Montessori & Finnish ECE: Daily School Life, Standardization & Development (Part 3)
Welcome to our article series about how Finland's early education model compares to Montessori. In this series, we deliver a clear picture of how these two different approaches take shape in the classroom and which one might be better suited for your child. You can choose whatever part is most interesting to you and you do not have to read them in order:
Part 1 covers the history of each model.
Part 2 explores their shared philosophy, as well as their learning environments and materials.
Part 3, this article, discusses daily life at school, standardization and development.
Daily Life at School
Learning Alone in Montessori
One major difference between Montessori kindergartens and HEI Schools is the way in which the children play and learn. One of the trademarks of Montessori is the ‘work cycle.’ This is a three-hour time period in which children choose their own activities and get absorbed in their work. Maria Montessori believed that children struggle with transition, and they need prolonged periods of time to focus on one activity. The Montessori system also focuses on occupational education because children learn practical, everyday life skills and learn how to concentrate on real-life tasks, such as cooking or cleaning.
One defining characteristic of Montessori is that almost all work is completed independently in this time period. If a child wants to play with the same toy or work at the same station as another child, he or she must wait their turn because collaboration is not necessarily encouraged. This turn-taking teaches children self-regulation, discipline and courtesy. Teachers demonstrate how to be polite, ask questions and listen to others so the work cycle functions smoothly.
They also let children be very autonomous during the work cycle. If a child faces a problem in their work, the educator often lets that child work through the issue independently. Although this can be an excellent learning experience for a child with normal development, it can be challenging and even detrimental for children who might need extra assistance because they might not always receive the help they need.
Learning Together in HEI Schools
Group Activities and Collaboration
The HEI Schools day, on the other hand, has a rather different structure. Though children have uninterrupted time to focus and become immersed in their activities, the curriculum emphasizes active collaboration and teachers intentionally create group learning experiences.
During group learning sessions, children learn how to collaborate, communicate and build peer relationships. One example of a group activity is HEI Time, which takes place at the start of each school day. The teacher and children sit down together and create a schedule for the day using HEI Pictograms. They also sing songs, discuss the weather and other age-appropriate activities. These moments encourage discussion, interaction and compromise.
Children also establish common rules for the classroom together, and they play a part in community decisions that affect them during children’s meetings. These processes teach them how to listen, compromise and collaborate in real-life situations, skills they will need as they get older. It also gives them the chance to voice their opinions, which contributes to their self-esteem and confidence.
Hands-On Support from Teachers
The way teachers interact with children in HEI Schools is also very different from the Montessori style. The teacher functions as a facilitator rather than an instructor and lets the children lead the way. They support children in building their peer relationships and give them autonomy, examples and gentle guidance in group activities. This helps children learn the importance of teamwork, and they develop social skills like empathy and compassion.
In the learning space, educators provide more hands-on pedagogical support and guidance than teachers at Montessori centers do so that children with different learning abilities or developmental patterns receive the help they need. HEI Schools Learning Centers also have a small teacher-child ratio to ensure that each child receives the personal attention he or she needs in order to learn effectively.
Multiple Methods for Montessori
This leads to the next major difference between Montessori and HEI Schools, which is how each method is standardized. Because Maria Montessori did not patent or copyright her system, any school can use her name in its title. This means that a school with the name ‘Montessori’ in the title may not be following Maria Montessori’s original practices in any way. If a school has an affiliation with a Montessori organization, it is more likely to use her methods, but even schools that fall into this category can vary greatly because there is no single governing body for Montessori schools.
For example, comparing just two of the many organizations - in this case the original organization, the Association Montessori Internationale and the American Montessori Society - there are many differences. AMI requires that teachers adhere strictly to the original set of learning materials that Dr. Montessori used, while AMS encourages teachers to expand upon the collection and incorporate modern-day tools and technology into their classrooms. AMI provides a short list of guidelines while AMS delivers a booklet of requirements for teachers to follow. Though there are many similar ideas at work and both organizations follow the same basic principles, differences such as these make it difficult to judge the type of classroom your child will be entering.
There are also a variety of teacher training certification programs for Montessori teachers. A quick Google search provides many offers and answers about how to earn a Montessori certification. Because there is no governing body overseeing this aspect of the program either, such options can lead to divergent and even conflicting styles of teaching and methodologies within the realm of Montessori. As a result, there can be great variation in quality, methodology and outcomes in the teaching practices at Montessori preschools.
