What is a Montessori School: A Complete Guide for Parents

Other than Google, what do Larry Page and Sergey Brin have in common? They both went to a Montessori school and attribute some of their success to their Montessori roots.

Montessori is more than just a school. It’s an approach to ensure the intellectual and emotional development of children. As a result, a growing number of parents are considering Montessori education for their young ones. That said, given the overwhelming number of options out there, finding a reliable Montessori school is far from easy.

Let’s understand what Montessori education is, how this school works, and how you can find one that best fits your child’s needs.

Table of Contents

What Is Montessori?

Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori developed the Montessori method of education in the early 1900s. She found that experiential learning helps children better understand science, languages, mathematics, music, art, and more. That’s what a Montessori school does. It focuses on the social, emotional, physical, and academic development of children.

So, what is a Montessori school like?

Montessori education aims to bring forth children’s innate skills and qualities. So, a typical Montessori school provides a learning environment that encourages self-discovery through hands-on learning.

The classrooms are designed to meet the needs of children in a specific age group. Teachers supervise and support children during these self-directed lessons. Everything in a Montessori school classroom helps children to learn through their own experiences. There is no pressure to follow a set pattern of teaching.

Needless to say, Montessori education lays the foundation for life-long learning. It fosters the inherent curiosity to discover the world in every child. Another important aspect is that it is tailored to each child’s abilities and skills. Everyone can learn at their own pace. There is no rat race.

Today, there are more than 2600 private and more than 500 public Montessori schools. In 1929, Dr. Maria Montessori established The Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). This organization continues to uphold the principles and standards of Montessori education. It also contributes to research in child development globally.

The Five Principles of the Montessori Method of Education

The Montessori program relies on a set of five unique principles. These principles encourage students to self-motivate, question and analyze what’s happening around them, and learn at their own pace.

Respecting the children is the bedrock of a Montessori school. The roots of this founding principle originated in the early years of Dr. Montessori’s work.

In the beginning, her pupils were children with learning difficulties. The 20th-century education system deemed these children unfit for learning.

But, Dr. Montessori saw this problem from a different perspective. She understood that children should be respected for their needs, wants, and interests, which makes learning easier.

So, how does a Montessori school show respect to its pupils?

The respect is shown by not interrupting their focus, their desire to express, and their own pace of learning. In any Montessori private school or public school, the primary responsibility of teachers is to support the children.

As each child learns at a different pace and in different ways, teachers motivate each student depending on their needs and wants. You will not see a one-size-fits-all approach in a Montessori classroom.

The second principle of Montessori education believes that there are specific periods in a child’s development when their learning ability improves dramatically. In a Montessori program, teachers often watch out for this sensitive period in every child.  

If they find a child going through a sensitive period, the teachers will figure out ways and tools to support them. As children are more receptive during sensitive periods, they can pick up skills quickly and efficiently.

The third principle is based on the fact that children are constantly learning simply by interacting with their environment. They are absorbing information and interpreting it through real-life experiences. So, a Montessori private school or those following this education method let children absorb information from their surroundings.  

Take reading, for example. How do Montessori schools teach reading? In a Montessori school, children learn to write first, then read. As it happens, children can learn to put together letters for a word based on how they sound, which is nothing but interacting with their environment. 

And this occurs before they can interpret and write a word. The process fully leverages the fact that children are like a sponge and learn faster through hands-on experiences.

For children to learn through hands-on experiences, you need to provide them with a suitable environment. That’s where a Montessori school comes in. Each classroom is packed with plenty of learning materials, tools, and free space. 

Also, everything in a classroom, from furniture to the free space, is designed to boost hands-on learning. The design allows kids to explore, experiment, and learn freely.

Popularly known as Auto Education, this Montessori education principle believes that children can self-educate. With the right resources and support, children can learn almost anything by themselves. 

Of course, teachers provide guidance when needed. But as you can see, the other four principles work together to lay the foundation for self-education as time progresses. 

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Montessori Education VS Traditional Education

When interacting with parents, the most common question we face is, is Montessori school good? – or more precisely, is Montessori school better than traditional school? And we get it. Why would you want to send your children to a Montessori if it isn’t any different from a public school?

But before we delve into what sets Montessori education apart, you first need to know what are the goals of Montessori schools, which distinguish Montessori education in more than one way.

The Goals/Objectives Of Montessori Schools

Montessori education focuses on various learning principles and tools to fulfill these objectives. They are very different from traditional teacher-led education.

