Monday, February 18, 2013

Montessori Mondays: Choosing a Montessori School

Not all Montessori schools are created equally. In fact, the name Montessori is in the public domain, so that means that anyone, anywhere can open a "Montessori" school regardless of their education and training. Click on "Read more" below to learn the important things to look for when choosing a Montessori school for your child.

Training Matters
Before she died, Dr. Montessori set up the Association Montessori Internationale (or AMI) to preserve her life's work. Teacher training through AMI is rigorous and in-depth. Both J and I have AMI Montessori training; he at the 6-12 year-old level and I for children ages 3-6. Our diplomas are internationally recognized, which is why we were able to get work permits here in Switzerland. We also both hold Masters Degrees in Education. AMI is the gold standard of Montessori training. When looking at Montessori schools, don't be afraid to ask where the teachers received their training, and if they hold any additional degrees in education. AMI / USA has a list of certified schools on their website, but a school doesn't have to be AMI certified to be good. (This is because it can be rather expensive for smaller school programs to pay for certification.) Bottom line: if a school's teachers are AMI trained, and they aspire to be an AMI program, chances are it's a worthwhile program. Other trainings can be very good, too. Look for the items listed below. St Nicholas training and AMS training are two I know to be quite good.

Independence is the Goal
Things should be set up in such a way that the children are as independent as possible. In the classroom, all of the materials should be on low shelves and accessible to the children without adult help; the tables and chairs should be child-sized, and the classroom should be orderly and very neat. If you're visiting while the children are there, they should be moving about freely, choosing their own activities without a great deal of help. The adults should be attentively observant, without disturbing the children. Before you even get inside the classroom, outward signs of independence include hooks and coat racks at child-level, child-sized toilets, well-defined systems for putting away shoes and storing outdoor clothes, etc. All of these are things that children - even toddlers - in Montessori classrooms do themselves. So if you see adults doing these for the children or there is a lack of systems in place to make the children independent in self-care, chances are it's just a daycare with a Montessori name! ;)

Montessori Materials
Any program using the Montessori name will likely have the obvious Montessori materials, such as the Pink Tower, pictured at the right. But they might not have the essential Practical Life exercises like Dusting, Waxing and Washing a Table. (You can watch a video of me explaining these exercises here). Ask what they have in the Practical Life area. The response should be the table exercises as well as hand washing, sweeping, sewing, pouring, spooning and so on. The other areas of the classroom are Sensorial, Language and Mathematics. You can see the full range of Montessori materials on the Nienhuis website. And be sure to look for a large elliptical line on the floor (probably made with tape or paint) somewhere in the room. If you don't see it, ask! It's a very important tool for balance and gross motor work that all classrooms should have. Things you should not see: plastic toys like Legos or other common toys. Those might be present in the before- and after-school care room, or at the beginning of the school year, you may see transitional items like puzzles and blocks for the youngest children to settle in, but otherwise, all of the things in the classroom should be things you don't have at home. ;) 

Of course, the most important piece in choosing a school for your child is comfort. Are you comfortable with the staff and location? Do you like the feeling in the classroom when you're there? Montessori is a fit for every child at the 3-6 level. But as my trainer, Ginni Sackett, liked to say, "It's not necessarily for every family." Be honest with yourself. I had one mom pull her daughter out of my class after a few months because she wanted her child to be having more "crazy kid fun." To her, the Montessori classroom seemed serious and dull. Children love Montessori because it is 100% tailored to their developmental needs, and it meets their intelligence and abilities in a way that respects them as little human beings. But if you don't like it, it's not going to work out your child. If you're curious about Montessori, but not sure, I recommend you learn more ahead of time. A great resource is www.mariamontessori.com. Then, visit a few programs, and if you see a good one and it still doesn't click with you, don't worry. Keep looking for something that does.

On the other hand, if you're set on Montessori and totally on-board, take the time to find a program that resonates with you and that you feel really comfortable with.  When it's time for children to go off to school, even if it's just for a few hours in the morning, they will take their cues and confidence from you. So find a place where you'll be happy to leave your child and it will be easier and more enjoyable for you both! :)

Is your child (or will they be) in a preschool? What type of program did you choose? What in the end was the deciding factor - location, additional care options, philosophy? Please chime in on this one, I would LOVE to know!! xo

(Photo of Montessori classroom from here. Photo of independent child from here. Photo of Pink Tower from here.)

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