Montessori Schools vs Sudbury Schools: What’s the Difference?

All parents know that their child is a little explorer, developing and growing in both the school and family environment. As they experience new things, they naturally want to learn more about what interests them. 

Both Montessori schools and Sudbury schools use this concept in their educational models. They give students freedom and encourage them to learn to love learning.

Let’s look at some of the other similarities, and also the differences between these education systems, so you can make the best schooling decision for your child.

The Montessori Education Model

The Montessori school approach was established in 1907 by the first female physician in Italy, Dr. Maria Montessori. Dr. Montessori applied scientific methods to analyze how different children learn. Her findings caused her to conclude that children are completely capable of learning on their own. All educators need to do is give them the chance and provide the right environment conducive to learning and development.

Montessori schools aim to instill the love of learning and discovering new things into a child’s naturally curious and creative mind. This schooling system puts emphasis on all five senses as the perfect tools for learning.

There is a deep understanding that each child is different and, therefore, has an individual speed and style of learning. Evaluation is not performed as in traditional schools with percentages and letters. Montessori schools use more holistic methods that focus on the strengths, general interests, and areas of improvement for students.

There are certain limits as to what each student can choose to learn depending on their developmental and physical age, but the children do have some freedom about what they learn and how much time they spend on particular activities.

The Sudbury School Model

The Sudbury model of education was first used at the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts. Daniel Greenberg was an essential thinker among the group that founded the Sudbury Valley School and the educational model in 1968, and he wrote many books about the Sudbury model.

The focus of the Sudbury model is happiness and the all-round potential of each individual student. Students choose how they spend their own time, doing activities that suit their personal interests.

Sudbury schools encourage children to explore and develop qualities such as creativity, curiosity, alertness, responsibility, thoughtfulness, and judgment. Leaders, supporters, and pioneers of this education model share the opinion that children need only be presented with the right environment to develop these qualities.

Democracy plays a key role role in the framework of these institutions. This is one way in which the Sudbury model teaches children responsibility. They are allowed to decide on a lot of factors that affect their learning and environment. In a School Meeting, for example, both teachers and children participate and have equal rights to express their opinions about, and vote on school rules, policies, and decisions. 

Montessori Schools vs. Sudbury Schools: The Differences and Similarities Explained

There are overlaps in various schooling systems, including the Sudbury model, Montessori model, traditional education, Waldorf schools, and homeschooling. However, they are not exactly the same. Let’s look at some of the differences and similarities between Montessori and Sudbury schools:

The Differences

Methods to Teach Children

The first difference is the content taught in the classroom context. A Montessori school will teach children a specific curriculum. The children learn in a pre-defined order – like in a traditional school. They must first complete one area of a subject before moving on to more advanced activities.

While the Montessori method has parameters for suggested learning activities, the teacher still presents a range of options that students can choose from. This lets them pick what subjects they’ll do based on their personality and interests. 

The Sudbury model doesn’t have limitations or restrictions to learning whatsoever. The only criterion for engagement in an activity is interest. Each child guides their own learning curriculum based on the kind of child they are. Play and conversation are examples of this self-directed learning.

Role of Adults

Montessori education requires each teacher to play the role of a mentor. They may give instruction and direction to where the child is supposed to go, but their primary objective is to empower children to practice autonomy within the classroom setting.

In a Sudbury school, adults and children are viewed as equals. The role of staff members is to help students and support them in their development. They do not enforce control over what the students learn and how they plan on doing the learning. Students are given free rein over their every move. Fundamentally, learning is the byproduct of what students do, so in a Sudbury context, they are learning all the time. 

Age Considerations

The Montessori education model is based on theories about what is developmentally appropriate for each age group. Children are grouped according to a 3-year bracket. The age group of a Montessori class would be, for example, ages 3-6 or 6-9. The idea is that the older children of each group will share their knowledge and skills with the younger members. 

The Sudbury model, on the other hand, encourages children to mix freely amongst themselves no matter their ages. This creates an environment based on interdependence, relationships, and community. Sudbury schools also don’t presume to know exactly how each child will learn at any stage of their development. 

Evaluation Style

Montessori schools use holistic methods to evaluate a child’s mental, emotional, and physical development. Portfolios and checklists, for example, are some creative grading techniques that focus on individual development and progress over time. Other grading techniques include rubrics, work samples, self-evaluation, goal-setting, and strength development.

At Sudbury schools, satisfaction is the only evaluation of success. The Sudbury model doesn’t enforce any curriculum or homework on students. They will often take projects to and from school, but there are no standardized tests, grades, or any other mandatory evaluations or programs.


At Montessori schools, rules and discipline are managed by adults. Meanwhile, at Sudbury schools, the procedures for dealing with law and rule-breaking are governed in a very different way.

The weekly School Meeting, made up of staff and students, makes all of the rules. Then, a daily Judicial Committee, also composed of both staff members and students, presides over and adjudicates rule-breaking, trials, and consequences. 

Discipline is not dealt with by a separate or higher authority. The students are a major component of the rule-making and amending process at Sudbury schools. As such, they are also involved in the disciplinary process of breaking set rules. In short, students and staff collaborate on controlling and shaping the school environment.

The Similarities

Now that we’ve covered a lot of the differences between Montessori and Sudbury schools, it’s time to see how they overlap.

First off, both educational systems are child-centered and freedom-respecting. The schools abolish the enforcement of conformity and behavior aligned with a consistent set of standards that traditional schooling systems outline.

These education systems aim to make learning fun and individualized. They encourage each student to make learning decisions based on their own interests. Students also set their own paces and learn from each other through work, play, and communication. 

Both models follow the notion that children are naturally curious. They don’t have to be forced to learn by teachers, parents, or families alike. 

In Sudbury schools, everyone is responsible for evaluating themselves. Montessori schools also encourage self-evaluation as part of their evaluation process. Neither educational model uses a grading system based on percentages or letters. While disciplinary methods are different, students in both models are made to understand why each action elicits corresponding consequences.

Final Thoughts 

As you can see, there are some clear differences between the Montessori and Sudbury educational models. When choosing a school for your child, consider which type of school model aligns with your parenting approach and family dynamics. Consistency between a child’s home and school environments fosters emotional security, a vital ingredient for healthy overall development. 

The self-directed learning approach of Sudbury schools helps to cultivate independence and critical thinking skills from an early age. Ultimately, the goal is to provide children with a community that supports their growth and nurtures their individuality.

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