Educational Debate: Traditional vs. Progressive vs. Montessori Education

Oct 22, 2014 | Random Thoughts

As a young and relatively new parent, I am excited to see my girls wear uniform, go to school, teach them with their homework, attend parent-teacher meetings, the works. And now, my time is about to come. Next year, we plan to enroll A for Nursery and see how she will do with the other kids. I have to admit, I am super excited.

As I start my quest for a preschool, I noticed how schools advertise themselves as a “progressive” school and how different their approach is compared to other traditional schools. Gymboree was also proud in saying it is a progressive school and the Gingerbread even advertised it as well.

This made me think – do schools come in many forms too? 

It turns out that there are three types of school settings: progressive, traditional and montessori. I thought school is a venue where kids just go in and learn something new, where teachers teach and kids listen, where children get to mingle with other kids their age. Of course some of these concepts are true. However, most preschools these days transition from being traditional to progressive while some still follow a montessori or traditional setting.

So, I did my research to better understand these concepts and here’s what I found out.

The Traditional Approach 

Photo from Seth Sawyers, Creative Commons, Flickr

Photo from Seth Sawyers, Creative Commons, Flickr

This is the school setting I am familiar with since I grew up studying in a traditional (Catholic) school. In this setting, the teacher plays the role of instructor and decision maker, a person in authority. It is teacher-centered, which means the teacher are equipped with necessary knowledge and teaches the concepts while the students are expected to listen and encouraged to interact and ask questions. After every subject matter, tests will be given (of course, depending on the teacher) to test whether the student understood the concepts taught in the classroom.

Its characteristics include:

  • Lower tuition fees.
  • Bigger class size, with higher student:teacher ratio.
  • Organized structure of learning that covers various subjects. In other words, it is focused on academic excellence.
  • The textbook-pen-paper routine.
  • Typical classroom setting: blackboard – teacher’s table in front center – chairs.
  • It is grades-motivated. After all, it’s the “tangible” way of learning whether a student really learned something or not, right?

Montessori School Setting 

Photo from KJJS, Creative Commons, Flickr

Photo from KJJS, Creative Commons, Flickr

This type of school setting was developed by Italian educator and physician Maria Montessori. Compared to other school settings, montessori-centered schools emphasize on the child’s freedom (but with limits), independence, and his / her natural physical, psychological and social development. In fact, it believes that children have natural motivation to learn in order to develop imagination and social relations.

It is characterized by:

  • Mixed age classroom, usually from 2.5 to 6 years old
  • The “teach me to do it on my own” mentality, thus fostering independence on the child.
  • Students learn various concepts using Montessori-structured learning materials (referred to as manipulatives), with the teacher’s guidance, of course.
  • Activities are self-directed and structured.
  • Children have freedom of movement within the classroom.
  • Uninterrupted work time, although the teacher is still encouraged to observe and guide them whenever necessary.

Progressive Mode of Education Classroom 2

This is a new concept for me. To be honest, I only heard about this when I attended the preview class in Gymboree last February. During the orientation, the head of Gymboree Preschool was emphasizing on Gymboree being progressive and how Gymboree students fared when enrolled in bigger schools because of their mode of teaching.

Anyway, the progressive approach means there is no pre-planned curriculum which teachers and students need to follow. In fact, it is child-centered, which means it encourages participation and discussion: the teacher asks, kids answer, kids ask, teacher answers. Based on my observation from the preview classes my daughter and I went to is that teachers are not experts. Yes, they teach and there is still authority in the classroom but the teacher sits with the students and encourages response from the kids. At the same time, activities are divided into various routines and the concepts are integrated into these activities.

Just like in Gingerbread – the concept the teacher wants to teach is the concept of parade. Instead of talking all about parade for two hours or so, she read stories, sang songs, showed a video clip of what the parade looks like and towards the end, had an activity (the drum making) that teaches the concept of parade.

Aside from this, progressive approach is:

  • Smaller class size, which means higher tuition fees too.
  • Emphasized on learning by doing through projects and investigative and experiential learning.
  • Child-centered, because the teacher is not just the “expert” inside the classroom.
  • Encourages cooperative learning and group work in order to develop social skills.
  • Textbooks are missing but other modes of learning are used to teach kids about different concepts they need to know later on in life.
  • There is strong emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking.
  • An activity time, which helps strengthen a child’s physical, emotional, social and cognitive development.
  • Positive discipline. Teachers and teacher aids don’t use ‘No,’ “Don’t’ or any negative words, which is a good practice.
  • Fewer to no homework, to give way to more family time and other extra-curricular activities.

I have yet to try montessori and traditional setting for my daughters and see how they will do. For now, I am geared towards progressive approach since it’s doing well, so far, for baby A. Of course, I am not closing my doors on anything.

How about you mommies? What type of school setting did you enroll your child in and how was it so far? I would love to hear your thoughts on this! 

