Because the Montessori name is not trademarked, any school can call themselves “Montessori” without necessarily following the Montessori philosophy. Luckily, there are some standards in place through organizations like Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and American Montessori Society (AMS) that can give you an idea of what to look for on a Montessori school tour to make sure the school you’re applying for is authentic. Here are some things to look for and questions to ask when you’re touring a Montessori school to see if it is the right fit for your family.
If you’re touring when school is in session:
- Are the children engaged in independent work? In a Montessori learning environment, children are given the freedom to choose their own work throughout the work cycle, so you will see children working independently for most of the time.
- When adults speak to children, are they down at the child’s level? Adults in a Montessori classroom will not be standing at the front of the class addressing everyone, or shouting across the room, or even just standing at full height to address a seated child. Instead, the adult should be down at the child’s level when speaking quietly to a child.
- Are there Montessori materials on the shelves? Maria Montessori developed specific learning materials like the sandpaper letters and numbers, the movable alphabet, the pink tower, the knobbed cylinders, etc. An authentic Montessori classroom will have those on the shelves.
- Are children working on work rugs and at tables? Work rugs define the work space for any work that is done on the floor, so you won’t see materials spread all over the floor and mixing up with other materials.
- Are the classrooms mixed age groups? Montessori classrooms have mixed age groupings for each section. At the youngest level, you may see classrooms of children from birth to 3 or split into separate infant classes (birth to 18months) and toddler classes (18 months to 3 years). At the primary level, the classes will be made up of children from age 3 to age 6. Sometimes Kindergarten students in a 3-6 room separate out for the afternoon, but they should be in the mixed age classroom the rest of the time. At the lower elementary level, the classes are for 6- to 9-year-olds, and upper elementary covers 9- to 12-year-olds.
Questions to ask the tour guide:
- “Are the teachers Montessori-certified?” The head teacher *should* be certified, assistants may not be.
- “Is the school affiliated/accredited with AMS/AMI?” Some perfectly valid Montessori schools are not, but most are or at least are working toward that affiliation. If they’re not affiliated/working toward it, I would ask why not.
- “What does the daily classroom schedule look like?” Is there an uninterrupted work period? There should not be too many interruptions to the flow of the work cycle, so that children can become absorbed in their work. In the 3-6+ rooms, you will be looking for an uninterrupted work cycle of at least 2.5 hours.
- “Can I observe in a classroom?” Some schools have designated observation spaces where you can view the classroom from behind glass, and others will let you sit in on a morning as long as you stay out of the way and don’t interact with the students.
- “Can you tell me more about the Montessori classroom and how it differs from traditional education?” Your tour guide and any of the teachers you meet during the tour should be able to answer this in a way you can clearly understand.
Those things to look out for and questions to ask will give you a pretty good idea of whether the school is aligned with Montessori principles or not. Other things that may be important to you:
- outside play facilities
- disciplining strategies
- health and safety procedures
- diversity and inclusion practices
- parent communication
- financial aid