Oh yes, and George’s father Prince William and his uncle Prince Harry were also Montessori kids.
Kanye West even rapped about “startin’ up my own school/a Montessori” on Big Sean’s song “Blessings” last year.
But what is the Montessori method, and how does it churn out so many movers and shakers?
The unique philosophy developed by Italian physician and teacher Maria Montessori in 1907 flips the script on education as many Americans experienced it.
*The classroom revolves around the student, not the teacher (known in Montessori-speak as a “facilitator”), with children encouraged to study what they want and to learn at their own pace, rather than following a core curriculum.
*Kids of different ages are grouped together instead of being divided into grades: infant to age 3, ages 3 to 6, ages 6 to 9, etc. This collaborative environment is supposed to encourage younger children to learn from older kids, and more advanced students to mentor their peers.
*The daily schedule is broken into three-hour uninterrupted “work periods” for the self-directed students select what they want do and to be able to fully immerse themselves in it. Educational activities for younger kids include tracing sandpaper letters glued to blocks, which lets little ones learn the shape and practice the sound of each letter while also reinforcing motor skills.
*There’s no rows of desks. Classrooms follow an open floor plan where children are free to move to different work stations and pick a project.
“Montessori classrooms are very beautiful,” says Anne Hoaldridge-Dopkins, head of the Williamsburg Montessori School. “They are very organized. There are not overwhelming bins of Legos and things for them to dump out. Everything has a specific purpose: Like wooden blocks that they can arrange from lightest to darkest, roughest to smoothest.”
And each learning material (not toy) is designed so that once the child masters it, she moves on to an accompanying object or game that builds upon what she just learned. A child can learn to count to 10 by fitting together 10 beads to make one bar. She can then lean multiples of 10 by lining 10 of those bars up to illustrate 10 multiplied by 10. And then adding all of those beads together teachers her to count to 100.
*There are no grades and no tests. The teacher observes each student and charts his or her progress in a personalized portfolio. The child is assessed by his accomplishments, how he is progressing with the classroom tools, and his behavior. Kids are responsible for washing their own snack time dishes, for example, which include real silverware and glasses to teach them to handle objects carefully.
*There is one facilitator (or teacher) and a non-teaching aide for every 30 to 35 kids. The facilitator doesn’t lecture the class, but instead observes the room and hops in to help a guide a student as needed.
“Montessori is indeed growing,” says American Montessori Society spokeswoman Marcy Krever, who reports an annual growth of about 6% in her group’s membership.
There isn’t a national registry of Montessori schools per se , but the American Montessori Society, a nonprofit professional membership organization for educators practicing this method, estimates there are 5,000 Montessori schools in the United States.
Private, independent Montessori schools can be expensive – NYC tuition can run $30,000 a year, but the elite programs are becoming more accessible to kids in every class.
The National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector reports a growth in free public and charter Montessori schools. There are now 507 across the U.S., including the Montessori Charter School in the South Bronx’s Mott Haven neighborhood – one of the poorest in the country.
“I think now the [public school] education system is in a state of crisis,” Krever says. “Parents are just not happy, and they are proactively looking for other options for their children.”
The overall philosophy behind the Montessori method is that children are naturally curious and eager to teach themselves – and they will do so if they are given the freedom to explore their interests.
With kids encouraged to think outside the box – and to follow their curiousity – it’s no wonder that Montessori alumni include so many artists, creative thinkers and innovators.
When Barbara Walters interviewed Page and Brin in 2004, Page credited their early Montessori education.
“It was part of that training of not following rules and orders, and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a little bit differently,” Page said.
“The Sims” videogame creator Will Wright has also credited Montessori for his success. “‘Sim City’ comes right out of Montessori,” he said. “Montessori taught me the joy of discovery. It’s all about learning on your terms, rather than a teacher explaining stuff to you.”
This was exactly what Bedford-Stuyvesant mom Sandra Stevenson wanted for her son.
“The public school, common core program teaches to the ‘average,’ and Montessori calls for a kid to be reached at whatever level he is at,” says Stevenson, 47, a photo editor.
“And the core curriculum teaches how to take tests. It doesn’t really allow for the child to understand how to do research, how to find out something for yourself,” she adds.
Stevenson sent her son to Brooklyn Heights Montessori when he was 2, where he thrived, and he mostly continued with the program until eighth grade.
His middle school projects included researching screenprinting, where dug up the history of the technique and even mentored with a screenprint artist who took him to a studio where the screens were made. Her son also did a project on ebonics with a language professor now working at Stony Brook University.
“He really enjoyed it,” she says. “He never came home complaining about homework. He would say, ‘I have work to do on my project.’”
He’s since been accepted into the elite Saint Ann’s High School in Brooklyn Heights and would love to attend Brown University or Oberlin College.
The method – like all lesson plans – has its critics. There is no research that definitively proves Montessori education is better than public or private education.
Montessori isn’t a match made in heaven for every child. Some respond better to more structure, and may not show initiative to complete projects on their own. It can also be difficult for a student that has already been trained in a more traditional school to make the Montessori switch to self-direction.
But Stevenson believes the Montessori approach was perfect for her child.
“We dismiss our kids sometimes … but they’re the ones who are in the classes, and they know more about what they need than we do at times,” she said.