About choosing a Montessori school for your young child

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https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/choosing-starting-school/finding-right-school/5-mistakes-parents-make-when-picking-a-school?view=slideview

The tips from the link above couldn’t be more true of choosing a Montessori school for your child.  Let’s review these common pitfalls together, as they pertain specifically to Montessori school hunting for 0-3.

Mistake 1: visiting only once.  I encourage every parent interested in a Montessori program to schedule more than one visit, and to observe as much as you possibly can.  Observe through the entirety of a school’s morning work cycle, if not the entire day if you can; and especially nap time.  Certain phases of the day are telling.  Try to take in the entire picture, and not just zone in on the really successful children.  Especially try to watch nap if you can.  Most places I’m guessing, won’t let you watch nap.  Many Montessori programs have distinct tour windows, or times of the day when you are allowed to receive a tour.  That’s because programs are grooming the experience for visitors.  Just putting that detail out there.  If you are allowed to schedule a tour literally whenever you want, that is a really good sign that the school has nothing to hide.

Mistake 2: Judging by appearances. Oh boy, the appearances of Montessori schools often are the primary decisive factor for why parents choose Montessori over other programs.  It’ beautiful. It’s small, cute, bright, clean and organized.  But that’s not all that matters.  Montessori programs have a distinct agenda to our day; and it’s not an appropriate style of education for every single kid out there.  Children with wild temperaments, poor self-control, and children with a high need for adult assistance may not fare very well in such a high-structure, highly-independent, high-caliber, high-expectations environment.  And that’s what Montessori is.

Some kids honestly need to spend the day running around, preferably outdoors, burning off as much energy in a high-intensity way as frequently as they can.  That’s  also not what Montessori offers.  Montessori does factor in a child’s natural need for movement, however, Montessori trains children to calm down and focus deeply on work.  It means that while they are moving a lot, they are being asked and challenged to move in a controlled, deliberate way for purposeful outcomes.   Will you see children moving a lot, and moving freely when you observe? Yes.  Is it chaos? Absolutely not.   So you must ask yourself if you honestly see your child fitting into that version of reality.   It’s just like adults: not all of us are meant for a cubicle desk job.  And it’s okay to admit to yourself that “yes, this program is beautiful, but it may not suit our child’s actual needs very well”.

Mistake 3: Not asking enough questions.  Not only to some parents roll through an open house at a Montessori school and have zero questions to ask whatsoever, but the bigger pitfall is not even knowing what questions are the right questions to ask.  I have had parents tour during an open house, and I have to sit there silently as I know they are asking all the wrong questions and being fed all the bullsh*t answers from my boss, who isn’t even Montessori trained.

I have had families come through my classroom, and as the only family in the room, have zero questions to ask of me.  There I am, 110% available and an open book with my mind waiting to be picked, and not one question.  And that’s because they don’t actually know anything about the Montessori method whatsoever; so of course they have no questions.

Do your homework ahead of time.  Scour the internet for websites from other Montessori schools and look at their photos.  Look at the differences between AMS 0-3 programs and AMI 0-3 programs.  Look at the differences state-wide where you live, and not just in your general vicinity.  Looking at website photos, blogs, youtube videos, and instagrams alone can give you a strong impression of “exceptional quality”, “good/ fair quality”, and “poor quality” Montessori schools.  Researching websites  can provide some basic information that can guide parents in developing a list of questions they ought to ask.   I will be making an entire separate post on “questions I would ask during every tour of a Montessori school if I were a parent”.

Mistake 4: Forgetting to factor in location.  This couldn’t be more true especially concerning Montessori programs for 0-3,  which are few and far between in some places.   In my city, there are only two AMI trained 0-3 professionals.  There aren’t many of us out there.  Because Montessori programs are rare in some places, it means you WILL inevitably have to endure some kind of a commute; or that you will find yourselves making your home buying decisions around where your target Montessori school is located.

There are numerous families every year in every program I have worked for who decide to stop attending Montessori programs– not because they don’t love what it’s doing for their child, but because they are a) too expensive, and b) too far away from home.  And that is a difficult combo to swallow, making the Montessori school a poorer choice for the needs and values of some families.

