One of the most robust evaluations of the Montessori method to date was that by Lillard and Else-Ouest (Lillard A.S. & Else-Ouest, 2016). They compared children in Montessori and non-Montessori education and from two age groups, 5-year-olds and 12-year-olds, on a range of cognitive, academic, social, and behavioral measures. For the 5-year-olds, significant differences were found for certain academic skill measures, namely, letter-word identification, phonological decoding ability, and math skills. Also, they outperformed in a measure of executive function (the card sort task), social skills (as measured by social reasoning and positive shared play), as well as the theory of mind (as measured by a false-belief task). For the 12-year-olds, significant group differences were found in measures of story writing and social skills. Furthermore, in a questionnaire that asked about how they felt about school, responses from the children in the Montessori group indicated that they felt a greater sense of community. The authors concluded that "at least when strictly implemented, Montessori education fosters social and academic skills that are equal or superior to those fostered by a pool of other types of schools." (Lillard A.S. & Else-Ouest, 2016)
Another longitudinal study (Lillard A.S. & Heise, M.J. 2016) compared high-fidelity Montessori classes, vs. Montessori classes which provided a combination of Montessori materials plus conventional activities such as puzzles, games, worksheets, and vs. conventional classrooms. Outcome measures tapped a range of social and academic skills related to school readiness. One of the questions the research set out to answer was whether the children's use of Montessori materials in a classroom predicts children's school readiness skills at the end of the academic year. The answer was "yes". Children that were in the high-fidelity Montessori school showed significantly greater gains on measures of executive function, reading, math, vocabulary, and social problem-solving. Fidelity mattered, children gained fewer benefits from being in Montessori school when they were engaged in non-Montessori activities.
Movement and Fine Motor Skills Strong Predictors of Later Math and Reading Skills
Maria Montessori observed a connection between the movement of the hands and cognitive development. She designed and adapted materials to support young children’s fine-motor ability thus supporting their cognitive and social development. Montessori Practical Life exercises have been linked to fine motor development (Rule & Stewart, 2002).
In a secondary analysis of three longitudinal data sets, Cameron, Murrah, Grissmer, Brock, Bell, Worzalla, and Morrison (2012) found that fine motor skills are strong predictors of later math and reading skills. While the data sets provided slightly differing results regarding the importance of early math versus early reading skills, they were consistent in that “measures of fine motor skills showed highly significant results for both math and reading in all three data sets” (p. 1010) supporting the claim that fine motor development impacts later academic achievement.
Bhatia, Davis, and Shamas-Brandt (2015) found that “…Montessori Practical Life activities had a significant effect on improving the fine motor skills of kindergarteners” (p. 604). According to Bhatia et al., the Montessori Practical Life materials were more effective at developing fine motor control than the method (Handwriting Without Tears) used in the traditional kindergarten program.
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Venkat, S. (2021), Practical Life Album: The large button dressing frame [Class handout]. Toronto, ON: Montessori Teachers College, EC Diploma
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Lillard A.S. & Else-Ouest, N. (2016), Evaluating Montessori education. Science 313, 1893-1894
Lillard A.S. & Heise, M.J. (2016), Removing supplementary materials from Montessori classrooms changed child outcomes. J. Montessori Res. 2, 16-26
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Montessori Teachers College (2020). Culture album. Toronto, Canada: Montessori Teachers College.
Bhatia, P., Davis, A., & Shamas-Brandt, E. (2015). Educational gymnastics: The effectiveness of Montessori practical life activities in developing fine motor skills in kindergartners. Early Education and Development, 26(4), 594-607
Cameron, C., Brock, L., Murrah, W., Bell, L., Worzalla, S., Grissmer, D., & Morrison, F. (2012). Fine motor skills and executive function both contribute to kindergarten achievement. Child Development, 83(4), 1229-1244
Rule, A., & Stewart, C. (2002). Effects of practical life materials on kindergartners' fine motor skills. Early Childhood Education Journal, 30(1), 9-13.