Choosing the right school is a daunting decision. Ideally, you are committing to one for years of not only your life, but more importantly, your child’s: you are choosing a place where they will spend a major part of their most formative years. Here are some tips on selecting the school that is right for you and your family.
In this day and age, your first contact with a school will probably be online. By all means, read through the website – however, do not stop there. Online presentation is a very small part of what a school is: many a wonderful school has the most perfunctory, out-of-date webpage, and many a poor school has a slick and professional one. Email, call, and set a date to visit as soon as possible.
(Please, do not just come unannounced. The chance that a school will be able to accommodate you and tour you in any meaningful manner without an appointment are quite slim.)
And do not limit your personal contact to just meeting the administrator, either. A good school should offer – some insist – that you tour the premises and even observe in the classrooms while school is in session. This is an incredibly worthwhile investment of your time. Check with the person touring you – can you walk around the space? Pick up materials, take pictures (the answer will probably depend on whether students are present during your visit)? If so, do – take full advantage of this opportunity to learn about the school firsthand.
You are not looking for “the best school”, you are looking for a school that is best for your family. Even among wonderful Montessori schools, there is a variety of approaches and differences – “there is always more than one way to do anything”. Be honest with the school about your expectations, needs, educational philosophy. If certain logistical details are important to you, ask in advance! For example, can they accommodate your dietary needs? Religious holidays and attendance requirements? Early drop-off or late pick-up in the afternoons? What are their policies and curriculum on Sports and Creative Arts? Do they offer an after-school program? Bilingual education? Don’t be offended if the school suggests you look elsewhere – rather, ask them for recommendations for places they believe would suit your needs better!
In your conversation with the school administration or guide, there are things that must come up if the school is truly providing a Montessori education.
Now, for the things you should see in person. Feel free to print out the following points as a “cheat sheet” to focus on during your visit! All of these are important or necessary things for any school (not only Montessori) to exhibit – if there is an issue, make sure to bring the point up with the person guiding you around the school. They might have a good answer – there might be a temporary problem, or a solution you did not see – but they should understand your concern and meaningfully address it.
The classrooms should be the best-looking part of the school, with most attention paid to detail and equipment. This is, after all, where the heart and soul of a school is.
The adult guides are the key element of the environment when it comes to the child’s experience. They are professionals in a demanding social-oriented career – they should look and act like it.
Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the proof of good teaching, Dr. Montessori said, is in the child’s happiness. Now, of course even in the best school you might come across students who are, in the moment, unhappy, crying, sullen or uncooperative – but looking at the community as a whole should give you clear insights.