Regardless of when you decided to send your child to Montessori school happened as a result of detailed study of educational approaches or something that you always knew you wanted to do well before you became a parent, how do you actually go about choosing the right school for your and your family? Believe it or not this is a question that can sometimes be a lot like following Alice down the rabbit hole.
Enter “Montessori Houston” into a search engine and you a flooded with results for almost 100 Montessori schools just with the address being Houston, Texas. So with this in mind how do you go about finding a school that fits your needs and know it is an authentic Montessori program? Here are several steps that will not only help save time but provide you with the questions to get details that matter most when interviewing prospective candidates.
“It has Montessori in the name so it must be Montessori, right?”
There are all kinds of Montessori schools that make up a number totaling over 4,000 in the United States alone. These more than 4,000 schools are made from a mixture of private and public schools, some offer programs for kindergarten and others are as extensive as beginning from birth and end when a child graduates high school. In Houston a school can be as small as a single classroom in a registered family home* or as big as a multi-building campus with upward of 800 students.
However the first thing that needs to be kept in mind is that any school can put Montessori on the building or claim that they offer a Montessori program because the word “Montessori” is not trademarked and therefore unable to be formally regulated.
“Anyone can call themselves a Montessori school? How do I know if a Montessori school is Authentic?”
First there are two organizations in the United States that set the standards which classroom, teacher education, and schools must subscribe to in order to ensure the integrity of Dr. Montessori’s educational principals are upheld. They are independent from one another and are Association Montessori International and the American Montessori Society, respectively knows as AMI and AMS. Though AMI schools are less common and AMS more prevalent both hold the following four items essential in order to provide a quality Montessori program.
- Each classroom has an AMS or AMI teacher certified for the age group that they are teaching.
- Classes are made up of multiple age groups where the older children sever as role models and the helper.
- An appropriate number of children making up the group in each classroom to ensure proper social development.
- A daily set period of uninterrupted work time for the children.
- The classroom offers a hands on educational experience through wide range of Montessori materials that are age appropriate materials.
- The teachers follow the Montessori instructional philosophy and acts as a guide instead of a provider of information.
Both the American Montessori Society and Association Montessori International have webpages dedicated to helping you find as authentic of a program as possible or less ideological classroom setting to meet your needs. Once you have gone through these two resources you will still have some work ahead of you but I have complied a list of hopefully helpful checks and balances to make the overwhelming process of choosing a school easier and less time consuming as possible.
This can all be broken down into five steps that will make compiling all the information and your opinions filter down into a decision. These steps involve a short phone interview, tour of the school, classroom observation, teacher conference, as well as your general thoughts and feelings about your experiences there.
“Good Morning, Thank you for calling…”
The first item of business is the phone interview. This is a short introduction to the school and to get the basic information you need to see if they even provide a program that suits your needs. I’ve even provided a little form for parents to use to help them keep track of what questions to ask and their answers. Take into consideration that depending on the time of day you call you might reach someone that is not capable of answering all of your questions because they work in the classrooms instead of being administrators trained to answer all of your questions. Just because a school asks to take your name number in order for someone to call you back does not mean that the school isn’t on top of their game. In fact it usually means just the opposite and that there are specific people in administration dedicated to prospective parents and parents issues.
Also, if the person answering the phone is indeed doing their job they are going to want you to come in for a tour. That is why sticking to the basic in a phone interview will help you cut down on time running around and possibly touring schools that don’t even offer a program you need while still getting a narrow enough picture to know if a school is worth you visiting or more!
Here are the basic questions you will need to ask because remember Montessori is not childcare but many Montessori schools offer childcare. Meaning many schools are only open during the academic school year and for the regular school day. If you are needing full time care year round then one of these schools will not be for you.
I created a form that you may either print out and write or edit online to use specifically for Montessori School Phone Interviews. Remember you don’t have to schedule a tour until you have finished with all of your phone interviews either. I promise, they will still be more than happy to introduce you to their school. Once you have completed your phone interviews go ahead and make a keep and delete pile.
- Hour of operation
- Year round program or academic program only?
- Is before and after care offered?
- Are there current openings for your child’s/children’s age groups and if not how long is the waiting list?
- Are there AMS or AMI certified teachers in every classroom and are they certified for that specific age group?
- Do they offer tours and will you be able to enter the classrooms during the tours?
- Do they offer classroom observations and/or teacher conferences before enrollment?
