When choosing a Montessori school that’s right for your child, be prepared to do your homework. After all, no two schools are exactly alike, regardless of whether they use a Montessori or more traditional approach to education. While most Montessori schools adhere to the same general educational philosophy, some schools apply the Montessori principles more extensively than others. With this knowledge in mind, what exactly should you look for in an ideal Montessori school? Consider the following five characteristics:
Professional affiliations. Montessori schools have the option of being affiliated with or accredited by certain national and international Montessori organizations. What organizations should you look for? The most common include the American Montessori Society (AMS), Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), and the International Montessori Council (IMC). Remember: Being affiliated with or accredited by one of these organizations isn’t mandatory. However, schools that are affiliated with the AMS, for example, demonstrate a certain standard of excellence and professional integrity.
Unique classroom design. What should a Montessori classroom look like? While each classroom will have its own personal style, there are some general similarities that all Montessori classrooms should have in common. First of all, the classroom should be well-organized with learning items easily accessible to students. The overall feel of the room should be inviting, with muted colors and cozy workspaces. Desks are typically absent, in favor of couches and rugs that encourage collaborative work while also promoting independence. Nature is also frequently emphasized, perhaps through a classroom garden or aquarium.
Mixed-age students. The Montessori classroom consists of mixed-age groups; typically, the ages of students span no more than three years. The older students should serve as role models for the younger students. Because Montessori classrooms value independence, students — regardless of age — are encouraged to move freely throughout the classroom. In stark contrast to traditional classrooms, Montessori classrooms typically don’t require students to seek permission before using the restroom, eating a snack, or engaging in a new activity.
Teacher as an observer. In a true Montessori classroom, you are unlikely to encounter a teacher at the head of the classroom lecturing students. Instead, you will find the teacher moving throughout the room, serving as an observer and a gentle guide. She will be familiar with the learning styles and unique needs of each of her students and will tailor activities accordingly. Often, she will present new material through small group lessons instead of whole-class instruction. Additionally, her interactions with students should be based on empathy, kindness, and respect. When students are misbehaving, the Montessori teacher redirects in a positive manner; punitive discipline is not practiced in the Montessori classroom.
Whole child education. Montessori schools believe strongly in educating the whole child. Thus, the Montessori classroom should be a place where children’s differences are valued. While traditional classrooms tend to focus primarily on students’ cognitive development, Montessori classrooms focus on the physical, emotional, cognitive, artistic, and social development of each child; in short, they nurture the entire student. When observing a Montessori classroom, students should appear to be engaged in a variety of activities. Some will work cooperatively, while others will choose to pursue an independent activity.
After visiting a Montessori classroom, consider sitting down with the program director to address any lingering questions. The bottom line is that the ideal Montessori school for your child will simply feel like the right fit. At Brooksfield School, we offer parents an alternative to traditional education, combining the best practices of today with the values of years past. If you’re searching for a Montessori program in the McLean, Virginia area, contact us today.