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Finding the right Montessori school

What parents should look for

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Finding the right school for your child can be an extremely daunting task. Thoughts of laying educational foundations and ensuring future success weigh heavily on any parent’s mind and deciding where your child will go to school is one of the biggest decisions a parent has to make.

Picking Montessori as an educational alternative to traditional schooling is already a big step. But with so many centres calling themselves Montessori schools, how should parents decide which is the right fit for their child?

The first thing to look for is accreditation from the Canadian Council of Montessori Administrators (CCMA). This is a body of Montessori-trained professionals who set the standard and grant accreditation to authentic Montessori schools that follow the Montessori philosophy and method of education.

Schools that are accredited by the CCMA will have Montessori-trained staff who implement Montessori methodologies using materials designed specifically for the various levels of Montessori education (toddler, Casa/primary, and elementary).

Once you have made a list of accredited schools, make an appointment to visit each one, and ask if it would be possible to observe a class in session. This will give you an opportunity to see the facilities and meet the staff, to view the learning materials that are available, and more importantly, to get a feel for how the children function as a community in the Montessori environment. While most schools will ask you to come at specific times when observations are ideal, you should be wary of any school that does not allow observation or classroom visits.

At each school visit it is important you get a good overall feeling from the minute you walk into the building. The Montessori environment should be attractive, clean and peaceful, and offer children space to explore the materials and lessons that call to their unique interests and abilities.

Ask yourself the following questions (for more information, read our Montessori question guide):

  • Does the space feel warm and inviting?
  • Is there a wide variety of learning materials available?
  • Are staff attentive and friendly?
  • Do children generally look happy and absorbed in their work?

Keeping in mind that all schools have good days and not-so-good days, and that every class will have a few children who may go against the grain, on the whole if the atmosphere is positive and inspiring then this may be a school to consider.

When choosing a Montessori school there are also intangible factors to consider that may weigh even more heavily on your decision. A true Montessori approach to education is one that places equal importance on the development of the whole child and values progress and growth that the child makes intellectually and academically, emotionally, socially and physically.

Montessori school that inspires your child to become a responsible, caring and contributing member of society through various out-of-school experiences such as extracurricular activities, field trips and volunteer opportunities may have more to offer than one that boasts only of academic excellence.

As a social community, it is important to find a Montessori school that suits your entire family and shares the values you as a parent try to impart on your child. For example, if you practice a very eco-friendly lifestyle, is the school you are considering making every effort to be green? Peace education is a cornerstone of Montessori philosophy. Does this school’s approach to discipline and behaviour management share in your own family’s beliefs and ideals?

Many parents feel Montessori is a lifestyle choice to follow both at school and in the home: and schools that are truly passionate about following the Montessori philosophy will have ample opportunities for parent education, including information sessions, talks and presentations. Finally, with schools providing a major social network for most families, a Montessori school that hosts various family-oriented events throughout the year likely places high importance in family values and a welcoming social culture you may experience as members of the school community.

Overall, when you consider how much time your child will be spending at school, in this building with these teachers, classmates and friends, consider that what you are essentially seeking is a home-away-from-home. A place where your child is respected, valued, and treasured for his or her unique personality and abilities.

Choose a Montessori school that is authentic, has a lot to offer, and ultimately just feels right. Because a child who feels right about going to school will love to learn and in turn love to live, a true Montessori wish for each child.

--Isabelle Kunicki-Carter, Director/Founder of Forest Hill Montessori School, in Toronto, Ontario
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