If you don’t know what Montessori schooling is, sit tight and read on

The Montessori concept is a well-established educational methodology in India, with schools following the Montessori philosophy found in abundant numbers even across smaller towns and cities. But what really is a Montessori? And how do you choose one over the other? Are they all the same? This article attempts to aid the important decision-making process of finding the right Montessori preschool for your child.

What’s Montessori?

You have heard the term, of course, you know the basics, but still aren’t quite sure what it means. The Internet is full of descriptions and explanations of what Montessori philosophy is all about, but trying to make sense of all that information leaves a person more confused than what they started off with!

In very simplistic terms, Montessori is a very child-centered approach to education, where children are allowed to explore their passions and potential rather than being instructed in a teacher-directed manner. The Montessori system emphasises learning through all five senses and not just through listening, watching or reading. The system is based under the premise that all children learn differently and possess a huge capacity and intellectual ability to absorb and learn from their environment.

The concept of Montessori was conceived and developed by the Italian educator Maria Montessori who was a staunch believer that every child is a unique individual who is naturally driven to grow, develop and learn. All Montessori classrooms come equipped with specialised learning materials, which have been researched and proven.

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Role of teachers in the Montessori classroom

In a Montessori classroom, the role of the teacher is to guide the learning process and to be the link between the child and their surroundings. In this learning environment, teachers are not the centre of attention in the classroom. Their role centres on the preparation and organisation of learning materials, such that it meets the needs of the children in the classroom. The focus is on the children learning, not on teachers teaching. These teachers go through a process of extensive training and certification before they can be a part of the Montessori classroom.

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What does a Montessori classroom look like?

A typical Montessori classroom is characterised by the following features:

* Classrooms are of mixed age where you can find 2.5 year olds learning alongside 5 yr olds

* Students choose an activity from within a prescribed range of options

* Students work for uninterrupted blocks of work time, which could run upto three hours

* A “discovery” model, where students learn concepts from working with specialised and standardised Montessori materials developed and endorsed by the Montessori experts

* Freedom of movement for students within the classroom

* A trained Montessori teacher

Is the Montessori school you are considering really a Montessori?

While there is a central body called Association of Montessori International (AMI) to regulate and guarantee the quality of participating Montessori schools, there is nothing that stops a private school from simply calling itself a Montessori school. “Montessori” is not copyrighted in any way, shape, or form. So theoretically speaking, one could open up a school that has rows of desks where children have to sit for 12 hours a day and recite the alphabet all day long and still call it a “Montessori” school.

That considered, then, obviously all Montessoris are not the same. The right way to go about the selection process then, is to make shortlist of the schools that meet your criteria and to talk to parents who’ve sent their kids there. Schedule visits to these schools preferably when they are in session. Look around and see if most children are busy and happily engaged in learning. Check to see if children are happy and relaxed around teachers. Get a gut feel about the school’s atmosphere and understand if it will be a good fit for your child.

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