What to Look for in a Montessori Preschool

Wondering what to look for in a Montessori preschool? There are so many schools to choose from, so be sure you do your homework to find a school that is right for your family! Here are 5 questions to ask when considering a Montessori school for your child.

But First… Why Is It Important to Ask the Right Questions?

Did you know that the name “Montessori” is not trademarked? Maria Montessori, who developed the method of instruction, materials, and philosophy that bears her name, did not put an official trademark or legal limitations on the use of her name before she passed in 1952. That means that anyone can open a classroom, call it a Montessori school, and there will be no legal ramifications, if the program and curriculum in no way resemble Montessori’s teachings.

So, although the Montessori method has gained popularity in recent years (yay!), unless you know what makes a “Montessori school” an actual, real, authentic Montessori school, you might find yourself visiting schools that are hoping to capitalize on the name, while not putting the actual Montessori Method into practice.

There are some key elements to look for when visiting a Montessori school that will tell you if the school’s program is authentically Montessori or just loosely based on Montessori’s ideas. Here are some questions to ask that will help you figure out just how genuine the program actually is:

What to Look for in a Montessori Preschool: Question #1

Is your school affiliated with the American Montessori Society (AMS) or Association Montessori Internationale (AMI)?

Although there is no requirement for schools to affiliate with one of the two main Montessori organizations, taking the time and effort to officially connect with either of these entities means that the school is legit. The school has to show proof that its teachers are properly certified and that it adheres to the main Montessori principles, to be covered in later points.

The school might be a Member School or an Affiliate School, but it should, in some way, indicate that it’s a member of a larger Montessori organization. Be sure to look for certificates of membership, or inquire about a school’s status during your tour.

Children's House Montessori School of Reston teachers enjoying the AMS Montessori Event
Teachers from Children’s House Montessori School of Reston enjoying the
2019 Montessori Event hosted by AMS

What to Look for in a Montessori Preschool: Question #2

Do you have mixed-age classrooms or are children separated by age?

Mixed-age classrooms are critical to the success of a Montessori program! Younger children learn from their older peers and older children have the opportunity to model for their younger classmates. Learning by doing, teaching by example, and aspiring to be one of the “big kids” are important components of Montessori learning. If you are looking for an early childhood program, there should be a mixture of three, four, and five-year olds in the same class.

Classes should be mixed-age in the morning, but are likely to be separated by age in the afternoon, as this is when state-mandated rest time occurs. Be sure you know how the classrooms are organized and whether or not the school separates children into different aged classrooms. An authentic Montessori school will not have a “threes” or “fours” classroom or a separate kindergarten class.

What to Look for in a Montessori Preschool: Question #3

Are your teachers Montessori certified?

Similar to #1, this is a matter of “the real deal” vs “Montessori-themed.” Anyone can read one of Maria Montessori’s books and get the gist of what she and her teaching philosophy were all about. You can’t become a true Montessori teacher through a weekend workshop! It takes time, dedication, training, and mindset to be a true Montessorian.

The training process, whether through AMS or AMI, is intense and not an under-taking one takes lightly. It’s the equivalent to a Masters program, with intensive classwork, exams, practice, and an internship. At least one teacher in each classroom should be Montessori certified. If they’re not, move on!

A teacher working with a student at Children's House Montessori School of Reston
Ms. Asma works with a student on the Pink Tower

What to Look for in a Montessori Preschool: Question #4

How long is your Great Period?

The Great Period is a period of time dedicated to classroom work and it should typically be 2.5 to 3 hours in length. This means that the morning work period should last from around 8:30 to 11:00 or 9:00 to 12:00. During that time, children will work with the classroom materials, enjoy a morning snack, receive a lesson from a teacher, and participate in a group circle time before moving on to the next activity, possibly going outside to play or getting ready for lunch.

Why is the Great Period so important? Because children (and adults, too actually) have a natural rhythm of learning and only by allowing them ample time to explore, make choices, and receive guidance, can they deepen their ability to concentrate and learn. Learning happens through concentration and the Great Work period allows opportunity for concentration to unfold.

Programs that are broken up on different days of the week (ie. Music on Mondays, foreign language on Tuesdays, etc) or throughout the morning (ie. multiple activity changes / group circles) do not allow children to delve deeper, spend more time on one activity, and focus for longer periods of time. It’s important, so make sure that the program you are considering makes it a priority.

What to Look for in a Montessori Preschool: Question #5

Does your school use _______________ in the classroom?

Fill in that blank with any of the following: computers, tablets, worksheets, televisions, work plans, or homework.

Young children learn by doing, and there is substantial research to support the idea that computers and tablets can not replace hands-on learning in the early childhood classroom. There’s no denying that technology has a huge place in our society and we’re not saying that children shouldn’t touch an iPad until college, but electronic learning can not take the place of manipulatives.

Likewise, worksheets, work plans, and homework are all commonplace in our society, but they should be used to support child-driven learning, not in place of it. An authentic Montessori program will put the child first and will follow their lead, supporting their learning each step of the way.

student concentrating at Children's House Montessori School of Reston
Concentration in progress as this student completes the Trinomial Cube

What You Should See in an Authentic Montessori Classroom

  • Freedom of Movement — Children should be walking around, sitting at tables, sitting on the floor, and generally having freedom of movement throughout their classroom.
  • Respect for the Child — Teachers should be working with children at their level, speaking respectfully to them, and listening to what they have to say.
  • Montessori Materials — A variety of Montessori materials organized by different curriculum areas: practical life, Sensorial, math, language, art, geography, and science. Not sure what you’re looking for? Ask the person giving you a tour to point them out.
  • Child-sized Furnishings – low shelves, small tables and chairs. The classroom is there for the children, not the adults, and should be designed and arranged with their needs in mind.
  • Joy of Learning — This one is little subjective, but authentic Montessori classrooms are places where joy is critical to learning! Smiling faces, intense concentration, children working together on a big project, and children working quietly at a table alone are all indicators that this is a classroom where joyful learning is valued.
Smiling faces are a sure sign of Joyful Learning!

Final Thoughts

Sending your child to preschool is a big deal. We get it! Montessori schools have so much to offer and we hope that you will strongly consider Montessori education for your child! Just make sure you do your research and support authentic Montessori programs in your area.

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