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  1. Daniel Kaity Bato

    Hello Mom!(: I am proud to say that I enrolled my son in a Montessori school. He enjoys going to school, small class size, they teach kids to have the right attitude in every situation they face. And I love that they always have activities which include us parents (:

    In the end of course it still depends on your child where she will excel or enjoy (:

    Good luck mommy!!

    • momhandsarefull

      Hi mommy! Thanks for the feedback 🙂

      I’m concerned actually with the Montessori-setting because according to the teachers I’ve talked to (and through research as well), it is a mixed-age class. I trust my daughter that she’ll do well but I’m not sure how she will handle the situation in case there are “older kids” na.

  2. Ma.Me.Mi.Mommy

    My son is currently enrolled in a progressive type of school. I like how he’s having fun and learning at the same time. School, for him seems fun and not a chore at all. The problem, I’ve heard from other parents though is that when they move up to traditional big schools, they’re not used to it. They don’t have the same freedom as progressive schools anymore so they have a hard time sitting still and just listening to the teacher the whole time.

    • momhandsarefull

      Hi there mommy!

      Thanks for sharing 🙂 That’s my other concern though. Because of the difference in the approach, i’m thinking baka mahirapan ang bata. My daughter pa naman has short attention span and very energetic. She likes to move around. Though I’m hoping by the time she goes to a traditional school, she’s mature enough already to handle the situation 🙂

  3. Louisa Mercado (@2livelovelaugh5)

    I’m all for progressive schooling. My kids went to progressive schools in their early years and their way of teaching is truly centered on the child’s individual development.

    • momhandsarefull

      Hello mommy!

      That’s what I noticed. Progressive schools are really child-centered and it’s not just about teaching concepts but doing it in the exciting and fun way as possible 🙂

  4. Ma. Yvette Heart (@mayvetteheart)

    My children are into traditional approach. Kinder and nursery. I wish their tuition is much lower 🙂 and I am not content on how they teach my son, he has speech problem so I guess traditional schooling be later part of his routine.

  5. Nicole

    I’m fairly new to this topic, but I’m familiar with the concepts of montessori schooling and of course traditional from experience. I haven’t come across the progressive approach yet but it looks promising. My son is only 15 months old, so I’ll have enough time to research more and determine what would work best for him. Very informative post, btw!

    • momhandsarefull

      Thanks Mommy!

      I only found out about these things when I enrolled my daughter in Gymboree. They were talking about progressive school and its advantages while I have a puzzled look on my face :))

      Hope this post helps in clearing out some confusions 🙂

  6. Nicole

    I’m fairly new to this topic, but I’m familiar with the concepts of montessori schooling and of course traditional from experience. I haven’t come across the progressive approach yet but it looks promising. My son is only 15 months old, so I’ll have enough time to research more and determine what would work best for him. Very informative post, btw!

  7. Kristina Villa

    I’m currently homeschooling my pre-schooler. I don’t know until when (hopefully as long as possible). But if I’m to send him to school, we would most probably consider sending him to a progressive school.

    • momhandsarefull

      I really have no idea how homeschooling works. I have to commend those mommies, including you, who can do that 🙂

  8. Audric's Mom

    There was a time in high school when I had to transfer from a catholic private school to Montessori. I had some difficulty in terms of adjustment. I remember having loads of assignment on the first day of school. OMG, it felt like I was in hell. 🙂

  9. deniese torres

    I would consider progressive education when my little boy’s time to go to school. It sounds new to me but his individual development is more important for me. Well, I still have time to think about it and thanks for sharing. This is very informative.

  10. Michelle Solee (@michisolee)

    I enrolled my son in Montessori for the first two years but this year I transferred him to traditional school and until now we’re still adjusting. In Montessori, we only have 3 exam for the whole year while here in traditional school, we have exams every month. In Montessori, we have assignments every Friday only while in traditional school, everyday homework and quizzes. In Montessori the teacher writes the lessons and assignments in notebook while in traditional school, students need to copy everything.

  11. Rina B. De Alban

    I’m drawn towards progressive schooling as well and although the higher tuition is of course daunting, I think it’s worth it. I also read that it can also depend on the kid, the kind of environment he/she thrives on, but surely at the toddler/preschool years, they’re still quite young so the progressive mode is really more appropriate, right? I’m still mulling over these things and doing my research like you. good luck on making your decision! 🙂

  12. Anna “Mommy Anna” Plaida

    My son is enrolled in montessori with mixed traditional teaching. I might say that he improves a lot when it comes to socialization, self confidence, self esteem and he learned a lot in academics in his young age.

  13. Chinky Magtibay

    My son is 2 1/2 years old and I know that this will also be our dilemma in a few years’ time! Will start to do my research on this as early as now. i hope that you will make the “best” choice for your daughters. 🙂

  14. Celerhina Aubrey

    I’m leaning into montessori type of education. My baby’s 8 months old but I’m already checking my options. Education is a vital part of every child’s development. Glad that now we have options. 🙂 More fun. But definitely alot more difficult to be parent these days.

