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How to Choose a Montessori School

February, 2012
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mss-judy-and-kidsThe most important thing about choosing a Montessori school is shopping. You are consumers. When parents visit our schools, I encourage them to shop, to look at other schools and to see what those schools offer. Just like buying a house or a car, price does enter into your choice, but it is first important to look around and see what your money will buy. That way, when you finally do make a choice, there is a good probability that you will be satisfied and happy with it.

It is like going on a date for the first time: it is important first to find out if you are attracted to each other! For a school, how do you feel about the setting, the size, the inside? Are you attracted to them? Can you imagine your child being attracted to them? On a date you first judge each other by what you each are wearing, by their size (is she fat or slender enough?, is he short or tall enough?), and then, finally, by the thoughts and ideas that your conversations reveal.

It is the same with a school. If the school is in your price range, attractive, the size feels right and the conversation you have with a person representing Admissions is good, you can proceed to the next things to consider!

There are at least six things. Each one is important.

1. How long have the teachers been there?

Especially when considering Montessori schools in China, you will want to know if the turnover in teachers is high. If the turnover of teachers is high and there seem to be many new teachers each year, something is not right. Perhaps it is the salary, but it could also be the philosophy of the administration. An indicator of how the administration values those teachers is made clear by how long teachers stay.

2. Are the teachers trained and experienced, with outstanding credentials?

There are many training centers for Montessori teachers. Some are world-class. Others are not. Selecting a teacher who has been trained by an excellent center is very important. For example, I believe that when you are learning how to drive a car you must practice driving a car, with someone who knows how. It is the same way with Montessori teacher education. There are training centers which offer courses on- line. The best training centers have classes where the teachers practice with real materials. There are training centers that do not require a year-long internship. The best training courses require a year-long internship.

3. Can you observe?

A Montessori school for young children must have observation rooms so that parents can observe their children without being noticed. Young children are working independently, the room is quiet, and the teacher is giving a lesson to a few children. Classroom management is the key to a successful Montessori classroom. Teachers can have 24 children engaged in something satisfying and that stimulates learning. In an excellent school, what parents see when they look through the one-way windows is astounding. It is what Montessori teachers call “pedagogy”, the art of teaching.

4. What is the ratio of teachers to children?

Typically, an excellent Montessori school has a ratio of one adult to 2 children in an infant room. A Toddler class (children 18months to 3 years) has a ratio of one teacher to every 4 children. An Early Childhood class has a ratio of one teacher to every 8 children. In a city such as Shanghai where families relocate frequently, the ratios may vary slightly, but stay very close to the ideal. With such a ratio at each age level, children’s academic, social and emotional needs are met.

5. How long has the Head of School been there and is that person trained and experienced in Montessori philosophy?

It is impossible to have a Montessori school, an authentic Montessori school, unless the Head of School is a trained and experienced Montessorian. Otherwise, it is like going to a lawyer, only to find out that he majored in English and he can argue well! If the school is a Montessori school, the Head of School provides the foundation for the school. The Head of School never takes her eyes off the education of the child. While there may be conflicting ideas about what is best for the child, the Head of School’s responsibility is, to the best of her ability, to make sure the needs of the child are met. She is clear what those needs are because of her educational background in Montessori. She is not guessing about those needs. She knows. She is a mentor to parents. She is supported in her work by the close relationship she has with the classroom teachers and Academic Director.

6. Is the classroom well equipped?

Montessori classrooms are beautiful! Children love to come to school because they feel it is their second home. Authentic Montessori classrooms have materials that have a purpose and yet also allow creativity. The materials are clean, well-made, and attractive to children. The room has open shelving so that children can select what they want to do. There are activities that show that math is beautiful and makes sense. There are interesting activities that encourage learning how to read and write. There are stimulating and fun science, sensorial and cultural activities. There are activities that help children learn how to dress themselves and prepare simple foods themselves. The adults in the room provide help when needed. The room is often quiet because that is what learning looks like. It is not a noisy activity but instead requires concentration, thought, and problem solving.

I suggest that you consider Montessori education for your young child. Just remember to do your homework: go shopping! 


By Judy Townsend,

Head of School, Montessori School of Shanghai

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  1. Susan
    August 29th, 2012 at 20:59 | #1

    I am considering the Pudong Montessori Children’s Academy. My daughter is 4mth now, and I want to pick up a pre-school for her when she gets 1 year old. I called and was told that no waitlist and no parent visit will be arranged. This is really frustrating.

  2. August 29th, 2012 at 22:52 | #2

    Hi Susan,

    Thanks for your comments.
    LittleStar will run an International Schools Fair at the Longemont Hotel near Zhongshan Park on November 4th.
    All the schools, from kindergarten to high school, will be there for you to check out.

    Will keep you posted!


  3. Susan
    August 30th, 2012 at 09:54 | #3

    Thanks. Really appreciated!

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