Editor’s note: I never understood the challenge of finding an authentic Montessori school until we moved away from our former school (on six rural acres with chickens, sheep, and a school garden). We assumed the Montessori school in our new state would be a similar experience.
It only took a few days to realize how wrong we were. Worksheets, homework, testing, and certainly not a logical consequence-based approach to discipline. It wasn’t a fit. And unfortunately, there were no other options in our area, so we opted to homeschool.
Had I followed the suggestions you’ll read below, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time, energy, and disappointment.
When prospective parents visit Montessori schools, one of the common questions they ask is how to identify truly authentic Montessori programs. The Montessori name is in the public domain. Dr. Maria Montessori never trademarked the name, and she didn’t patent her teaching methods. That’s why you’ll find Montessori schools that don’t follow her guidelines.
So what is “real” Montessori, and who decides?
There are several affiliation organizations dedicated to teaching and promoting the work of Dr. Maria Montessori. While not all of them agree on every detail of the methodology, there are universally agreed-upon tenets for a true Montessori school.
Look for Montessori Accreditation
You may find Montessori schools that claim to be accredited. But further review shows they’re certified as a private or charter school within your state.
To find an authentic Montessori school, try the AMI-USA school locator for a list of AMI accredited schools in the U.S.
The AMS find a school link searches the directory of member schools in the U.S. Be sure to check the “accredited schools only” box in the search option.
Ask About Montessori Trained Teachers
Most parents look for dedicated, experienced teaching staff in their school search. Montessori experts agree that teachers trained in Montessori methodology for the age group they serve is the single most important component in the success of a school. Ideally, teachers are trained in an accredited teacher training program, however many teachers blossom over time under the tutelage of a qualified mentor teacher.
The trained Montessori teacher is the catalyst for everything that flows in the daily life of her students. Through careful observation of her class, she is a facilitator of learning through creating an optimal physical environment and providing individualized presentations of age-appropriate learning activities to a diverse group of students.
The teacher ignites the child’s natural interest in learning as a resource person and guide. As a role model of the values that Montessori taught, she emulates lifelong learning, a respect for all life and a sense of stewardship for our shared future. Parents should expect to see teachers interact with warmth and patience, treating themselves and each member of the school community with great care.
Montessori Learning Environment and Materials
Dr. Montessori wrote extensively about the “prepared environment,” which includes child-sized furniture, and hands-on, multi-sensory, sequential, often self-correcting materials. When parents step into a Montessori classroom, they should feel as though they are entering the child’s world.
The physical layout should be invitingly beautiful and geared to varied learning styles, offering a wide range of activities both indoors and out.
Montessori environments welcome movement and spontaneous activity that support developing independence. While observing a classroom, parents will see children actively engaged with their world: carrying lessons from the shelf to their workspace at a table or small floor rug, watering plants, feeding pets, or preparing and serving themselves snack.
Some children may be quietly engrossed in their own lessons, while and others may be working collaboratively.
Because movement is essential to learning, children are allowed to freely wander, rest, observe one another and make their own choices, as long as they do not hinder the safety, well-being and work of others.
Each day includes long, unstructured periods of time (usually three hours) during which children freely choose their lessons and activities with teacher guidance. Group activities include gross motor movement, music and games.
Nurturing a child’s independence is key to a successful Montessori program, so parents can expect to see young children dressing themselves for outdoor play, sweeping up spills, or helping straighten the classroom bookshelf.
As children experience “freedom within limits,” they are encouraged to question, experiment, and adopt differing perspectives and approaches to problem solving. Over time, their sense of confidence unfolds, along with a sense of ownership of the learning process.
The Montessori Classroom Community
Montessori schools generally include three different age levels grouped together into a classroom family. A three-year program encourages a deeper sense of belonging as children return with each other and their teachers each school year before transitioning to the next classroom at the end of the three year cycle.
Multi-aged communities also allow children to work at their own pace and freely advance in the curriculum while providing leadership to the younger members of the classroom family.
Instead of competing with each other, kids strive towards their personal best as they develop mastery. Because cooperation and collaboration are encouraged through the concept of grace and courtesy, Montessori students benefit from the emotional safety of a pro-social climate in which hurtful behavior is not welcome. Instead, opportunities to develop self-regulation and a shared sense of responsibility for a safe and positive classroom atmosphere encourage a culture of courage and compassion.
As parents choose a school home for their child, they must weigh their goals with what the school can realistically offer. Children thrive when parents engage in a strong partnership with the school, so a warm and supportive school culture is key.
Experts encourage families to carefully consider their options before determining the best fit for their child as their sense of enthusiasm and confidence in their decision will allow their child to enjoy the best possible start to their own adventures in learning and growth.
If you have other questions about the Montessori Method, see these FAQs, or feel free to ask in the comments.