    • momhandsarefull

      That’s true. During our time, basta may preschool near us, okay na. Ngayon ang daming options. Pati mode of teaching iba-iba na 🙂 But it’s fun, looking at different preschools. It’s fun, but challenging at the same time.

  15. Lique

    Hi. May I ask how old your daughters are? My toddler will turn 3 next year and what type of school I’ll let him go to is also a dilemma for me. Another is the hefty tuition nowadays. Have you considered homeschooling them or exploring the idea too?

    • momhandsarefull

      Hi mommy!

      My daughters are 3 and 1.5 years old already 🙂 I have considered homeschooling but my husband is against the idea. Plus, I don’t think it will work with my girls since they’re very hyper and energetic 🙂 So I really have to enrol them in a real school 🙂

  16. Krisna

    I want to send Y to a progressive school because I believe the traditional approach won’t work in her personality but I love to give it a try though. Still, I wish there’s a good progressive school nearby with trial classes para makatulong sa decision namin mag-asawa din. Thank you for sharing this. Very timely ito since aligaga na ang beauty ko sa pag-iisip because my daughter will be schooling na next year. 🙂

    • momhandsarefull

      I think most preschool these days offer trial classes. I have a neighbor na halos lahat ng preschools near us na-try nila 🙂 You should start narin mommy. Sa sobrang dami ng schools, kahit ako hindi ko alam kung saan ie-enroll ang kids ko :))

  17. Que Sullano - Gavan

    Grew up and raise in traditional school too but we are teaching our son, since we are homeschooling, we are incorporating montessori activities

  18. Peachy @ The Peach Kitchen

    My daughter is currently enrolled in a traditional school and I think she’s doing really well.

  19. Raghu

    Thank you for the clarity about 3 modes philosophies.

  20. Elaine

    Hi Mommy Ayi!

    Thanks for the info on your blog about the types of schools. I came across your page while researching more about progressive schools since it’s also very new to me. I’d like to ask how’s it been & how your kid is doing since you’ve enrolled hin/her in a progressive school? Is it what you expected it to be?
    Thanks in advance 🙂


    • Ayi

      Hi Elaine!

      Thanks for dropping by the blog. So far, progressive school worked for my daughter. She is excited to go to school because the school she goes to incorporates play and learn in their activities. There are lots of crafts that develops creativity and at the same time, still related to the lesson for the week. What I particularly like about the progressive setting is that each child has individual time with the teacher for assessment. Will make a blog post about this soon 🙂

  21. maria teresa de jesus-espiritu

    Hi, Mommy Ayi! Thank you for your very informative article – your comparison of Traditional, Progressive and Montessori methods was quite insightful. And I just want to share this info with your readers/followers who may be interested: for those who live in Filinvest II, Batasan Hills and areas nearby, you may want to check out TEAM SMART Play & Learn Center located near Gate 1 of Filinvest II, A-plaza Bldg, second floor. The TEAM SMART Guided Group PLay approach incorporates the best features of the 3 methods in the Transitional Learning Program which is specifically designed to prepare kids mentally and socially for pre-school. View us on Facebook TeamSmart Tere Olive to learn more about us. Thank you, more power to your blog!

  22. Mommy maya

    Hi! I have been researching about differences in Montessori and traditional school set up and which one is better….my son will be entering big school this coming school year. He fortunately passed Ateneo grade school exams but still undecided if we will enroll him there or will enroll him in a Montessori school. Currently, he studies at a progressive school which has a very fun way of learning things. Sadly, his current school is only for pre school so I really have to look for big schools. Based on info I get from a mommy friend and from a Montessori teacher, in Montessori, students doesn’t have homework as they finish everything in school. Hence, less stress for parents. They are also taught to do research on their own at a very young age. Which again means less stress to parents. 😜 I was told that unlike in traditional set up, most kids dread math, Filipino, and some sciences. Unlike in montessori, kids learn to love these subjects because concepts are explained and shown to them in a very different approach. In fact, I was told that parents of some students were amazed to know that there are easier and fun ways of teaching and understanding math and science concepts. Also, a mommy friend whose two kids are enrolled in a Montessori school said that she noticed her kids can now explain things with clarity on their own.

    Anyway, apart from academics, my other concern is which educational set up would best prepare my child in real life. And whether he will be able to fully adjust and still thrive well if I take him to a montessori set up for first few years in grade school then eventually transfer to a traditional set up.

    God bless!



  1. Preschool Hunting: 6 Things You Need to Consider when Looking for a Preschool | The Momma Chronicles - […] are three types of school setting: Traditional, Progressive and Montessori (read more about it here). I decided to go…

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