Montessori schools enjoy an enthusiastic following with approximately 4,000 certified schools in the U.S. Most of these are private schools. Only about 200 public schools use the Montessori method. Because Dr. Maria Montessori did not trademark the name Montessori, any school can claim to be a Montessori school. Just because it says it is a Montessori school does not mean that it is the real thing.
You will know that you are in a Montessori school when you observe or detect the following features.
The teachers are not teaching.
It sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it? Teachers not teaching? That's because Montessori teachers don't run their classrooms in a conventional manner. You won't see desks lined up with children sitting watching and listening to a teacher at the front of the classroom.
"Except for infant/toddler groups (Ratio dictated by local social service regulations), the teaching ratio is one trained Montessori teacher and one non-teaching aide to 30+ children. Rather than lecturing to large or small groups of children, the teacher is trained to teach one child at a time, and to oversee thirty or more children working on a broad array of tasks. She is facile in the basic lessons of math, language, the arts and sciences, and in guiding a child's research and exploration, capitalizing on his interest in and excitement about a subject. The teacher does not make assignments or dictate what to study or read, nor does she set a limit as to how far a child follows an interest."
The children span several ages.
Montessori schools do not have a kindergarten or grade 1 for example. They group by age. So you have the 3-6 year olds, the 6-9 year olds and 9-12 year olds as the groupings which you will find in a real Montessori school.
"The young child is curious about everything and needs to explore and discover. The Montessori 3-6 learning environment is designed to encourage each child to move, touch, and manipulate. The child has freedom to work independently, based on their own initiatives with gentle and respectful guidance from their teacher."
"One aspect of a Montessori classroom is that there is a 3 year age span among the children. In Pre-Primary, it's 3-6 years old. In Lower Elementary, it's 6-9 years old, and in Upper Elementary it's 9-12 years old. Maria Montessori found this to be most beneficial for children and now, educational research supports this practice, although it's typically only found in Montessori schools."
There are no computers or TV screens.
There are a couple of reasons why there are very few electronics in a Montessori classroom, lighting and climate control being the two exceptions. Dr. Montessori didn't have computers or televisions or any other electronic equipment for that matter. As a result her method focuses on having a prepared classroom in which the children can choose from several activities. These activities are age-appropriate as well as developmentally appropriate.
The key to Montessori as far as I am concerned, is the word 'activity'. Montessori children are involved as the explore and learn through the prepared activities. Maitland Montessori explains the prepared classroom strategy this way:
"The Montessori 'prepared environment' of the preschool classroom is a 'living room' for children, which is designed to facilitate maximum independent learning and exploration by each child. The classroom space is divided into five distinct areas: Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, Language, and Culture. No subject is taught in isolation; the Montessori preschool curriculum is interdisciplinary and interactive."
The teachers have been trained and certified in Montessori methods.
Montessori teaches operate differently from teachers in other kinds of classroom environments. As a result their training is focused on Dr. Montessori's philosophy and her methods.
"Dr. Montessori learned early in her work that the education of teachers who are able to kindle flames rather than just fill vessels is not so easy. The Montessori method is philosophically and practically different from other educational methods, and also very different from the personal educational experience of most adults who become Montessori teachers. The words "directress" or "guide" is sometimes used rather than "teacher" because of the different role of the adult in relating to the child - directing him to find the best way to learn from the environment rather than from the adult."