My husband and I toured traditional, church, and Montessori preschools when we decided it was time for our daughter to start school. They all seemed like fine choices, but we ultimately decided on a Montessori school. We mostly chose our preschool because the teachers and staff were very nice, the school environment was appealing, and the students were very, very polite.
I honestly didn’t know that much about Montessori schools until after we enrolled my daughter. What I’ve learned is that the Montessori method was started by Italian physician Maria Montessori in the late 1900s while she was studying educational theory. Montessori schools emphasize hands-on learning. Children pick their own activities and sit with them as long as they would like.
I reached out to Sarah Hernandez-Hamrick, owner and director of Midlands Montessori School to learn more about this style of education.
What is a Montessori School? An interview with Sarah Hernandez-Hamrick.
What makes a Montessori school different than a traditional school?
In a Montessori school, the classes are child-led instead of teacher-led. The children choose what lessons they will work on and how long they will work on them. The teacher is only present to teach the children how to use the lesson or toy, then the child is left to discover and play on his or her own.
The classrooms are also mixed-age, usually two and a half to six years old for preschool. The older kids can work independently while the teacher helps the younger children. They can also step in and help some of the younger children when appropriate. Teachers in Montessori schools only step in when a child is misusing a toy.
Why is a Montessori school a good option?
When kids choose what they want to learn, they develop a sense of independence. They’re more capable of putting on their own shoes, getting dressed, getting their own snacks, and putting their things away. It also ignites a love of learning.
What are some reasons a child might not do well at a Montessori school?
A child who must have his or her own way and cannot communicate what they want or need, might not do well in a Montessori environment. The schools are very serene. We don’t scream or yell. Children should not be disruptive or disrespectful. We recognize that being in a new environment can be difficult for some children, and we have a normalization period to give kids a chance to adjust.
What ages benefit the most from a Montessori philosophy?
About two and a half to three is the ideal age to start because the lessons build on each other, but all ages benefit – even infants. Ages two and a half through five learn to be more self-sufficient. There are even Montessori high schools.
How do children transition from a Montessori school to a normal public school?
Montessori kids will be well-prepared to enter a traditional school. The kids do things to build hand strength such as cutting and sewing, arranging flowers, grinding coffee, and polishing a mirror. Their social skills will be strong. We have the children come together when a student gets hurt. We ask open-ended question when they hit or misbehave. Montessori gives children tools to help them communicate.
What are some things to take note of when you are looking at different Montessori schools?
Teachers should go through training where they learn about child development and the Montessori lessons. Montessori is more than a catch-phrase. If you look for a school, make sure they have mixed-age classrooms and materials and certified teachers. Because “Montessori” is not copyrighted, some Montessori schools do not have properly trained teachers or the other elements that make the Montessori philosophy work.
What are some ways to incorporate the Montessori philosophy into your child’s life at home?
There are a million ways to incorporate the Montessori philosophy at home! Children can help you cook or bake, get dressed without help, fold laundry. Some practical life skills include folding, scooping ingredients, cleaning your mirrors or counters, anything that’s not dangerous. Let them sort silverware when putting away. Tell your kids that they’re part of the family and need to work towards your common goal.
Just make sure you make things kid-friendly. Rearrange the house where necessary. For example, secure the dresser and put a step stool nearby if you want them to get dressed independently.
Montessori school has been a great fit for my family. Our daughter is excited to go to school every morning and will sometimes spend several days on lessons she is interested in. She can dress herself and even, with some prodding, put her shoes on by herself at just four years old.
Interested in a Montessori school? Check out these local options: