How to choose a Montessori nursery?
If you are interested by the Montessori principles, having discovered them for your baby or toddler at home, you might now consider the possibility to send your child to a Montessori school.
I will discuss here a few points to take into account while looking specifically for a Montessori nursery or school. Some information will be general but I will mainly give you specific details for the UK.
First you need to know that the name “Montessori” is not a trademark and not protected in any way. It means that any school can claim being a Montessori one. Therefore, it’s up to you, parents, to sort between the good ones and the not so “authentic” ones.
- Visit the school or nursery and have a feel for it, talk with as many members of staff as you can (not only the manager if possible). See if they have an open door policy (can you drop in unexpected? If not ,why? It might be because they need to free a member of staff to give you a tour which is a good reason).
- Check their online Ofsted report but be aware that a “Require improvement” grade might be about something purely administrative. Learning and safety might not be at risk despite a “Require improvement”. On the same note, if the school is good or outstanding, you still need to visit and make up your own opinion.
- Check if they are registered with the AMI (Association Montessori International) or with the Montessori Centre International. Those are the 2 bodies in the UK who give an “official” Montessori accreditation. They have their own criteria to comply to. But if the school you are viewing is accredited, there are great chances that the school is going the extra mile to follow the Montessori principles. At the same time, if it’s not the case, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad school as frankly the accreditation costs money. They might not have the means to pay for it.
- What to look for, material wise, in a Montessori school: uncluttered space with neutral colours and natural material, specific Montessori material displayed on shelves (look further that the iconic Pink tower that should have 10 cubes!), specific areas for learning (those are Practical life, Sensorial, Mathematics, Language, Cultural and an Art corner which is often part of the Practical life area too).
- Garden that has natural outdoor activities (such as gardening, taking care of animals, natural opportunities to move…) and possibility to work outside with material with possibly a free flow between indoor and outdoor.
- The classroom should be led by a qualified Montessori teacher (often called a directress). Ask what the teacher’s qualifications are.
- Vertically age grouping. In UK, we don’t have many authentic 3 to 6 years old group because children start reception at age 4. In general, you will see, in preschools, 2 age groups: from 2 to 3 and from 3 to Reception age. At primary school level (a Montessori school will call the first level primary, the second level elementary), you will have the proper groups (3 to 6 years old and 6 to 12 or within the last group, 2 sub-groups: 6 to 9 and 9 to 12)
- The cycle of activity should last at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of uninterrupted activity within the Montessori environment (that is the length of time needed for a child to complete a “work cycle” to be able to settle and learn). When we say uninterrupted, it’s 2 hour 30 minutes without break to carry on other tasks (like a mandatory group time, an outside provider teaching a class, a group outdoor time…).
- Many Montessori schools will insist that your child comes for at least 3 sessions otherwise it will compromise his settle-in.
- Children should have free access to a snack and water (group snacks are not usual in Montessori classrooms). Children are encouraged to prepare their snacks (they pour their own drink, cut their fruits…).
- Children have access (still under supervision) to breakable material, scissors and material that you may think are not “safe” (in truth, they are when we teach children how to use them properly).
- Art should be based on the mastering of skills and process more than end product (again, it’s rare to see 20 cut and paste crafts in a Montessori school).
- Books should reflect the real world (lots of fantasy based books might mean that the school has compromised on some of the principles).
- Some variations between an AMI school or other Montessori schools are possible and you have to see what kind of school you like best (if you have the choice where you live). Schools that are not AMI might have introduced some pretend play toys (still based on reality) but they present them in the same way as the Montessori materials (same rules apply for the toys and for the Montessori materials).
- Group time are never mandatory in a Montessori school and neither extra-curricular activities (such as ballet, yoga or forest school). Ask what your child will do if he doesn’t want to join in.
- EYFS curriculum is followed by all nurseries and preschools in England (similar curriculum are implemented in other parts of the UK) and the Montessori curriculum doesn’t need to be adapted to fit the EYFS, as all the criteria of the EYFS are inherently part of the Montessori curriculum (thanks to the genius of Maria Montessori who had carefully observed the needs of the children more than 100 years ago so her curriculum is still relevant without a need to change it).
- The 15 hours funded by the government might be on offer in the school but this is not mandatory. What they can charge on top of the funded hours depends of the Council they are in. (I could do a full blog post about the 15 hours that are not free and were until recently very under funded, compromising the viability of the nurseries and preschools).
- The Montessori classroom could be described as a busy beehive with many children working in different areas of the classroom, walking around mats, taking material from the shelves, talking quietly to a friend, with teachers being very discreet, generally sitting on a low chair, taking notes, doing a presentation to one child.. I encourage you to go and observe one classroom in action!
- Last advice, visit other kinds of schools and see what you like best, compare other kinds of learning (you might find a Reggio Emilia or Steiner school near where you live) and make sure the Montessori principles are the right fit for you and your child.
I hope you have found this blog post helpful, if so or if you have more questions, leave a comment below.
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