How to choose a Montessori Preschool
Some schools claim to be Montessori, but parents must know what questions to ask and what to look for during a school visit in order to find a true Montessori preschool.
Over 100 years ago, Maria Montessori created an educational method based upon her observations that a child will successfully direct his own development if he has a nurturing and prepared environment and the appropriate materials with which to work.
While some preschools that claim to be Montessori, there is no mandatory accreditation process for a school to call itself Montessori. Parents must ask three important questions and look for a few essential classroom characteristics during a school visit to find a quality Montessori early childhood program.
Questions to Ask a Montessori Preschool
Before taking the time to visit every school in town, a parent should call and ask these basic questions.
Do all classroom teachers have Montessori credentials?
Many preschools supplement their classroom staff using non-Montessori trained teaching aides in order to keep teacher-to-child ratios low. Be sure to ask how many certified Montessori teachers are in each class and what training is required of teacher aides in order to evaluate whether a true Montessori experience is being offered.
How long has each teacher worked at the school?
Montessori education is based upon a three year cycle from age three through Kindergarten. During this time a child remains with the same teacher in the same classroom in order to fully explore and experience all curriculum areas in a multi-aged environment. A stable Montessori school with a long-term teaching staff provides a child with a safe basis to develop and grow.
What to Look for During a Montessori Preschool School Visit?
Schedule a school visit with each qualified Montessori school. If possible, choose a time when class is in session and bring the child who will attend along. During the visit look for the following characteristics that indicate a good Montessori preschool program.
Are the children free to choose activities independently?
A quality Montessori classroom is set up for independent freedom within an organized structure. This means that activities in all curriculum areas are available at all times, with each child free to independently choose an activity. All activities are child-directed not teacher directed. The teacher is there to show a child how to use the material and then allows the child to work and explore independently.
Does the classroom appear peaceful yet busy?
A purposeful, yet quiet buzz of activity is the sound of a quality Montessori classroom. Children are engaged in their various activities, some working alone, some working together, some eating snacks, some washing tables, and some simply watching another child work.
Do the teachers treat the children with respect?
Teachers who treat children in a respectful way by speaking gently, modeling manners, and creating a culture of peaceful responsibility create a Montessori environment in which children naturally behave the same way.
Look at the equipment in the classroom, and make sure it's clean/organized/complete. A fully-stocked classroom can be very expensive, but you want to make sure the basic materials are there. You can find online catalogs that have lists, look at Montessori-n-such online to see Montessori equipment that should be in the classroom.
The environment should be neat with work on shelves that are an appropriate height for 3-6 year olds. The tables and chairs should be sized for the children as well. Especially watch the snack area - the children will likely be coming 1 or 2 at a time from their work, serving their own snack, eating it, cleaning up after themselves, and returning to work - all independently (i.e. without a teacher directing them to snack). Nienhuis is the classic granddaddy of Montessori work sellers and is another source for seeing what work should look like. The classroom will have a practical life section (water pouring, scooping things, wiping things, apple slicing, carrot peeling, etc.), science, language, and math, sensorial. There may also be a library.
Choose the Right Montessori Preschool
Selecting a preschool for a child is a big decision, but by asking questions about accreditation and teacher qualifications before going on a school visit saves time and ensures that all visits are to Montessori affiliated schools. After selecting which schools to visit, a parent is empowered to know what key characteristics to look for to determine if the school truly embraces the Montessori philosophy of a child-directed school experience.