Updated: May 20
Picking a school for your child is not easy. It's a place they will spend hours every day, and that will be like a second home to them in many ways. But how do you choose the best fit for your child?
If you have already decided that Montessori is the right fit for your family, this article will guide you in what to look for and which questions to ask.
What to look for
I recommend touring the different schools and classrooms in your area. Ask to observe a class if possible. The children should have freedom of movement. That means that they are allowed to walk around the classroom freely and sit where they want. They also have to have freedom to choose what to work with and when. The Guides connect the child to the environment through presentations and inspirational stories etc. but it's ultimately up to the child to actually decide what to do. You'll notice that I specifically used the word Guide. In a Montessori classroom, teachers play a unique but important role. We refer to our teachers as Guides because they do more than just teach. Montessori Guides do not stand at the front of the classroom reciting facts and dictating the learning in top down manner. Instead, they move around the classroom, observing and interacting with students individually.
It is high time that movement came to be regarded from a new point of view in educational theory - Dr Maria Montessori
Take note of the following
Are the materials displayed beautifully on shelves at the children's height.
Do they have most/all of the traditional Montessori materials. Newer schools may not have all, and that's OK, but it should be a priority. If they have a lot of other toys, games or similar, that would be a red flag.
Do they have a lot of add ons ("fluff"). This may be a sign that the Guides are not familiar with the materials and do not understand how to use them.
Questions to ask
I like to ask open questions that will give me insight in the schools methods and values.
What sort of reward system do they have? The answer should be that they absolutely do not have a reward system, and that they will rather help the child develop intrinsic motivation.
Such prizes and punishments are, if I may be allowed the expression, the bench of the soul, the instrument of slavery for the spirit - Dr Maria Montessori
What will they do if your child is hit or bitten? This may be hard to hear, but it is common for this age group (0-6) to use physical communication. They are still learning, and the school should know this. Any punishment like expulsion or lines is a big red flag. Instead, the school may have a peace table, assistants that will stay close to the child(ren) in question, give the child tools on how to solve problems and help with communication skills and/or mindfulness, calm down techniques.
What is their trained guides/other adults ratio? How many children are there to each trained Guide? The answer to this will wary a lot from country to country. I recommend asking all the schools to see the differences and take that in to consideration.
What training do the Guides have? Some prefer AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) or AMS (American Montessori Society). I personally think any MACTE (Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education) accredited training should suffice. You can find out which programs that is here.
What does their day look like (schedule/rhythm)? Ultimately, they should have a 2-3 hour work cycle. If the school day is longer, the rest of the day should be meals and outdoor play. Maybe some circle time and PE classes like dance, gymnastics or ball play. More work time does not mean more learning.
Lastly, have a look at the outdoor environment. Some schools keep hens, plant vegetables or do flower arrangements outside. Others may walk to the forest regularly to interact with nature.
Picking a school is difficult, but meeting the staff and seeing the classroom is often a great start to weed out the ones you don't like and to find your favourites. Please let us know how it goes in the comments below.
Co-authored and edited by Mie Mari Sløk Rusdal and Jude Saffron
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