Montessori schools have been sprouting up for a number of years now and they have become a popular option for many parents, particularly for their very young children.
With my wife being a certified Montessori teacher for more than a decade and our older daughter having gone through both Toddler and Casa programs, I thought I’d dedicate some space to helping parents evaluate if a Montessori education is right for their child.
First, a little background on the woman behind the philosophy: Dr. Maria Montessori was an Italian educator who originally developed the program for underprivileged children in Rome, in the early 1900’s. (ironic that in North America it has largely developed as a costly private school option).
The program is developed for children in specific age ranges: 0-3 (Infant/Toddler), 3-6 (Casa) and 6-12 (Elementary). Programs will vary by individual school. Many will only take children at 12 or 18 months and could end after Casa or carry on right through high-school. But by far the most popular program these days is Casa, for three to six-year-olds.
The Montessori method involves a “prepared environment” with specifically developed materials for children to learn teach-guided lessons in language, math, culture, sensorial and practical life.
Over the years, we’ve found that understanding of the Montessori program from those only vaguely familiar with it ranges from gimmicky to elitist. In reality, it is largely dependant on the individual school and how invested they are in the Montessori philosophy.
Some of the negative impressions are likely associated to the wide-ranging standards within each individual school. The term “Montessori” is actually within the public domain so anyone can slap the name on their school and claim to follow the philosophy. Which is why you’ll see private Montessori schools ranging from someone’s six-child basement daycare to grand buildings with 300+ students in pressed uniforms.
So how can you tell the good from the… well, not so good? The best way is to visit the school you have in mind, observe a class and ask a few simple questions.
“Are your teachers accredited Montessori teachers?” “Is your school accredited?” “Do you use the specific materials designed for the program?” And I would second guess any schools that claim “Montessori-style” classrooms.
The accredited teachers and materials are probably the most important ones and should be your primary concern. Many schools will have a robust Montessori curriculum without an actual certification. To obtain that official stamp of approval for the school can often be a long, invasive and expensive exercise.
Many schools will also have “Demonstration Nights” a couple of times a year where teachers (and often students) will display work and outline the operation of the classroom and the materials. This is probably one of the best ways to get a quick crash course on the Montessori environment.
The final consideration of course is cost and that can range as dramatically as the types of schools themselves.
Another common question is how children will fare once they leave the Montessori school and enter the “regular” public or private system. Our daughter’s transition has been very smooth into public school Grade 1 and it’s rare feedback that a Montessori student has struggled with their transition. More often than not my wife will hear how well the student compares with his or her new peers.
In the end it’s not to say Montessori is any better than any other private, public or other type of school. It all depends on what parents feel is the best fit for their children.
We’ve been very happy with our first daughter’s experience and are looking forward to when our next daughter climbs in the back seat and drives to school with Mom for her first day in Casa.
Shawn is the founder/writer at thekidexperience.ca, a “dad blog” about the experiences of raising kids and offering ideas, insights and opinions to other parents and families on everything “kids”.