Putting Children First
Unlike a traditional school, a Montessori school is more children-centric. Children have the liberty to speak their minds, learn at their own pace, and have freedom of choice. The traditional classrooms are more restrictive thanks to a myriad of rules and a teacher-centric learning process.

Adaptable Curriculum
Montessori has a flexible curriculum as each child is allowed to learn at their own pace. Children can choose what they want to learn and when they want to do it. And teachers provide the support they need.

Hands-On Learning
Montessori also focuses on real-life learning environments, both indoors and outdoors. Instead of sitting in a classroom listening to their teacher talk, children actively engage in hands-on experiences. Teachers, on the other hand, observe their progress and help children reach their potential.

Leverage Natural Development
Traditional education focuses on the transfer of a general curriculum. It often begs for a reward and punishment approach. In a Montessori school, however, kids learn to nurture their individual development. It brings self-motivation. So, there is no need for a reward and punishment system.

Minimal Interruptions
The whole concept of Montessori education is based on giving children the freedom to choose. Teachers will not disturb a child who is engaged in a particular activity. In fact, children are often encouraged to finish the activities they are working on.

Self-Learning
The Montessori environment encourages self-correction, self-discipline, and self-learning. Rather than just passing tests, children learn to enjoy and value the process of learning. Thus, Montessori can turn learning into a way of life, not just a school activity.

Winston-Salem Montessori School

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Program for Your Kid

Benefits of Montessori Education

Given the freedom to discover, question, and connect with their surroundings, Montessori education can transform your kids into strong, independent individuals one day. But, that’s not the only benefit of Montessori education.

When developing the Montessori education system, Dr. Montessori discovered that child development occurs in leaps and bounds. A child can struggle with a particular skill one day and master it the next.

A Montessori private school takes these developmental needs into account from the get-go. The classrooms are mixed-aged, allowing teachers to meet all the developmental needs of students. In other words, joining an early childhood Montessori school can help your child meet their developmental needs fully.

Self-initiated hands-on activities are the mainstay of a Montessori private school, the ultimate goal being self-discipline. In this regard, every classroom boasts a perfect balance between freedom and discipline. 

When designing the classroom and presenting lessons, teachers model their actions to help kids make good behavioral choices independently. Observing their teachers and classmates, children learn to finish their tasks, tidy up their workspace, and behave, regardless of who is watching.

Montessori education is child-centric. And it wouldn’t be possible without seeing each child as an individual and providing them with the support they need. The teacher’s role is to facilitate the learning experience, not define it. Even in an early childhood Montessori school, you would see teachers guiding pupils. 

  • They will encourage the students to learn at their own pace. 
  • They will take the lead from students based on their interests and abilities. 
  • They will provide the next lesson only when the child is ready.

In a typical Montessori classroom, you will see children working alone, in pairs, or in groups, without constant monitoring. Better still, teachers try to keep interruptions as minimal as possible. There are a few ground rules. But, the classroom environment encourages independence from a young age. 

Of course, problems do occur occasionally. But, teachers will help address them by encouraging self-correction. As children grow, they’ll learn to identify, correct, and learn from their mistakes. This helps children understand that they are capable of handling things on their own. And should they need it, they can always ask for help.

Montessori education is about the overall development of children. After attending this school, your child will learn to: 

  • think critically 
  • act compassionately
  • be independent 

They will develop not just intellectual but emotional and social skills as well. Education helps build a civilized and humane society. It’s no wonder Dr. Montessori saw education as an instrument for world peace

Still wondering if a Montessori
school is the right fit?

To help clear up any doubts, let’s take a look at a typical day at a Montessori school.

A Typical Day At a Montessori School

Most parents want to know how their kids will spend a day at a Montessori school. First of all, you should know that Montessori education centers on consistency. Consistency is the key to ensuring the steady growth of children. So, every school will follow a schedule.

Although each new day will be more or less the same, it will be full of different lessons and activities. Also, each Montessori private school will follow its unique schedule. But, it will strictly adhere to the same principles of Montessori education.

A typical day at a Montessori school consists of a morning session, mid-day session, lunch break, an afternoon session, and a late afternoon session. Each session roughly lasts for two hours.

In the morning session, children can choose the activity they are interested in and work on it. They can spend this time working on individual or group activities. Usually, before the activity begins, a teacher will give an individual or group lesson. But, there are many activities that children can take up on their own. The idea behind this is to let children learn to stay organized and concentrate.

