Do you love and follow the Montessori philosophy at home? What about at school, is Montessori schooling an option for you? There may not be a Montessori school close to you? What do you do? Don't despair!
We recently moved from Australia to the UK. We knew before we moved, there were no Montessori schools in the area we were moving to. For Caspar (10 yrs) and Otis (6 yrs), Montessori schooling is all they knew. Until two weeks ago they had never even set foot in a traditional or mainstream school. I had many concerns and finding a new school took over six months of looking and we did not make a final decision until being able to see the school in person.
Here are a few of my tips for Montessori families looking for a school, when Montessori isn't an option;
- Know what you are willing to compromise on.
- Book an interview and take a tour of schools in your area if time permits. Communicate and ask lots of questions with respect, don't hold back. Ask specifics about what matters to you "do the children learn cursive", "how much time do the children spend outdoors", "is there homework or spelling tests"?
- Look for the positives, and there will be some!
- Don't focus on the negatives, it's easy to do but will lead to a negative outlook.
- Follow your instinct.
- Ask for a try-out or 'taster' day. We've also done this at Montessori schools. The children can attend for a few hours or the whole day, to try the school. The boys' most recent taster day left them beaming, it was a total relief and at that stage, we knew we had found the right school.
- Ask about communication with the children's teachers and the school leadership. If we are having problems settling in, I want to know how the issues can be discussed in a timely manner.
- Look for like-minded parents and if possible like-minded teachers. We know from experience that schools respond to parent expectations, like-minded parents could be good allies and there is a reason why they have chosen that specific school. On our try-out day, I was able to meet and get a few first impressions of other parents in the playground.
- Take this as an opportunity to learn and appreciate if possible, other learning/teaching philosophies. In the search for a new school, I learnt a lot about mainstream and traditional British schooling but also about Waldorf/Steiner and Forest Schooling.
- Build a 'big picture' view of potential new schools. Not all mainstream/traditional schools are equal, their procedures and practices vary widely, view them individually and don't make assumptions.
- Accept that many people in the education industry do not know what Montessori is about. If you are looking for Montessori qualities in a school you will need to be clear.
- Know what is important to you and your family. For some, it's a school that is close by. In Montessori, I love big class sizes (more peers to interact with) but in mainstream schooling small class sizes are important to me.
- Ask friends or neighbours about the reputation of the school. Of course, the definition of a good school will be different for everyone but it may give you some insight.
- Be prepared for surprises, there will be some. Even after lots of research, we've had a few surprises. I had no idea drama and choir were compulsory for Caspar (Yr 5). He doesn't love choir so it could have been an issue.
- If you have an interview, explain that you come from a Montessori background or that you are a Montessori family and see what the response is. The school, principal or teachers may be upfront and be able to explain why their school is for you.
- Find a school with heart and with good teachers. Good teachers, with good (kind, respectful) school leadership means everything.
- Consider homeschooling, it may be the next best option for your family.
- It's easy as a passionate Montessori parent to believe that Montessori schools are the be-all and end-all, but other good education options exist.
What about once your child/ren start at their new school?
- Ensure the school, and specifically, your children's teacher/s know your child's history, give them a brief lesson in Montessori if you have to but keep it relevant to your child.
- Be really open with the children's teacher/s, if they know your expectations this can help with their interactions with your child or when planning lessons or curriculum.
- Be respectful but ask questions, ask why the school does things a certain way, perhaps your Montessori way of thinking can rub off into some of the teachers, perhaps parents haven't asked the question before.
- If you find the school lacking in an area be mindful to include more of this at home such as practical life or pursuing the child's interests.
Know and understand that there is a lot more to Montessori than a Montessori schooling, what you do at home and the atmosphere that you raise your children in will have a lifelong impact. One week in and my boys are loving their new school, they are enjoying it and taking delight in the differences! I hope the novelty doesn't wear off too soon!