For Montessori preschool and up, parents may wonder if the Montessori school they’ve enrolled their child in truly practices the Montessori method and is guided by its philosophy. Different schools may vary in their details, but here are seven qualities to look for in an authentic Montessori school.
1. Multi-age classrooms
When Dr. Montessori created this method of education, she observed that just because a group of children was born the same year, it did not inherently mean that they were at the same level of mastery or learn at the same pace across all subjects. Instead, she created classrooms that grouped children ages 3-6, 6-9, and 9-12 because they shared the same developmental stage. In an authentic Montessori elementary school classroom, children have an opportunity to learn from and teach their peers as they progress through the curriculum and gain a deeper understanding of the learning topics each year they spend in the same classroom.
2. Individualized curriculum
The Montessori curriculum offers broad educational topics that encourage students to explore and learn in a way that best suits their learning style and areas of interest. In the Montessori classroom, students are charged with directing their own learning and given the resources and guidance they need to follow their curiosity and learn at their own pace. Instead of requiring that the student conforms to the curriculum, the curriculum meets the student where they are and helps them learn how to learn.
3. A calm classroom with prepared workstations
An authentic Montessori school will feature classrooms that are calm, orderly, and well-prepared. In fact, the concept of the “prepared environment” is fundamental to the Montessori method. Teachers carefully cultivate the prepared environment by observing their students’ interests and challenges and then curating the learning tools and activities that fill the room. The Montessori classroom is dynamic and always evolving to meet the students’ needs.
4. Teachers who guide rather than direct
Montessori teachers have a very different role than that of teachers in more traditional classroom settings. Instead of telling students what they will learn and how to learn it, Montessori teachers are tasked with observing each student as they engage the prepared environment and then facilitating the student on their chosen path of learning as they explore the curriculum. This means introducing and demonstrating new learning tools and activities, stepping in to help problem-solve if a challenge is overwhelming, and fostering independence and confidence in a student’s learning process.
5. An atmosphere of mutual respect
The foundation of the Montessori philosophy and method of education is respect for the child. Dr. Montessori felt that in order to help children grow into balanced, caring, and contributing adults it is important for the caretakers and educators in their lives to demonstrate the characteristics they want to cultivate. In the Montessori classroom, there is an atmosphere of mutual respect, where teachers respect the students’ ideas, interests, and abilities and students do the same for their peers and for themselves.
6. Emphasis on responsibility and self-discipline
Because students are given agency in their own learning, Montessori classrooms foster the companion characteristics of responsibility and self-discipline. In order to achieve the satisfaction and confidence that comes with mastering a skill or subject, students must learn how to motivate themselves and govern their learning process. Students in an authentic Montessori school are also shown that their role in the classroom is important for how it functions – whether that means helping a peer, cleaning their workspace, or caring for classroom pets and plants.
7. Knowledgeable and supportive Montessori parents
Lastly, a very telling sign that a school is an authentic Montessori school is the nature of the supportive community around it. Many Montessori parents extend its philosophy and practices into their homes and are enthusiastic about contributing in their own way to their child’s classroom and school. A mindful Montessori school sees this sort of engaged community as an asset and seeks to strengthen those relationships in order to better educate and nurture the whole child.
Hill Point Montessori in West Hills, California offers 3 programs – Primary for Ages 3-6; Lower Elementary for Ages 6-9; and Upper Elementary for Ages 9-12.