This session involves coming together to sing songs, share stories, and talk about things like weather, activities, or any topic that kids choose. Younger children and half-day students will typically go out to play during the mid-day session. It involves self-initiated outdoor activities.

In a typical Montessori private school, when the mid-day session ends, only children with a full-day schedule will get ready for lunch. Others will leave for the day. Lunchtime is when kids learn to set tables, engage in polite conversations, and wipe and clean the tables after lunch, among other things.

During this session, young kids (infant toddlers) will take a bathroom break, followed by a nap. Older children (four-five years old) can sit down for a story. After which, they will join the elementary-level kids for various activities. Generally, elementary-level kids will take advanced lessons in science, mathematics, music, languages, art, and more in this session. 

In most schools, the aftercare program is also a part of the Montessori education system. Children staying for this session spend time on the playground or exploring the outdoors. It could be a trip to the woods or creative art and craft projects or games, with an afternoon snack, of course. 

Winston-Salem Montessori School

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How To Choose a Montessori School

By now, you may have started thinking about enrolling your child in a Montessori school. Most parents find it challenging to select a school, given the overwhelming number of choices. But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s what to look for when choosing a Montessori school – tips that’ll make your search a lot easier.

The American Montessori Society (AMS) provides accreditation to the eligible schools in the U.S. It is considered the gold standard in the American Montessori community. Currently, only 15% of their member schools are accredited. Make sure to check if the school has AMS accreditation.

Moreover, the teachers should have passed accredited training programs by the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education. These programs are available through AMS in the U.S. Make sure to check if teachers are also accredited.

The student-teacher ratio is an equally important measure of quality. Although it may not always equate to a higher standard, a lower teacher-student ratio can make a huge difference. 

In a Montessori school with a lower ratio, teachers can pay one-on-one attention to students. Combined with the Montessori education system, this ratio can ensure the overall development of your child. 

Montessori schools embrace the principle of giving students freedom with a few limitations. And the classroom structure needs to reflect this philosophy. 

  • Is the classroom designed to allow students to choose their activities? 
  • Is it a mixed-aged classroom? 
  • Are there zoned spaces? 
  • Do they have good quality learning material, furniture, and other classroom facilities? 

Think about all these factors when selecting a school.

The purpose of Montessori education is to ensure the full development of children. It isn’t possible without building a sense of community in the school.

Teachers and your child’s classmates aside, you as a parent also have an active role in this education system. So, find out if the school provides regular feedback to parents and keeps them involved in the learning process.

You can’t verify any of these factors without seeing the teachers and students in action. Make sure to schedule a tour if possible. See if the teachers adhere to the five principles of Montessori education during your classroom visit. After your visit, compare all the schools you have shortlisted and select the one that best fits your child’s needs.

Montessori FAQs

As a parent, you probably still have a lot of questions. While it is not possible to address all of them, we can look at a few common ones. Parents often ask the following questions when looking for a Montessori school.

Montessori schools don’t divide children into grades but age groups. Most schools offer programs for infant toddlers (ages 18 months to 3 years) and Elementary-aged children (ages 6 to 12). Some schools may also have programs for secondary students (ages 12 – 18).

As per the federal tax laws, money paid for a child’s education is not tax-deductible. However, depending on several factors, you can interpret Montessori school tuition as a childcare expense, which is tax-deductible. You can also get tax credits. However, you will need to consult a tax advisor for details.

You can try the AMI-USA school locator to find accredited schools. However, not all schools are accredited. So, make sure to check the “Accredited” box in the search option. 

While Montessori education believes in a child’s natural desire to explore, it also believes in self-discipline. So, children are allowed to do as they please but with certain limitations. Moreover, these limitations are necessary to ensure their safety. Rest assured, these limitations will not discourage children from using their creative imagination.

Montessori education puts equal weight on fostering independence and social skills. So, children will be involved in both individual and group activities. They will also work in pairs. The whole process aims to help them understand the concepts like respect, grace, courtesy, and acceptance.

In Conclusion

Montessori school is an excellent way to ensure the overall development of your child. Most Montessori programs help encourage creative thinking, respectful and responsible behavior, and independence, among other things. As a result, an increasing number of parents are choosing the Montessori way of life for their children. If you are one of those parents, this guide will help you make an informed decision.

How to Get Started

If you are looking for a Montessori school in Forsyth County, North Carolina, the Winston-Salem Montessori School would be your first choice. Established in 1968, the school offers Montessori programs suitable for different age groups.