delivered in a way that enables “shallow learning of skills” at the cost of subsequent deeper learning.
  • How early academic and testing drills creates pressure that robs children of the natural joy and curiosity that leads to self-motivated, lifelong learners
  • Further, how this traditional approach becomes a time-opportunity cost that skips foundational social, emotional, and executive functioning skills — all of which are a key part of later academic success and overall wellbeing.

The opportunity behind early learning is rooted in honoring how children learn, which is a natural process that begins at birth. During your child’s first six years of life, their drive to learn is innate, and their capacity to process information through mere absorption is distinctly powerful. But, if we interject with a system of teaching that doesn’t authentically honor learning as it unfolds for the child, then this can become a great threat to both their love of learning and their capacity to learn.

At Guidepost, we’d venture to say that the same could be researched and discussed for elementary and adolescent education, where traditional methods of teaching continue to clash with what we know about how students are naturally motivated to learn.

This is part of why we opened our schools: we saw the need for change — at scale and across the ages.

  • Conventional day cares for infants often emphasize containing babies in restrictive baby gear, despite their natural drive from birth to move and build trust in themselves and their surroundings.
  • Conventional toddler programs often emphasize play but without purpose, under-estimating just how capable the young child is to develop their independence.
  • Traditional preschool and kindergarten programs introduce standardized academics, same-age groupings, and rote memorization drills that are mere conveniences for the system. These come at a cost to evidence-based practices that empower whole child development
  • Traditional elementary programs shuffle students into yearly classrooms anchored under tighter expectations that they must now work individually, despite this stage of development being anchored around social learning.
  • Traditional middle and high schools place significant focus on academic rigor and college prep, but often without diverse, real-world context and deeper application.

It’s time we took a closer look at the Montessori method as a meaningful path forward to solve for these gaps. Education reform is too often framed as either traditional or progressive — the latter of which is commonly referenced as “play-based” — but Montessori is neither. Montessori education stands alone as a path that preserves a core foundation of knowledge, but not at the cost of individuality, creativity, and agency.

This balanced approach demonstrates positive learning outcomes later in life, as recently noted in this study led by Angeline Lillard that looked at the long-term benefits of Montessori.

“What surprised us is that pretty much everything in the sink turned out significant — on almost every survey, people who had spent at least two years in Montessori had higher well-being than people who never went to Montessori,” Lillard said in a Psychology Today report. “This was true even among the sub-sample who attended private schools for their entire pre-college lives. We also found that the longer one had attended a Montessori school, the higher their level of well-being.”

Also see this topic discussed at Montessorium, our educational think tank, with their Feb. 2 newsletter, “Does early childhood education matter?”

Meet the Author

Jenna Wawrzyniec

Jenna is a journalist and writer whose parenting journey transformed after implementing Montessori at home with her three children. She is a passionate advocate for bridging Montessori to the mainstream as a means to build community, empower parent-child relationships, and honor learning as the lifelong journey that it is. She holds a Montessori in the Home certificate from The Prepared Montessorian.

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