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Beats Me answers your questions about how education, the environment, race and innovation impacts life in southeastern Wisconsin.

What Does Montessori Education Look Like in Wisconsin?

Rachel Morello
A primary school student works on her spelling using "movable alphabet" materials at Nature's Classroom Montessori School.

Many educators throughout Milwaukee and Wisconsin have embraced the Montessori learning method. Not exactly sure what makes a Montessori school different? You aren't alone.

Making a Model

Working your way down the list of schools within MPS, you’ll see a variety: lots of what most people refer to as “traditional” public schools, some charters, language immersion, gifted & talented…and a handful of Montessori programs.

Credit Milwaukee Public Schools

Listener Ben Rangel works in education, and has spent plenty of time in Milwaukee classrooms -- so he’s well-versed. But even Ben admits he can’t articulate what sets a Montessori school apart.

He’s heard some things through the grapevine…

“I think of more interactive learning, the traditional classroom setting is different – maybe there’s not grade levels. The subjects themselves might be very untraditional,” he reflects. “But I don’t know what that looks like.”

So, he reached out to WUWM's Beats Me to learn more.

Here’s a visual: Nature’s Classroom Montessori, a private school in Mukwonago.

The classroom is packed to the brim with three-, four- and five-year olds -- thirty-three of them, to be precise. Each is involved in one of several hands-on workstations that teaches a specific skill.

The hum is steady, but relatively quiet for a group of preschoolers. That’s the goal in a Montessori classroom, according to Geoffrey Bishop -- founder and executive director at Nature’s Classroom.

“People have a very strange perception of what Montessori is,” Geoffrey explains. “[Most think,] ‘That’s the school where children can do anything they want.’ What sets a Montessori school apart is freedom within discipline -- and it is not a free-for-all.”

“Each child is working independently,” he continues. “The focus, the work and the concentration is a very calming experience in the classroom.”

Lake Effect's Rachel Morello held an extended conversation with a few parents of Montessori school children.

Credit Rachel Morello
The primary classroom at Nature's Classroom Montessori School in Mukwonago.

Developed by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early 20th century, the Montessori method focuses on observing how kids learn, and using those observations to give children choice within structure. That structure allows Montessori classrooms to function in three key ways which make them different from “traditional” school.

1. Kids choose their own work.

The Montessori method dictates that children should choose their own work – with teachers acting as guides.  

So, listener Ben’s suspicion was correct – learning is more interactive. Kids do still learn traditional subjects like math and English – but they do so using Montessori-designed materials.

2. Multi-level classrooms

In Montessori classrooms, children learn in multi-age groupings to foster peer learning and interaction. This confirms Ben’s suspicion that there aren’t traditional “grade levels” in Montessori education.

3. Work time versus class time

Montessori kids learn in uninterrupted blocks of “work time” – as opposed to smaller, set class periods.  

Have a question about education you'd like Rachel to dig into? Submit below.


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