The Montessori Difference

What's the difference betweeen Montessori & Childcare?

One of the most common questions we get asked by parents is what are the main differences between a high-quality Montessori preschool program and a traditional childcare center?

Our first answer is always come in for a tour, see the program in action & then compare it to what you see at a traditional child care centre or kindergarten.

Here are some difference to note between our Montessori preschool program and your typical childcare program.


A focus on child-led exploration, vs. adult-set group activities.

Typical childcare centers have adult-set schedules in which children are shuffled into a new activity every 20-40 minutes: circle time, followed by art, followed by outside play etc. Typically, the whole group is required to move together from activity to activity, whether they’re engaged in the current activity or not. Instruction happens in a group setting, at a group pace, even if some children move more slowly or more quickly. In contrast, the Montessori preschool program supports a child’s budding independence and his self-discovery. Children have the luxury of time to choose their own activities, and to fully explore them at their own pace. Most instruction is one-on-one, teachers give short 5-minute presentations to individual children, after which they are given an opportunity to continue practicing until they’re satisfied.


Trained teachers, vs high-turnover,  childcare casuals.

Most childcare staff have minimal training (often, just a Certificate III in Early Childhood Education & CARE required by law.) Many childcare centers have high staff turnover as poorly trained and poorly paid childcare providers get burnt out with the challenge of managing toddlers. In contrast, at Northwest Montessori, our lead teachers join us with an international recognised Montessori teaching credential from an AMI training program  as well as a Bachelor or Masters Degree.
We do not have turn over of staff, our lead teachers are all long standing permanent employees.


A calm, orderly environment, vs a (typically) messy, noisy place.

Many childcare settings have a high noise level, and some seem proud to announce how messy they are. While there is a time for messes (we love for children to play in the mud, to finger paint, or explore foam),  the Montessori Cycle One environment is surprisingly calm and orderly. Since our goal is to enable children to learn to focus, to engage joyfully in a chosen activity, we need to provide them with an environment where they can do so without constant interruption and distraction.


A deliberate, educational program, vs all-day open ended play.

We agree that free play is important to children, and encourage parents to provide imaginative play activities at home. At the same time, we know that in the right environment, toddlers are eager to learn through exploration and practice. Toddlers in our Montessori program are surrounded by exciting opportunities to develop their skills, they practice opening and closing containers, they learn to button shirts, they identify objects by touch, sort things by color, transfer items with spoons, learn to pour water, put together puzzles, learn to cut with scissors, sew with laces, string beads, and so much more!

The activities we offer in the toddler class provide a welcome change from what children typically find at home. This is in contrast to many childcare settings, where shelves and boxes are full of the same things your child already has at home; Duplo legos, blocks, wooden trains, cars, dolls, dress-up cloths, noisy plastic toys, and the like.


Grace and courtesy vs group conformity.

Many parents want their child to become socialised when they enroll in a childcare or preschool program. But “socialisation” can mean different things in different settings. In our Montessori program, we guide children to develop what we call grace and courtesy. We establish some clear rules that support a peaceful classroom for instance, children may only take activities from shelves, never from another child. We give children the language they need to express their needs (“I am working with this; you may have it when I am done,” “I don’t like it if you talk loudly,” or “I feel angry because you messed up my work.”)
Teachers model benevolent and cooperative behavior, for example, by shaking hands (or elbows since the COVID-19 outbreak) while looking into a child’s eyes as the child comes to class, or demonstrating how we politely offer food to a friend at snack time. The Montessori focus on teaching individual, pro-social skills is different from the group conformity at many childcare programs, where developmentally inappropriate skills, such as sitting still for an extended circle time, or indiscriminate “sharing” of toys may be expected from toddlers, without regard for the actual cognitive and emotional needs of the child.


A focus on developing inner discipline, vs obedience training.

In Montessori, the goal is to help children acquire self-discipline.  We want children to understand the right course of behavior, and to be internally motivated to behave well. Our teachers don’t expect immediate obedience from toddlers, nor do they offer rewards (praise, stickers etc.) for good behavior, and punishment (time outs, for example) for bad behavior. Instead, we believe that children naturally want to do and be good, and that by setting up the right environment, and modeling kind, respectful behavior, we can guide your child to develop inner discipline. When a child does misbehave, we emphasise positive alternatives. For example, when a child runs in class, we don’t yell “No running in class!”, instead, we calmly explain, “We walk in class. Let’s go back and walk to the sink together.” And because we have mixed aged classrooms, older returning students are able to model healthy behavior, younger children benefit from the example of their older peers, and older children benefit from the opportunity to mentor and guide their younger peers.

Does our Montessori approach work?

We invite you to come and see for yourself!

Most parents are astonished to see how calm, capable, confident and serenely happy the children in our Montessori rooms are. If you doubt that your own excitable, active toddler could ever be like that, rest assured that the children you now observe calmly seated eating snack together came to us no different than your child. The Montessori environment really is that different from other childcare settings, and that’s why Montessori children behave differently, too!