Are you looking for an authentic Montessori nursery or preschool for your child but unsure where to begin? As a parent, choosing the right nursery for your child can be a daunting task. With so many options available, it can be overwhelming to try and determine which school is the best fit for your child and your family.
One educational model that is used is the Montessori approach. But what exactly is a Montessori school, and what should you consider when searching for one?
Montessori schools follow the principles and methods developed by Italian physician and educator Dr. Maria Montessori. These schools are characterized by a focus on hands-on learning, a mixed-age classroom setting, and a belief in the inherent potential of every child.
If you’re thinking about enrolling your little one to a Montessori school, there are a few things you should ask to make sure it’s the right fit. Here we have compiled some questions to ask, and things to look out for, to get you started. These questions will help you discover how each setting incorporates the fundamental Montessori principles that will give your child a quality Montessori experience!
A little background
Dr Maria Montessori created her method of education in 1909 and subsequently trained teachers around the world. The name Montessori was never copywritten or trademarked, meaning that any nursery can (and still do) use the name Montessori without having any affiliation, training, (or sometimes even any knowledge) of genuine Montessori pedagogy. So she set up the AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) to safeguard her method and guarantee authentic teacher training.
AMI schools have highly trained teachers and authentic Montessori classrooms, but there are few of them, and mostly in London. There are however some amazing non-AMI Montessori settings that provide high-quality care and authentic Montessori education.
Our top tip would be to visit each nursery you’re considering and get a feel for the environment – nothing beats parents intuition! And always ask to visit when there are children present, so you can see for yourself how the adults respond to children’s needs.
To get a clear insight into the school’s staffing and policies and to see how closely the school adheres to the Montessori philosophy, here are our questions to ask when visiting a Montessori nursery or preschool:
1. Do they have many staff who have worked there long-term or is there a high staff turnover?
2. What are their everyday large movement practical life activities?
3. What is their outdoor environment like?
4. Are classes of mixed ages, for example 2.5 to 6 years?
5. Is the classroom orderly & attractive, with each activity in a basket or on a tray, so they’re ready for children to choose independently & engage with successfully?
6. Can you go at a time to see the children working or eating? This will help you see how the staff set boundaries and show the overall vibe.
7. Are there floor mats rolled nicely in a basket that a child can choose to use when they use independent work on the floor?
8. Are there small tables so a child can choose individual concentrated work?
9. How do they help the children keep the environment tidy throughout the day? Is there ‘tidy up time’ (we don’t want that!).
10. Do the children prepare their own fruit snack each day?
11. Are the children involved in all aspects of their daily living, e.g. setting the table for snacks/meals, serving themselves, pouring their own drinks, washing up afterwards, hanging up washed cloths, tidying their plate and cup, sweeping and mopping after meals?
12. How are children encouraged to develop self-care regarding toileting, dressing, and washing hands, wiping their own face?
13. Are there a variety of Sensorial activities, e.g. Pink Tower, Sound Boxes, Baric Tablets, Thermic Tablets and Smelling Bottles?
14. Who gives 3 Period Lessons to children so they can extend their vocabulary and fully utilise each sensorial activity (e.g. bigger/smaller, thicker/thinner, louder/softer, colder/warmer, heavier/lighter etc)?
15. Is observation something that the educator does regularly? It’s only through observation that the adult can be aware of a child’s challenges and developmental needs as well as current interests, and respond by preparing the environment accordingly in order to satisfy these needs. If there is no regular observation this would be quite concerning.
16. How do staff link children to the environment through their own interests so each child is able to access all parts of the curriculum? For example, if a child loved dinosaurs, we would use this interest to develop his language skills by making nomenclature cards of different types of dinosaurs for 3 period lessons on language, and naming parts of a dinosaur’s body. We could also link dinosaurs to counting, colours, drawing an outline to encourage him to paint or draw inside it to develop his hand strength, and playing matching games with pictures and books.
17. How do staff comfort a child who is taking a long time to settle into nursery and crying each day? How do they support emotional development? What is their approach to resolve and repair conflict?
18. Is there a regular time for parents to get feedback about their child and work together to help them settle and thrive?
19. What are their views on technology in the classroom for under 5s? We don’t need to encourage lots of technology use at this age. Little children need real-life experiences to develop their pincer grip, whole body strength and coordination, and plenty of time to make up their own games and ideas individually and with peers.
20. When do they have outdoor play time – is it scheduled? How do staff make sure children who love being outdoors also get time each day for some kind of focused learning too – creating balance between group and individual activities, indoor and outdoor time?
21. Do they have AMI trained educators, who are qualified at the appropriate age level? Are other staff in the process of getting some kind of Montessori training too, so they understand why Montessori principles work and where importance is placed? This tells us that the nursery is committed to prioritising quality training and professional development for their staff, which we know will benefit the children.
22. When are there circle groups each day and what happens in them, e.g. songs, grace and courtesy, language activities?
23. What Grace & Courtesy presentations are given to children and when? For example: how to move a chair safely, how to roll a mat, how to say ‘Please can I join in?’, how to walk around a floor mat instead of over it, how to say ‘Please stop, I don’t like that’? Grace and courtesy groups are a really vital part of an authentic Montessori environment. They support children to be kind, careful and assertive, preventing bullying and anxiety issues throughout their lives! Montessori placed strong importance on encouraging community-mindedness.
24. Are the sessions between 2.5 – 3 hours & offer an uninterrupted work period, where children are encouraged to work independently & come together unprompted, helping to develop concentration & social skills?
25. What is the school’s approach to discipline? Montessori schools often have a different approach to discipline than traditional schools. Ask about the school’s philosophy on discipline and how they handle behaviour issues.
26. What kind of support is available for students who may need extra help or accommodations? Ask about the school’s approach to addressing individual needs and how they support students who may require additional support.
27. How does the school prepare students for the next stage of their education? It’s important to consider how the school will prepare your child for the next stage of their education, whether it be primary school or beyond. Ask about the school’s approach to transitioning students to the next level and what resources are available to support this process.
We’ve also included a handy printable version, which you can take with you on your next nursery visit:
Remember, these are just a few questions to get you started. It’s always a good idea to do your own research and ask lots of questions to find the perfect fit for your little one and your family. Happy hunting!
Author: Rochelle Cutler