A Montessori education may give children better social and academic skills than those who attend traditional schools.

By the end of kindergarten, Montessori children outperformed their peers at public and private schools on standardized math and reading tests, according to a study recently published in the journal Science by Angeline Lillard, a UVA professor of psychology, and Nicole Else-Quest, a former UVA research assistant now at the University of Wisconsin. At the end of elementary school, 12-year-old Montessori children wrote more creative and complex essays than their peers at other schools did.

The study was conducted at a Montessori school in Milwaukee that serves urban minority children. Students at the school were selected for enrollment through a random lottery.

Montessori education is characterized by multi-age classrooms, a special set of educational materials, student-chosen work in long time blocks, a collaborative environment with student mentors, absence of grades and tests, and individual and small-group instruction.

The study also found that Montessori youngsters did better at controlling their attention during novel tasks, solving social problems and playing cooperatively. They exhibited superior social skills and reported a strong sense of community at their school.

“Researchers should take a closer look at the Montessori system as one way to improve education in the United States,” Lillard says.

Judy DeLoache Dan Addison

More early education research at UVA

Picture This

In the November issue of Developmental Psychology, UVA psychology professor Judy DeLoache concludes that children learn best with color-photography picture books—not with cartoon imagery or drawings. The study involved more than 100 toddlers aged 18 to 30 months who were given the task of building a simple rattle. Those who were shown color photos of a child building a rattle did better at assembling it than those who were shown drawings. “Often the hardest task for a child is learning symbols and relating them to the real world,” says DeLoache, who was recently named a fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “If you want to teach children the names of things, then picture books with color objects in photo form are best.”

Social Studies

Amori Mikami Dan Addison

The “Friendship Clinic,” a new clinical study spearheaded by Amori Yee Mikami, a UVA assistant professor of psychology, is helping children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder to improve their social skills. “Children with ADHD often are peer-rejected, and their difficulties multiply as they grow to adulthood,” says Mikami. They “often grow up with depression and relationship problems; some may develop criminal behavior and substance-abuse problems.” Treatment for ADHD usually involves medication and counseling designed to help the children improve their attention spans and control impulses. But little intervention is focused on helping these youngsters become better at developing and maintaining good relationships with their peers. Through play groups and training sessions that involve both parents and children, Mikami’s intervention program has shown promising results.

Lie Detectors

Children don’t believe everything they hear, after all. As early as age 3, they can distinguish fantasy from reality, according to new findings by researchers at UVA and the University of Texas.

In three studies, about 400 children ages 3 to 6 were presented with new information and had to say whether they thought it was real or not. Some children heard the information defined in scientific terms, while others heard it defined in fantastical terms. The researchers found that children’s ability to use contextual cues to determine whether information is true develops significantly between the ages of 3 and 5.

The findings were published in the November/December 2006 issue of the journal Child Development.