There probably aren’t many parents who having decided to pursue a Montessori education for their child and having invested a large portion of their income into realizing this opportunity, would want to find out years down the road that the program they chose was only Montessori in name and had not provided their child a true Montessori education. But, how exactly can a parent know if the school they are looking at is the real deal?
The following list can help you make the choice with ease.
3-Hour Work Cycle: All authentic Montessori programs will ensure that the morning work cycle lasts for 3 hours. It is important that the students receive lessons during this time and have ample time to choose work that they want to practice. The teachers will not interrupt the students to participate in whole group activities in this 3 hour window.
Teacher Training: A true Montessori school will staff the classroom with guides (you might say teachers) who hold an Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) or the American Montessori Society (AMS) certificate. These rigorous programs ensure that the teacher knows how to model all of the materials and how to guide your student through the sequential steps in each curricular area.
Individualized Curriculum: One of the highlights of choosing a Montessori education for your child is that their teacher will prepare a lesson plan JUST FOR THEM. Each child is unique and is ready for particular lessons at different times than his or her classmates. One way that the Montessori teacher plans for your child is through observation. Ask for examples of how your child’s teacher will observe and make notes in order to choose the lessons for each week.
Organized, Prepared Environment: No rows of desks facing a white board or smart board here. In a Montessori classroom, you will find an average of 3 materials spaced sufficiently on wooden shelves that are easily reached by the students in that room. Each curricular area will have its own area in the classroom. There will be ample floor space and table seating to allow each student space to work in the classroom. And the materials and decor will usually be made of natural materials that help connect your child to nature. Living plants (and even animals), soft music and lighting, and sometimes the scent of essential oils will contribute to the well-prepared environment.
Montessori materials: When you tour the schools you are comparing, ask the guide to highlight some of their favorite Montessori materials in each of the curricular areas - Sensorial, Math, Language, Practical Life and Cultural. The materials will usually be made of natural materials and will progress in difficulty from concrete to abstract. You can ask the teacher for examples of a material for each age group.
Multi-age Classroom: Montessori developed the idea of combining students from 3 different age groups in one room to mimic the home environment. In the Primary-age classroom, you will see members who are 3, 4, or 5 years old. This is a vital part of learning in a true, Montessori program. It allows students to learn how to mentor and become leaders.
Engaged children: In a strong Montessori program, you will generally find that most of the children are happily engaged in their work, either individually or with a friend. The teacher will help each child refine their body movements over time so that they move through the room slowly and quietly. The student community will work together to create a peaceful atmosphere where everyone can work and concentrate. Using quiet voices and calm movements is a sign that students understand their environment and care for their classmates.
These next 3 Traits are next-level, bonus-type aspects of an ideal Montessori program:
Teacher Tenure: As you are comparing programs, ask how long your child’s teacher(s) have been teaching at the school and with each other. A high, staff-turnover rate could signal an unhealthy school culture or unfair working conditions for the staff. It is preferable to find a school where the teachers stay for a long time and where the teaching team has worked together for a while, as they will have established their classroom routines and working relationships and will have more time to devote to their connections with their students.
Teacher-Student connection: This would actually be first or second on my list as a parent searching for a Montessori school. In general, a child who does not feel connected or loved will be adverse to receiving direction or instruction from their teacher and even from parents. And a teacher who is not interested in establishing a rapport with their students or in caring first for their feelings of security and comfort in their environment in order to gain their trust and cooperation, might resort to more of an authoritarian approach instead of being able to gently guide the student. When you tour a school, try to observe the teacher-student interactions.
School Montessori membership or accreditation: An additional way to determine a school’s commitment to true Montessori practice and philosophy is to ask whether they participate in any Montessori societies for professional development or if they are an accredited program. This can give you a clue as to the level of Montessori knowledge of the administration and the staff.
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