Regularly Regulated at HEI Schools
HEI Schools, on the other hand, follow a clear set of guidelines for all aspects of our Learning Centers so that HEI Schools around the world offer the same consistent, high-quality preschool concept. Throughout the process of setting up a HEI Schools, our headquarters team works closely with the operators to build a beautiful, detail-oriented learning space for the children following our guidelines. We also offer comprehensive training for all staff members of the new school.
The local teachers in particular undergo a rigorous training that is based on the University of Helsinki’s Finnish early childhood education teacher training curriculum. After that, Finnish teachers serve as mentors to the local teachers. This gives them the chance to teach and work together on more hands-on activities and training in areas like planning, organizing, delivery and assessment of instruction. Finally, all teachers engage in ongoing teacher training by completing continuous professional development modules in an online learning platform.
In order to ensure continuity of quality, each Learning Center also undergoes Quality Assurance assessments once a year. A member from the HEI Schools pedagogical team in Helsinki visits the learning center and assesses conditions that are critical to ensuring high-quality education for the children. If a Learning Center does not meet expectations, the Helsinki and local teams work together to create an action plan for improvement, and the Helsinki team provides constant support and guidance throughout the year.
The local team also completes its own Quality Assurance Assessment twice a year, in which the staff members examine their strengths and challenges and build an action plan to further the school’s goals. They also create Teachers’ Individual Plans, which serve as the basis for biannual one-on-one meetings between individual teachers and the principal to ensure their continued growth. The principal facilitates the collection of regular parent feedback, as well as feedback from the whole school about the HEI product and concept, which informs its further development. At HEI Schools, we believe education is not about the best concept, but the holistic combination of best practices of both local and HEI products. It is adaptable and continuously developing in collaboration with its partners in order to best serve and incorporate both global and local culture and prepare children for the 21st century.
Want to standardize the quality of your Montessori preschool? The HEI Schools Toolkit does just that! If you already own a Montessori daycare or kindergarten and want to upgrade your curriculum, consider the Toolkit. It complements your existing curriculum and increases the overall quality with Finnish play-based activity plans and other teacher resources. Watch our Toolkit webinar recording to learn more!
Development of the Models
Relying on Tradition in Montessori
The last major difference between the Montessori system and HEI Schools is their approaches toward further developing their models. As mentioned earlier, the Montessori concept was created and developed by Maria Montessori herself in the early 1900s, and she founded AMI to share her philosophy. With the creation of American Montessori Society, there were opportunities for different methodologies to emerge.
As mentioned in the previous section, the traditional Montessori model does not encourage any sort of development or improvement upon Ms. Montessori’s original ideas. Teachers are not allowed to add or supplement the prescribed set of learning materials, and there is little room for expansion or growth beyond the traditional model. Though other organizations like American Montessori Society encourage their teachers to implement new materials and ideas based on the latest educational research and participate in continuous professional development classes, there is no governing body to such guidelines across the board.
Always Learning in HEI Schools
On the other hand, HEI Schools was founded in partnership with University of Helsinki, one of the top universities in the world. The curriculum itself is grounded in educational research and crafted to prepare children for the 21st century. The HEI Schools curriculum also actively incorporates the skills recommended by the international testing body Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), such as communication and creativity.10 While the Montessori curriculum also focuses on transversal abilities, it has not significantly or uniformly modernized to reflect the new skills needed in modern times. In order to ensure that teachers are implementing best practices and children are learning the skills they need, the HEI Schools pedagogical team works closely with professors of educational sciences at University of Helsinki and consistently integrates their findings into the curriculum and design.
There are many reasons why Montessori or HEI Schools would be a good choice for your child. Both are grounded in the idea that children should be the drivers of their own learning experience, and the models are built upon the foundation that children are individuals in their own rights and should be treated with the same level of respect as an adult. Children have the freedom to explore, make decisions and act independently as appropriate.
The HEI Schools environment may be better suited for families who want their children to regularly interact and actively learn with their peers. Though a Montessori school does teach children skills like self-regulation and courtesy, it does not foster active collaboration among children because they often learn alone. Because of this, there are not as many opportunities for children to practice teamwork, empathy and listening skills, which are best developed in practice with their peers.
However, if a child thrives on order and total independence, a Montessori classroom could be a better fit. Montessori preschools are noted for their calm, quiet environments and children are certainly independent operators in most situations. At HEI Schools, while offering a visually calm environment, children partake in group activities and learn with others on a regular basis.
Standardization and development are not uniformly applied throughout all Montessori preschools, so it is important to keep these ideas in mind while researching the best preschool for your child. HEI Schools carefully monitors the quality and implementation of its clearly defined guidelines to give consistent results. Whatever you decide, it is important to consider how your child will feel in each of these environments and which one is best suited for his or her personality and individual needs.