As early academics become more emphasized and college tuitions rise, many parents are becoming concerned about where to place their children for the most successful education experience. The explosion of alternative programs can be overwhelming, and as some schools demand commitments of more than one year it can be intimidating to sign a contract. So how do you make the choice? Keeping in mind that private education institutions are often specialized in curriculum, method and/or philosophy, you must first consider the needs and goals of your family.
First and foremost, you must determine what kind of curriculum you want your child to be taught with. Taking the time to determine your child’s learning style and an inventory of his multiple intelligences will help you determine if your child will learn best reading new concepts, listening to lectures, or working with manipulative materials. Curriculum also includes what material your child will be taught. Do you want your child to maintain a focus on core subjects or would you prefer for them to be exposed to other subjects as well? Ask administrators how they will help your child succeed if his abilities surpass the curriculum set for his age group, and how they will support your child if he begins to fall behind. In a Montessori environment, the philosophy of “follow the child” is maintained from toddler to secondary programs, and your child’s interests and abilities will be considered first and foremost when his curriculum is set. For example, if he is fascinated by history and timelines but less than thrilled to practice mathematics the guide will find a way to incorporate math into the history works she presents.
Second, in what environment does your child function best? Not all classroom environments are the same! Does your child work best in large or small groups? Does your child need to move frequently or can he stay sitting for long periods of time? When you are observing in potential schools, be sure to note class size, classroom set up (desks, group tables, or free choice of work area), and how work is accomplished in the classroom (individual works, group works, or all class participation). Ask your child’s potential teacher to demonstrate how a lesson is given to a child and what kind of follow up materials or lessons are made available to the student. Making sure that the method used will inspire and motivate your child to learn is a necessary part of choosing a school. It is also important to observe how the physical needs of the students are met. A child cannot concentrate in class if he needs to use the restroom or get a drink of water. In a traditional Montessori classroom, the students are free to move frequently, attend to physical needs, and participate in group and individual activities.
Third, consider the goals you have for your child’s school experience. Are you looking for a program that will provide religious as well as academic guidance? Is it important to your family that your child participates in certain sports or activities within a school program? When considering schools, be sure to ask questions about their policies regarding extracurricular activities, including grade maintenance standards, try outs or auditions, and time commitments for any sport or activity you are considering. While many Montessori programs do not host sports programs, the focus on keeping academics in the classroom allows students more time to attend practices and games in club programs.
Finding a school that meets the needs of your child can be a long process, but once you find a program where your child can flourish the interviews and observations will all be worth it. Take your time, make multiple visits to a potential school, and make sure to include your child in the process. Get answers to all of your questions and once you are enrolled in a school program make sure to keep communication lines open with teachers and administrators.