"What sets a Montessori curriculum apart is the emphasis on the social and emotional growth of the student in tandem with their academic learning," explains Gina Gleason, head of Alcuin Montessori in Oak Park. "From birth through middle school, we inspire a lifelong curiosity about learning, while nurturing each child's individual strengths, challenging them to reach their fullest potential."
Alejandra Valera, head of admissions for Alcuin Montessori, shares these tips for finding the best Montessori school suited for your child's unique needs.
1. What does the classroom's appearance say?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, seeing a true Montessori classroom in action is worth volumes. It's one thing to read about a school online, but visiting a school in person will help you get a sense of what your child will experience on a daily basis.
A few tips to prepare for your visit:
- Tour the school and go inside the classrooms, preferably when the children are there so that you can get a feel for the environment and the energy of the children.
- How do teachers interact with children?
- What's the quality of the Montessori materials, the care given to the environment, and the beauty and simplicity of the classrooms?
- Talk to the teachers and other parents.
- Ask if you will be allowed to observe the classrooms throughout the year when your child is enrolled.
The term "Montessori" isn't trademarked, therefore, any program can call itself Montessori without being a true Montessori school. To be sure you are choosing an authentic program, explore the school's website and ask questions during the tour, such as:
- What accrediting bodies oversee the school? A well-established, authentic Montessori school will be recognized by either the American Montessori Society (AMS) or the Association Montessori International (AMI). Some, like Alcuin, even take it a step further and undertake a more additional rigorous accreditation process by AMS or AMI, as well as by organizations like the Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS).
- Are the teachers all fully credentialed/certified Montessori teachers? What are the qualifications for someone to teach at the school? While you can learn a lot about Montessori philosophy from books, it takes years of practice and mentorships for teachers to truly master this method of child-centered education. Each classroom should be led by an experienced Montessori teacher.
- What type of professional development opportunities are offered to the staff?
Like their students, Montessori teachers love to learn. A quality school provides support for ongoing professional development opportunities to help their staff stay at the top of their game, making their school a better place for their students.
In addition to being loved and nurtured, we all want our kids to be safe. During your tour, find out:
- What types of safety procedures and protocols are in place?
- How often are they reviewed and updated?
- Who oversees the process?
To get a sense of the school's culture, ask questions like:
- How would you describe the school community?
- What level of involvement do you expect and allow from parents?
- How do the teachers communicate with me about my child's development?
- Am I allowed and encouraged to build a relationship with my child's teacher/school?
- What type of parent education and volunteer opportunities are available?
- If the faculty and staff have children, do (or did) they attend the school?
- Can you put me in touch with other parents at the school to get a sense of the community from an insider's perspective?
Reading, writing, and arithmetic aren't the only things a child should learn - exposure to new ideas and experiences help children become well-rounded individuals.
Ask how the following are integrated into the curriculum and whether extracurricular opportunities exist:
- Culture and foreign language
- Physical activity
- Peace education
- Field trips and other activities outside of school
- Before- and after-school care (whether hourly as-needed or flat fee)
- Parent education
The admission process itself is a great indicator of how the school itself is run. Throughout the process, ask yourself:
- Are my interactions with the admissions staff and administration thorough, professional, timely, and supportive?
- Does the admissions process seem organized and efficient?
- Is the information on the website comprehensive?
This is the most important question of all. Follow your instinct in making a decision about what school is best for your child and your family. Can you picture your child in these classrooms? Is the faculty and staff warm, welcoming, and professional in their pursuit of Montessori excellence? Can you picture yourself and your family as a valued part of this community?
Alcuin Montessori School in Oak Park, now in its 56th year in serving Oak Park, the western suburbs and Chicago, is hosting open enrollment for children ages 0-14. For questions, insights from Alcuin alumni, students or parents or for a guided tour, contact Alejandra Valera, Director of Admissions, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 708-366-1882, and visit Alcuin.org.