When shopping around for a Montessori School do you know what to look for? There are many schools that unfortunately claim to be Montessori but deviate from Maria Montessori´s philosophy and curriculum. So how do you know if you are getting the real Macoy?
Things to look for in an authentic Montessori school:
Teachers will be trained by the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) or the American Montessori Society (AMS).
2. Length of Class Time
Authentic Montessori schools have a three-hour uninterrupted work period at least once a day. During this time, children receive one-on-one attention from the Guide in a wide variety of subject areas, or are practicing skills they still need to refine.
3. Prepared Environment (Classroom)
Montessori classrooms look very different from traditional classes, which often have desks facing the front with the teachers’ desk facing them. A Montessori classroom is beautifully organised with exquisite materials in each separate subject area on low shelves that are intriguing and easy for children to access. The materials will be mostly natural: lots of wood, glass, and natural fibres, with little to no plastic. The environment is filled with items to help your child feel (and gain) more independence and responsibility. You should see the full complement of Montessori materials that allow your child to learn academic subjects such as language, mathematics, science, geography, biology, and even music.
4. Mixed-Age Classrooms
Authentic Montessori classrooms group children together in three-year age spans. This allows for an equal mix in the classroom – for example 3, 4 and 5 year olds in a preschool classroom. There are several benefits of these mixed age groupings. Older children help younger children by modelling respectful behavior and advanced work that they will eventually experience. In turn these older children, irrespective of personality, are afforded an opportunity to develop leadership skills and mentor the younger ones.
5. Individualised Curriculum
The Authentic Montessori program supports the individual and follows the development of your child. This is very different from a one-size-fits-all curriculum that suggests all children are ready to do the same thing at the same time because they are a certain age. In a true Montessori classroom, the child is very closely observed and the curriculum conforms to your child, instead of your child having to conform to the curriculum.
6. Continuous Assessment
Evidence of your child’s progress should be readily available to you in spades. A true Montessori school is constantly evaluating where your child is in order to individualise the curriculum to provide him/her with the next set of tools for their learning. There is no end of year exam where your child is given a grade – instead you will get a detailed report of their strengths and what they still need to work on.
7. Calm and Peaceful Classrooms
A normalised Montessori classroom is calm and peaceful. Children will be deep in concentration as they choose an activity and work with it for as long as they need to. Other children will be moving around the classroom as they choose an activity and sit down to work, but the movement in the classroom is slow and purposeful.
8. Freedom Within Limits
True Montessori schools will allow children to choose what to do and where to sit and work, but will not allow a child to disrupt the class, work of others etc. How is this achieved without a ”time out” corner you might ask? An authentic Montessori school does not use punishments, behaviour charts, shaming or timeouts for disciplinary methods. The Montessori Guide gains the children’s respect through how s/he models grace and courtesy and by inspiring children to learn and improve every day. S/he does not raise their voice or use punishments. Instead s/he is lovingly firm and follows through with what s/he says. As an example: “If you can’t transfer the beans from one bowl to another without throwing them at your friend, we will have to put the material away for today and you can try again tomorrow”; short and sweet, and then the material is removed without hesitation.
9. A Connection to Nature
Live plants bring the world of nature into the classroom, but nothing takes the place of being in the outdoors. The school should have an outside space, a deck or patio for work, and whenever possible fields to roam, hills to climb, and a garden to grow vegetables or flowers in. Children should be seen outside every day.
10. Supportive Community
The Montessori academic materials develop the intellect, but they don’t stop there – they go the full length and develop emotional intelligence as well. Lessons of grace and courtesy are taught from the moment a child enters a Montessori classroom. These lessons include how to serve a guest, introduce a friend, borrow something, and close a door without making a sound; they form the cornerstone of civility, which is the hallmark of an authentic Montessori experience.
How to Use This Information
As the saying goes “Knowledge is power”. Now that you know the 10 characteristics of an authentic Montessori school, be proactive and ask the hard questions when researching schools for your child. Listen carefully to the schools answers and think twice if they avoid answering directly.