Ultimately, as a trained AMI Montessori professional, I will put it out there sincerely that if there is this insane commute involved, and if it is crazy expensive, I would encourage parents to stop and really ask yourselves is it worth it for your working-class family?  And is it truly worth it, for your child, between the ages of 0-3, who is not even old enough to tell time, and not even old enough to attend public school for free yet, to have to endure an 8-hour long day, and a commute on top of it?

Would you rather spend all of that money and go through the pains of that commute now, while your child isn’t even capable of getting themselves dressed in the mornings yet, or would you rather wait until your child is in high school to start paying private school tuition, and wait until your son or daughter is in high school to putting them through the rigors and sacrifices of a serious commute?  If it was me, as a person who grew up in a working-class family that was too poor to pay private school tuition, and a s a professional who sees young children enduring very long days away from home while both parents work, my sincere answer would be “I would wait until high school”.  There are fundamental gains from preschool that a child will get from any high-quality preschool.  The pedagogy of that preschool may not matter as much as the overall experience you are subjecting your young child to.  If it’s clean, safe, social, enriching, and your child is being loved and cared for by the staff, it’s good enough.  I went to head start as a preschool child, public school my entire life, and here I am now with a Master’s degree.  There are many other people out there who never went to fancy preschools, and how have Ph.D’s and are influencing the world in wonderful ways.

In forgetting to factor in location, parents must admit that the day is long for a young child.  And the reason most families put their children in day-long programs is because the parents both have to work.  Us teachers know you will probably be at work for 4-8 hours per day.   We also know that a lot of our programs won’t let you enroll for fewer than 3 days a week.  Some programs have mandatory 4-days-a-week policies.   Is it right to make your child’s time away from home even longer by taking on a commute? By having to wake them up earlier and keep them in the car for even longer after their long day to drive back home,  when they are so young?

I have seen young children in day-long programs plus after-care; and it’s painful. I have also seen the richest of the rich send their children to Montessori programs; and trust me when I say that the richest of the rich always, hands down,  al-ways,  opt for the morning-only, “half-day”, or “shortest” programming option available.  Then the mom or the nanny will come pick the child up.  The richest of the rich understand that it’s the work cycle they are after.  Not daycare.  Not a full day, that Montessori work cycle.    For a working-class family, I would honestly advise that you save your money, learn how to Montessori your child at home from a trained AMI professional, which can now be done remotely, and spare your young child, and yourself, the commute to a Montessori school that’s too far away.

Mistake 5: Focusing too much on academics.  Oh boy, another biggie in the Montessori world.  I know for a fact that parents want the absolute better than the best for their child.  That is why they are choosing Montessori programs.  They have heard the rumors that Montessori will get your child advanced in some way.  They have heard the rumors that the CEOs of google and other famous people were Montessori kids.  It is true that children in the Montessori primary programs are working on cursive and division before age 6.

However, before the primary program begins, there are no formal academics ever being offered to your child via a Montessori infant or toddler program.  I can wholeheartedly assure you of this.  Instead, we are offering foundational life skills.  No academics.  zero.  Nien.  Nada.  Maybe a song here or there, that involves counting, colors, or maybe even the ABC song.   Certainly we are offering an infusion of life-based conceptual details that may happen to be academic in nature.    We can tell you how these life skills include additional learning outcomes beyond the skills themselves, and what areas of learning they happen to cover.  But never, ever, am I overtly teaching young children the ABCs, or math, or geography, or science, or anything I would label as “academics” in my AMI Montessori toddler classroom.

I can tell you all the ways that dish washing is engaging your child in a myriad of applied mathematical concepts; but I am not teaching your child math.  I’m showing your child how to wash the dishes.  A skill that happens to include a ton of math.   I can tell you all the ways that baking muffins is introducing an abundance of applied math and science.  But I’m not teaching math or science. I’m showing the children how we celebrate birthdays in my classroom, which always involves the baking of muffins to celebrate.  I can tell you that a skill like donning a coat independently is also ripe with applied math and human anatomy; and that we probably sang a song about the weather which informed us about why we needed our coats today before we went outside.  But I am not overtly teaching your child science, math, or human anatomy, I’m teaching your child the skill of how to put a coat on, and when to know that one probably needs a coat before going outside.  So sorry to burst that bubble, but academics aren’t happening overtly in a Montessori AMI toddler program.  Lots of learning outcomes, none I would ever label “academics”.

 

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