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What to Look for in a Montessori School

Whether you’re just thinking about Montessori education for your child or actively searching for a school, be prepared to look closely at a program’s key components and how closely they adhere to what Montessori is meant to be.

Although Montessori schools may share a common philosophy, it’s important to know that the Montessori name isn’t trademarked. There are no rules about the extent to which a school or daycare program, public or private, must conform to the practice and principles that define the Montessori approach.

Certain official endorsements can speak to the quality of a program, most notably accreditation by the American Montessori Society. But perhaps the best way to assess a school is to sit inside its classrooms, observing how students, teachers, and the environment interact.

Official Recognition

Many Montessori schools choose to join a professional organization such as AMS. The membership level at which a school may join AMS reflects how many of its classes are led by a teacher who holds credentials from a program accredited by the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education, the international standard-setting and accrediting body for Montessori teacher education. In a full-member Montessori school, the lead teacher in each class holds such credentials.

Only a full-member Montessori school can earn AMS accreditation, recognition that it meets a well-defined standard of excellence with respect to curriculum, teacher preparation, learner outcomes, and more. Currently, about 10 % of AMS member schools are accredited.

In the United States, Montessori schools serving children below kindergarten age are usually licensed by state or local agencies. Although such licenses don’t address Montessori education, it assures that basic safety, health, and teacher training standards have been met. When considering a school, inquire about its licensing and check that it is current. Schools usually post copies of their licenses in public spaces such as the school lobby or administrative offices.

In some states, Montessori programs are exempt from licensing requirements, either directly or because they are part of an exempt religious school. In either case, the lack of a license shouldn’t be counted against a school; however, exempt schools may still opt to be licensed.

See for Yourself

Once you have chosen a prospective school, arrange to watch it in action. Most Montessori schools invite visitors to observe quietly from within a classroom or through a 1-way mirror. From these vantage points, you can look for the elements considered essential to an authentic Montessori program, including mixed-age classes, a full array of distinctive Montessori learning materials, and teachers who serve as guides rather than information-givers.

The Classroom

An authentic Montessori classroom is clean, well-organized, and inviting, with soft colors and uncluttered spaces that help children feel focused and calm. Instead of desks, you’ll see spaces suited to group activity, and rugs and couches where a child can settle in alone. Each room is uniquely suited to the size and needs of its students—everything is easily accessible and designed to promote independence. In upper-level classrooms you’re likely to see large tables for group work, computers, interactive whiteboards, and areas for science labs.

The room features well-defined areas for each part of the curriculum: Practical Life, to help build everyday living skills; Sensorial, to help develop sensory skills; Math; Language; and Culture, which includes music, art, geography, and science. In each area, look for the beautiful, specially designed Montessori learning materials, which use real objects and actions to translate abstract ideas into concrete form, contain multiple levels of challenge, and include a “control for error” so that the child will know if he has mastered it correctly. These didactic materials are meant to be handled and explored and should be displayed on shelves or tables in a neat and ordered fashion, and always in good condition.

Because our place within the natural world is a central theme in Montessori education, most Montessori classrooms will also be imbued with nature: for example, through live plants, seasonal flowers, and seashells, or perhaps even a terrarium, aquarium, or rock garden.

If a school has an outdoor environment for students, be sure to take a look. It should allow for large motor movement—running, throwing, climbing, balancing. Play materials and structures should be tailored in size and safety to the age of the children using the area. When possible—for example, in suburban or rural areas—natural elements such as rocks, tree stumps, pathways, and varying terrain can add interest and delight.

The Students

The ages in an authentic Montessori classroom typically span 3 years. The older children serve as role models and helpers, and each student feels supported as part of a close, caring community.

From an early age, students are encouraged to be independent and self-directed. They should be free to move about the room, to speak with one another, and to responsibly choose an activity and a place to work on it. No permission is needed to get a snack or use the bathroom. Listen for a busy hum of activity as children engage in individual or small-group lessons, ask questions or offer assistance, or go intently about their work.

Montessori teaches respect for oneself, for others, and for the environment, and this should be evident throughout the classroom. Look for students to handle materials respectfully and carefully replace them after use. Watch for examples of courtesy and camaraderie, for unsolicited kindnesses, and for disagreements handled with civility and respect.

The Teachers

A Montessori teacher must be a keen observer and a thoughtful guide. By knowing each student’s interests, academic level, and learning style, she chooses materials and activities that will entice each one to learn. She serves as a resource as students go about their work, and helps them move through the curriculum as they master new concepts and skills.

Don’t expect to see the teacher as the center of attention. She should be circulating throughout the classroom—and sometimes sitting on the floor—as she demonstrates a material, gives a small group lesson, and quietly notes how each student is progressing.

Teachers are also expected to model important Montessori values, such as empathy, kindness, and individual responsibility. See if the teacher treats children respectfully by speaking gently and at eye level, and whether she redirects inappropriate behavior in a positive and loving way.

Teachers educated in the Montessori Method bring distinctive skills to the classroom. If the school you are visiting is not an AMS member, ask if its teachers hold credentials from a Montessori teacher education program. Inquire also about professional development opportunities for teachers—are they continually encouraged to advance their skills through education workshops, Webinars, and national conferences?


As you take in all this information, make a list of questions for the teacher or school or admissions director that you can ask once you leave the room. Consider a second visit, and even a third, and ask to observe classrooms at several education levels. It’s the best way to see what a school has to offer as your child learns and grows the Montessori way.

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