By Jay Cooper
Every year, thousands of parents in and around Cincinnati are faced with choosing a preschool for their child. But what really goes into the selection process? Montessori continues to prevail as a preferred method for preparing young children for a lifetime of learning. And while other teaching methods are certainly viable, many parents are choosing Montessori for their children.
In Cincinnati, there are several Montessori preschools from which to choose, so how do you pick one? How do you objectively measure the quality of a preschool? There are dozens of selection factors ranging from cost and convenience to a teacher credentials and reputation.
We’ve narrowed down what we feel are the key considerations you need to select a Montessori preschool:
All of them, when viewed in sum, might help you create your own “quality decision matrix” when weighing Cincinnati's Montessori preschool options. Let’s look more closely at these important selection criteria:
1. The Teachers
Teachers are at the heart of it all. If you peel away all the other factors that go into choosing a Montessori preschool, the quality and reputation of the teachers are paramount.
Ask your prospective school about the number of teachers they have; the teacher-pupil ratio; the degrees earned; and the years and breadth of Montessori teaching experience.
Don’t be afraid to go a little deeper. It’s not out of bounds to inquire about teacher's character and personality. After all, your toddler or preschooler is going to be spending a relatively long and important chunk of his or her day with the teacher.
It’s important you get a comfort level with who will be teaching your child. Ask to see a classroom in action.
2. The Curriculum
Chances are, you may already have at least a broad understanding of the Montessori curriculum and embraced its principles. If not, explore Montessori lessons, materials, assessment methods and schedules so you know if the school you are observing is consistent with the Montessori philosophy.
At The Summit, for example, there is a strict adherence to the Montessori philosophy in the curriculum and authentic Montessori materials used.
Maybe your child is gifted or has special learning needs. Your child’s school needs to provide the proper academic program to allow your child to develop consistent with the Montessori way. Ask your prospective Montessori staff how they can meet your needs.
One of the critical distinguishing pieces of the Montessori preschool picture is the physical environment where students spend their school day. A Montessori classroom is not like a traditional preschool classroom. There are distinct, well-defined spaces that serve specific elements of the curriculum.
Furniture and rugs are not only conducive to curling up with a book or partnering with a peer, but simulate the warmth and comfort that the child’s home might provide. Montessori preschool classrooms are designed to provide a peaceful environment to augment cognitive growth.
The layout of the rooms, natural lighting, right-sized furniture, muted colors, tidy spaces, access to outdoors and authentic learning materials all create an optimal setting favorable to developing small motor skills and independent learning.
Some Montessori schools are newer than others. But there is something to be said for a long-standing experience.
While the program officially opened at The Summit Country Day School in 1963, Montessori in Cincinnati actually dates back 40 years before that, when The Summit’s founders Sisters Josephine Mary and Marie Angela returned from a trip to Scotland and introduced this "revolutionary approach to teaching” to The Summit.
The Sisters and Maria Montessori shared their perspectives on an educational approach to young children. As Eileen Connelly, news editor of The Catholic Telegraph, points out in a 2013 article on the history of Montessori education, they shared “an intellectual, yet warm, creative and encouraging environment – teaching young children a sense of order, independence, concentration and coordination, while recognizing their individual needs, range or readiness and ability.”
Soon after The Summit was founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1890, Maria Montessori opened her first Children’s House. Just 16 years later, the Sisters began exploring Montessori methods at The Summit.
A look into the past and the legacy of learning at your child’s prospective Montessori school might help you determine his or her future.
The final criteria you should consider when choosing a Montessori preschool is leadership. Does the school you’re considering for your child possess, facilitate and share early childhood expertise?
It’s one thing to have capable instructors, aides and administrators, but are they committed to developing others who share their passion for early childhood education?
"Parents looking for a preschool should ask what the commitment to professional development is for their faculty," said Summit's Montessori Director Kathy Scott. "Here at The Summit, our faculty stays up-to-date on the most current learning and research-based best practices. Professional development is part of the culture of our school." A regional leader in early childhood education, The Summit founded and hosts the Early Childhood Education Symposium, an annual gathering of national and local experts in child learning and development which is open to the community. The tradition of educational leadership is long and rich at the The Summit. The school began in 1890 and never stopped innovating. The Montessori began in 1963. The Toddler Program began in 2007. The Summit welcomed 18-month-olds in 2017.
Choosing the right Montessori preschool in Cincinnati is a task that hundreds of parents are faced with every year. Hopefully this will give you some criteria on selecting high quality programs that will help you make your decision.
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