Prince George to attend Montessori nursery - but what does that mean?

Prince George will attend a Montessori nursery Credit: Pa

Future heir to the throne Prince George is to attend a Montessori nursery school in Norfolk, the royal family has announced.

But what exactly is the 'Montessori educational style'?

Read: Prince George will attend nursery in Norfolk next year

Here's what you need to know:

  • Where does it come from?

The Montessori approach was named after its developer, Italian physician and education expert Maria Montessori.

She drew up a different kind of model based on her extensive research with children, including those with learning difficulties, involving an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and prioritising the child's natural psychological, physical and social development, rather than trying to enforce more rigid developmental standards.

  • What does it involve?

According to the Association Montessori Internationale, the essential elements of Montessori education include:

  • Mixed age groups in the classroom. Classes consisting of children aged from two and a half to six are the most common. This aims to help younger children develop by learning from the older ones, while helping the older children consolidate what they have learned through teaching younger students.

  • Three hours of uninterrupted working time.

  • Students are given the choice between working at a desk or on the floor.

  • Students can choose their activity, from a prescribed list of options, with the teacher working as a "guide".

  • Hands-on learning materials, in the hope students will learn by discovery rather than instruction.

  • Freedom of movement within the classroom, with different areas for quiet reflection, reading, and play.

Westacre Montessori School nursery in Norfolk, which Prince George will attend come January Credit: Reuters
  • What's the point?

The Association Montessori Internationale claims the method views the child as "one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment".

They say their approach "values the human spirit" and allows students to develop more fully across the board, as well as building on their strengths.

It is based on two basic principles:

  • Children and adults have the ability for their own cognitive development based on interaction with their surroundings.

  • Children under the age of six have an innate drive for development - meaning that when presented with a range of options, they will naturally choose the one which will most help them grow.

  • Does it work?

The results are mixed.

A 2005 study by Lopata, Wallace and Finn (Journal of Research in Childhood Education) found that Montessori-educated students performed comparably, but not better, than those taught in traditional settings.

Another study in the same year by Dohrmanna, Nishidab, Gartnerc, Kerzner Lipskyc and Grimm supported this conclusion. They compared the achievements of 543 students and found no significant improvement in academic achievement for those taught in Montessori programmes.

They followed up in 2007, however, looking into the performance of high school students who had previously been taught via Montessori methods, and found they tended to score higher in maths and science.

In 2003, Borman's Review of Education Research found that Montessori had some of the most positive effects of any of the methods evaluated.