“Welcome to the wonderful world of Oz…”
Often that is what it feels like when you first walk into some of the more profound Montessori schools and quite honestly they deserve the dropped jaws and wonderment struck faces. However it is easy to get wrapped up into the moment and forget why you are really there. I have been there as a student, parent, and as a teacher but it has left me remembering an old lady from the 80’s holding open a hamburger bun, pointing, and loudly questioning where the meat in dinner is.
That is why I have compiled a checklist for parents to use when visiting a school for the first time based on recommendations from the American Montessori Society, Association Montessori International, National Association for the Education of Young Children, Collaboration for Children, Texas Department of Childcare Licensing, as well as my experiences as a teacher, administrator, but most of all a parent. I’ve broke this down into a fields in order for the checklist to be used as a single survey or as a three part survey depending on your individual needs. But there are a few things I’m not going to put on the list that parents just need to know and understand while going on a tour.
- Don’t bring your child to a school tour. This is not going to give you’re a clearer picture of if your child is going to like their new classroom or not. What is it is going to do is make it more difficult for you to communicate with the person giving you the tour. Your stress level and there is going to be higher, you are less able to soundly judge responses to questions you ask and are more likely to forget important information. Even if you have to schedule one tour for yourself and separate one for your significant other… it is okay.
- Be considerate when touring classrooms. Redeemer that if you are allowed to go into the environments while children are in them that in Montessori even diaper changes and lunch/snack time is considered an important learning experience and the teachers want to shake your hand and introduce themselves to you because it is what adults find as polite but their attention needs to be on the children. If you want to speak to a specific teacher you are more than welcome to schedule a one on one conference either face to face or over the phone. You will have a much more productive conversation I promise.
- DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK ANYTHING!!!!!! ANYTHING!!!! Specifically regarding a teacher’s CERTIFICATION! I am going to pull a few pages from my own book here that are a bit alarming and in one case was enough for me to call and report a school I ran and have them shut down. I have had the experience of schools not only lying about teachers certifications by saying that they were AMS certified teachers, certified teachers for the age group that they were teaching but even while I was in school getting my certification the administration told parents I was already AMS certified and told me I had to tell them the same thing. I refused!
But let me please state that an AMI/AMS intern are sometimes the best teachers because they are excited and on fire about Montessori and still full of new ideas an ideologies. A teacher currently getting certified through AMS will have an adult learned certificate/card that is issued by the American Montessori Society. So that this not go unnoticed let me separate it from the rest…..
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO SEE YOUR CHILD’S TEACHER’S MONTESSORI CERTIFICATION/ADULT LEARNER CERTIFICATE
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO ASK TO SEE THE LAST INSPECTION CONDUCTION BY CHILD CARE LICENSING
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO SEE THE FIRE/HEALTH/BUILDING/PEST CONTROL REPORTS
Yes I might seem overly protective of your children but that is because they are the ones that need the most protecting. All of these documents are required to be on site and accessible at all times.
- Surveillance does NOT ensure safety. Video cameras in the environments do not make your children any safer than they are without them. Yes we live in a time and age where digital owns but our society. When it comes down to surveillance I personally feel that it stifles the Montessori way of diapering, toileting, caring for one’s own body, and a child’s privacy in general. I don’t want to have to worry about my child being watched all day long by someone who has hacked one of the same servers I use to peek in on my child’s day. I however do respect that this can be a highly personal decision for parents. There are times when video cameras can rule out abuse and protect children… but as a compromise I suggest considering a video monitoring system that is closed to the public but backed up on a hard drive for up to a month (or longer) and viewable by administration.
- SCHOOLS COME WITH RULES …. There are some strange rules at some schools but seemingly even more strange at Montessori Schools. Just because a rule strikes you as unacceptable at first doesn’t mean you need to discount a school as a possibility before you take a breath and as about the rules purpose. Don’t be surprised if you aren’t allowed to enter the classroom after the bell rings, pull on diapers aren’t allowed, certain clothes are discouraged or required…. There are reasons for each and every rule and most of them are to the benefit of your child and their development. Remember that they are going to school for themselves not for you. Just because something seems strange and different doesn’t mean that it isn’t tested and tried. Figure out what you can accept and what you can’t.
Now that you have the tour out of the way you should have a better idea of which schools are still in the running or you may have even fell in love and gone ahead and started the enrollment process for your child. If you haven’t yet settled on a school this might be a good time for you to schedule a classroom observation and a parent-teacher conference. More information regarding, “Observing a Montessori Classroom” and “A Montessori Parent Teacher Conference,” can be found by visiting the upcoming links below!