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Montessori Children Often Turn Into Happy Adults

New research highlights the long-term benefits of a Montessori education.

Key points

  • A Montessori education has been linked to elevated psychological well-being as an adult.
  • One reason is that children in Montessori schools are allowed to choose their own work and participate in meaningful activities.
  • They also experience greater social stability and cohesion in their classes.
 Paige Cody/Unsplash
Source: Paige Cody/Unsplash

A new paper published in Frontiers in Psychology provides more evidence that a Montessori education may be superior to traditional methods of education, especially on measures relating to students’ long-term psychological health and well-being.

“Well-being, or the felt experience of health, happiness, and flourishing, predicts several desirable outcomes including better health and work performance, longevity, and more positive social behavior and relations,” say the authors of the research, led by Angeline Lillard of the University of Virginia. “Here we explored whether a different childhood experience, Montessori education, might predict higher adult well-being.”

To test their hypothesis, the researchers recruited 1,905 U.S. adults who attended Montessori or conventional schools, ranging in age from 18 to 81, and had them complete a series of well-being surveys. They compared the survey results of the adults who had attended Montessori schools to those who had attended conventional schools. They found strong evidence of elevated psychological well-being among adults who attended Montessori schools as children.

“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,” says Lillard. “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.”

The results held true even when the scientists accounted for other factors known to influence childhood and adult well-being.

“Our analyses controlled for age, race and ethnicity, gender, childhood socioeconomic status (SES), and private schooling, so we can confidently say that none of those factors is causing the results,” says Lillard.

This is good news for the estimated 500,000 children who are currently enrolled in Montessori schools in the United States.

“The Montessori Census currently registers 564 public and 2,211 private Montessori schools, but these are certainly underestimated,” says Lillard. “Most public Montessoris are Title I schools, and over half the children at public Montessori schools are children of color, who particularly thrive at Montessori.”

The authors hope their research inspires more parents to take a closer look at non-traditional educational models, such as Montessori.

“The study is one more data point in a growing body of research suggesting Montessori pedagogy is better for humans than is the common model,” says Lillard. “And, since it is over 100 years since people began implementing Montessori, it has been beta-tested—we know how to implement this pedagogy and are doing so all over the world. More people should know about it.”

What makes this research even more impressive is the relative lack of research on the types of childhood experiences that encourage well-being in adulthood. For instance, one study found that adults who experienced more residential moves as children (i.e., moving from one town to another) are more likely to develop certain psychological and health problems. Beyond that, the findings are scant.

The researchers suggest that a Montessori curriculum boosts childhood and adult well-being by focusing on activities that promote self-determination (children in Montessori classrooms choose their own work most of the time and feel like they are in charge of their own educations), meaningful activities (children only take part in activities for which the underlying reasons are clear), and social stability and cohesion (classrooms span three years during which children have the same teacher and peer group).

“Montessori warrants further study, as it is the most common and long-lasting alternative progressive pedagogy in the world and has several features that are endemic to well-being-enhancing educational environments,” conclude the researchers.

References

Lillard, Angeline (Interview). Are Montessori schools better than public schools? Therapytips.org, December 16, 2021.

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