How is Montessori daycare different than other schools? The answer depends on the type of preschool you're referencing. In this article we will briefly discuss childcare around the world, the history of childcare in the U.S., and the different types of childcare/preschool available, including Montessori. Keep reading to learn more about the history of daycare in the U.S., and how the Montessori model differs from other available options.

Childcare Around the World

Maternity Leave

Compared to childcare around the world, the U.S. ends up on the short end of the stick in practically every standard of measure. The U.S. is lightyears behind every other industrialized country, from maternal leave to government spending,

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) basically makes it illegal for an employer to terminate or replace an existing employee for up to 12 weeks after the birth (or adoption) of a child. It is not paid leave, mind you, but a promise that at the end of the 12 weeks you will have a job to return to should you so desire. This is better than no assurances, but compared to maternity leave in other countries it isn't that great. In fact, it's downright abysmal.

New mothers in the Czech Republic receive 28 weeks of paid maternity leave, while in Sweden, new parents are entitled to 480 days of paid paternity leave, with 60 of those days designated for the father. Even France with their relatively paltry 28 days of paid maternity leave is 28 days ahead of the U.S.

Childcare Costs

It's no surprise that daycare and preschool in these and other industrialized nations are universally provided, fully funded by the government, and easily accessible to everyone. Nor is surprising that the U.S. ranks in the top three countries for childcare costs, beaten out by the U.K. and New Zealand, coming in 1st and 2nd, respectively.

According to statistics compiled in 2022, the average annual cost for daycare of an infant in the U.S. is over $14,000. And that's the cost per child. Though second children often garner reduced tuition, daycare costs are a burden for most American families.

To be fair, several states including Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington, D. C., provide free or drastically reduced daycare. However, it is far from the norm. So, how did we get here?

History of Daycare in the United States, Briefly

Childcare arrangements between family members and trusted friends have been a staple of childcare for centuries in the U.S. However, the first structured daycare center was established in New York City in 1854 as a social welfare program to care for the children of single mothers who worked in area factories. The Industrial Revolution made it increasingly possible for women to work, with care outside of the home becoming a necessity.

Day nurseries, as they were called, began popping up in industrial cities and towns, though they were still not the norm, especially in rural areas of the county in which children were put to work on the family farm as soon as they were able.

Daycare in the U.S. would not experience any major changes or widespread growth until the advent of World War II. Women were pulled into the workforce like never before. In response, the U.S. government passed the Lantham Bill. This legislation provided funding to daycare centers to care for the children of mothers who were working wartime jobs.

A black-and-white photograph from 1942 of two light-skinned women working in some sort of factory. The woman on the right side of the photograph is actively involved in soldering. She is wearing a short sleeve striped button front shirt with an apron over it, goggles over her eyes, and a scarf covering her hair. The woman on the left side of the frame is intently watching the woman on the right she is wearing a solid jumpsuit that buttons up the front. She is also wearing goggles over her eyes and a scarf covers her hair. The background is composed of some sort of tank with meters on it, right frame, and a window and possibly a door that is obscured by the woman on the left in the left background
The Lantham Bill provided funding to daycare centers to care for the children of mothers who were working wartime jobs.

©Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com

Once the war was over, U.S. citizens petitioned the government asking to maintain the status quo. This would have allowed for Universal, government-funded childcare moving forward. Their pleas fell on deaf ears, however, as the government ceased funding daycare in 1946.

Head Start

In January 1964, declaring a war on poverty, President Lyndon Johnson appointed a task force, to determine the best way to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, disadvantaged children in the country. Comprised of experts, the task force concluded that these impoverished children needed access to care that would address their social-emotional and physical health, as well as their nutritional, and educational needs.

A colorful photograph of a Cinco de Mayo parade float. It has obviously been made by children the who populate the float. A white sign with red letters is visible on the side of the trailer which says Head Start  Los Angeles. There are some other words that are not discernible on the sign. 15 or so brown-skinned and olive-skinned children are riding the float. One adult with olive skin and dark hair wearing a white cowboy hat is also riding the float but is primarily obscured by a little boy wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans he was sitting on a horse saddle. Many of the children are wearing white shirts and red bandannas however one little boy has on a madras plaid button front shirt and another little boy has on a blue T-shirt with some type of silk screen. The background for the parade float is a beautiful green tree against a vivid blue sky, and the corner of a gray concrete building in the right frame.
Head Start has been extended and updated, continuing to serve underprivileged children in the 21st century.

©Richard Thornton/Shutterstock.com

And thus, Head Start, conceived as an 8-week pilot program, has been extended and updated, continuing to serve underprivileged children in the 21st century.

Daycare in the 21st Century

These days daycare is a necessity for many families in the U.S. According to research nearly 1/4 of school-aged children in the U.S. live in single-parent homes. Of those children living with two adults, 50% are in dual-income households. These statistics suggest that approximately 60% of all infants, toddlers, and school-aged children require daycare of some form or fashion.

Three pairs of light skinned hands are visible center frame. The largest of the hands is on the outside the medium pair of hands is in the center and the smallest pair of hands are at the top. In the smallest pair of hands is a piece of paper that has been cut into the shape of a house a rectangle with a triangle on top, with four small, square windows cut out in the center of the rectangle. Only the body connected to the smallest hands is visible. They are wearing indigo denim jeans with a silver button, and a light green short-sleeved T-shirt.
Approximately 40% of infants and toddlers are cared for by a parent or other relative in their own homes.

©Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com

These figures are supported by recent studies that found that just under 40% of infants and toddlers are cared for by a parent or other relative in their own homes. Of the remaining 60% of infants and toddlers, 1/3 are cared for in a home setting by a non-family member. The remaining 40% of young children rely on center-based care.

So, how is Montessori daycare different than other schools?

Daycare Models in the United States

To determine how Montessori childcare differs from other available options, one must first be aware of and understand the other available options. Many different programs exist from home care to nationwide for-profit centers. So, which is the best fit for your family?

Home Care

Infants and toddlers in the U.S. are most likely to be cared for at home by a parent or other family member. According to research from 2019 (pre-pandemic), 58% of children under 1 year of age required no weekly non-parent care.

Child care in the home is as varied and unique as the homes themselves. Whether or not a parent chooses to actively educate their children, or simply allows them to be children is a personal choice. One that is prone to debate from both sides.

This arrangement isn't long-lasting, however, as the percentage of children who remain at home drops to 26% by age three, suggesting that the majority of young children in the U.S. attend a program of some description.

For Profit Centers

For-profit childcare centers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are forest schools where children spend their whole day outdoors, including naptime. Even in the wintertime when they are bundled up to provide warmth against the elements, they are outdoors. Faith-based for-profit childcare incorporates religious education into the childcare setting. The majority of for-profit childcare centers, however, provide little more than safety and structure.

 Photo is an outdoor sitting, a wooded area with mini trees in the background with yellow to golden leaves. Center frame is a young child with short strawberry blonde hair wearing a gray button front long sleeve sweater black long pants and yellow rubber boots. They are pointing at the photographer with their left hand while their right hand holds a paintbrush. To the right of the child in the left frame is a wooden easel. On the easel is a large piece of paper on which the child has painted some shapes that are possibly letters in blue or black paint. The majority of the paper remains white. Behind the child on the ground is an orange blanket spread out with a wicker basket and a stuffed animal lying on its face dressed in a plaid robe. There appears to be a smartphone next to the animal.
In forest schools children spend their whole day outdoors.

©Volodymyr TVERDOKHLI/Shutterstock.com

Private childcare centers are the most common type of childcare/preschool in the U.S. Though in most Industrialized countries publically funded childcare is available to all families, only a small minority of states in the U.S. have universal childcare. And though there are a small number of publically funded Montessori preschools in the U.S., Montessori falls into the category of for-profit centers.

Center frame: A clear glass jar with a clear glass hinged lid is filled with mostly silver and a few gold coins. On a piece of masking that has been tor off the roll, are the words EDUCATION and FUND,. Education is above Fund. Neutral background.
The average tuition for Montessori preschool in the U.S. is $14,000. This is also the average cost of daycare in America.

©szefei/Shutterstock.com

This is one of the ways that Montessori daycare is similar to other schools. The average tuition for Montessori preschool in the U.S. is $14,000. This is also the average cost of daycare in America. So, all things being financially equal, how is Montessori daycare different than other schools?

Teacher Role

The Montessori teacher acts as a guide, allowing the students to explore their environment. Montessori classrooms are designed to stimulate the child's curiosity, creativity, and imagination. Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952), developed her eponymous method of educating young children through years of studying and observing children. She recognized that children were capable of teaching themselves, as well as other children. It is the teacher's job to prepare the classroom for the students, but otherwise, they are to simply observe.

Though there are similar early childhood education models the majority of for-profit childcare models in the U.S. are teacher-centric. Montessori students are allowed to gravitate to what interests them. Children in most childcare settings are expected to conform. Following the rules and participating in teacher-led whole-class activities leave little room for imagination or individuality.

Classroom Setup

The Montessori classroom setup encourages children to follow their bliss. Children in a Montessori classroom may be exploring and learning in tandem with other children, or completely flying solo. There are no schedules or regiments, outside of lunchtime. Montessori classrooms consist of 5-8 learning stations. The teacher chooses and prepares the stations. These Stations are based on their observations of the students reflecting the students' interests and abilities.

A photograph in a classroom setting at Christmas time. Center frame a young boy is visible concentrating on gluing a yellow piece of paper onto a blue piece of paper. He is light skinned with short brown hair. He is wearing a forest green sweater with the image of a snowman on it. The snowman is white with an orange carrot nose to black coal eyes and a pair of red earmuffs. Behind him is a little girl with long dark hair and light skin wearing a long sleeve white blouse and a black sleeveless sweater. She too is concentrating on gluing paper. The background is an out of focus classroom with a Christmas tree in the corner.
The primary takeaway for children in traditional childcare settings is that success is in following directions.

©Daniel Chetroni/Shutterstock.com

Children in traditional childcare settings are expected to participate in activities planned by the teacher. These activities are often step-by-step projects, in which the students are supposed to mimic the instructor, leaving little room for individual creativity. While such group endeavors prepare the child for traditional direct-instruction education, the projects themselves are absent any practical skills or real-world knowledge. The primary takeaway for the children is that success is in following directions.

How is Montessori daycare different than other schools? In a nutshell, traditional childcare models prepare children for elementary school by teaching them to toe the line, sit still, and follow directions. Montessori schools, on the other hand, according to Montessori alumni, teach critical thinking skills, self-reliance, problem-solving abilities, and self-discipline. Graduates of Montessori also say that through Montessori, they learned to meet the world on their own terms, approaching situations in their own unique way without concern for what others will think.

Up Next: