Montessori education has gained significant popularity in recent years, which I love to see! One downside though is that many schools have popped up that claim to be “Montessori,” but really aren’t authentic Montessori schools when you take a closer look.
Montessori is not a trademarked term and any school can add “Montessori” to its name. This is a scary thought if you’re choosing a school and don’t know what to look for.
If you’re considering a Montessori school for your children, here are five questions to ask before choosing. (Many, but not all, of these questions are relevant for other types of schools as well.)
1. What is the daily schedule?
One trademark of the Montessori method is that the children have long, usually three hour, blocks of uninterrupted work time. Ideally, they would have one 3 hour work period in the morning and another long work period in the afternoon. The exact length of work periods varies by age, but all Montessori classrooms should have long, uninterrupted time for the children to work.
Uninterrupted time is necessary for the children to achieve deep concentration. Some children come in and start with challenging work right away, but others need to ease into it by starting with an easier task. Long stretches of time give them the chance to do this.
2. Are the teachers AMS / AMI certified? Is the administrator?
Certified Montessori teachers, also called “guides,” go through a rigorous training program and are observed by experienced Montessori teachers to make sure they’re prepared to lead a Montessori classroom. Certified teachers also complete an internship with a mentor where they are able to practice their new skills. Some online training programs have become available as well, but I’m not familiar enough with them to comment.
Many Montessori schools have assistants who have not completed training, but in looking for a school for my child, I would want a classroom where the lead teacher was AMS (American Montessori Society) or AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) certified.
I personally think it’s a plus if the administrator is also certified because he or she is more likely to make decisions for the school based on Montessori principles.
3. How is discipline handled?
I would ask this at any school. Montessori classes should use positive discipline and natural consequences. You should not see children being put in time out or shamed in any way. When asking this question, it might be helpful to be more specific, such as, “how to the teachers handle it if a child hits another child?” If there is a particular discipline issue your child is struggling with, ask how that specific issue is handled.
4. Are the classes mixed-age? What is the ratio of each age group?
Montessori education uses mixed-age, mixed-skill level classrooms. This allows the younger children to learn from the older group, and empowers the older students to act as role models and leaders. Montessori classes generally include a three year age span, (3-6 year olds, 6-9 year olds, etc.) though infant and toddler classes include smaller age groups due to how quickly they develop.
Most classes won’t have a perfectly balanced percentage of each age group, but it’s useful to ask about the ratio, because classrooms with a fairly even balance of younger and older children generally run more smoothly.
5. May I observe?
Most Montessori schools will allow you to observe a classroom if you are interested in the school. When observing, try to assess the environment, the teacher, and how the children interact.
In the environment, look for a clean, organized room with all materials accessible to the children. Furniture should be child-sized and things like supplies, snack, and cleaning materials should be readily accessible to the children without needing to ask an adult for help. Also look for concrete Montessori materials, rather than worksheets. There should ideally be nature included in the classroom in the form of plants, animals, and interesting items like fossils or rocks, etc.
In the teacher, watch how she talks to the children. She should speak to them respectfully with a firm, but kind, voice. She should also speak fairly quietly so it does not distract the other children. She should be working with one child at a time, or a small group, rather than giving large group lessons.
In the children, watch to see how they interact with each other, and with the environment. Do most of them walk carefully around the room, picking things up when they’re knocked over? Do most of them speak to each other kindly? How is it handled when they don’t?
Of course there are always children testing the limits, but through observing the children, you can get an idea of the classroom culture and what behavior is generally accepted.
I’m a big believer in going with your gut instinct with things like choosing a school for your children. At the end of the day, you want a place where they will be safe, respected, challenged, and nurtured. If you are interested in a Montessori school, I hope these questions help you find a great fit!
Have you gone through the process of choosing a school for your child? What was the most challenging part?