Friday, January 04, 2008

A Parent's Guide to Observing in a Montessori Classroom

parent's guide to observing NAMC montessori classroom children eating snack
In a previous blog, A Parent's Guide to Choosing the Right Montessori School, I discussed what to look for in a Montessori school. For this article, I’d like to talk about the importance of and the best way to observe in a Montessori Classroom.

Spending time observing in a Montessori classroom provides you with an excellent and unparalleled opportunity to see what life is like inside a Montessori school and classroom. Whether this is your first exposure to the Montessori experience or you are investigating a new school, your experience in the classroom will give you an insight as to what your child will experience as a Montessori student.

In order to have the best possible observation, here are a few tips for observing and interpreting what you see in Montessori classrooms.

What and Why Parents Should be Observing in the Montessori Classroom

  • When you enter the classroom, you may or may not find a set of adult size chairs and you may find yourself sitting on a tiny child-size chair. If the teacher is not actively engaged with the children, you may find yourself being introduced. If she is busy, please be seated and wait for the teacher to speak to you. If possible, she may give you a tour of the classroom and briefly explain the nature and purpose of the materials. (If class has already started, it may be necessary to arrange for this at a later time).
  • The children may come up to you. Please try not to engage them in conversation. A polite “Hello” and a direct response as to who you are is sufficient. Montessori children realize and understand that observers come to watch them work.
  • If you have questions or concerns while observing, please write them down. The teacher is often unable to take time away from their classroom duties during the course of an observation. The teacher or administrator will be glad to answer these questions parent's guide to observing NAMC montessori classroom girls sandpaper letter
either in person later, or by phone or email. It’s best to check with the secretary to set up a mutually acceptable time.

  • For your observation to be thorough, it is best if you can stay at least an hour, but this is up to the teacher’s discretion/policy.
  • It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the diversity of activity in a Montessori classroom. First time observers may be attracted to one child or a group of the oldest or youngest children. Try to alternate your observations between watching the entire class and focusing on a single child.
  • Try to differentiate between the types of sounds as the noise level rises and falls. There should be the normal classroom noise of children being together and the excited pitch of being excited about learning. There may even be a special peak of noise level as a discovery is made in their learning.
  • Notice that children are learning in different ways. Some will be working cooperatively with the materials. Some will choose to work independently. Still others may walk around the classroom, seeming to not engage in anything in particular. This child, however, is absorbing and learning through observing his environment, the children, and the materials in the classroom. Through all this, you should see the self-gratification that the learning process affords each child.
  • Listen to the way the children speak to each other. Listen for the level of respect as well as the “normal” childhood interactions. Do not be surprised if you hear a child tell another that they are disturbing their work or at the snack table, if a child asks “Would you care for some crackers and cheese?” and the response is “Yes, please.”
  • Watch the teacher-child interaction. Is it different from the traditional mode by which you were probably educated? Watch how the teacher corrects a child, and more importantly, when she does not. Listen to her tone of voice and her mannerisms.
  • Notice the materials. Are they clean and neatly arranged? Are they attractive by color, placement, and quality? When a child chooses work from the shelves, do they carry it carefully, replacing it neatly when they are done?

  • I realize that you will not be able to sort out and see all the intricacies of the Montessori classroom as I’ve listed above. It is very different from the traditional model that most of us are used to. When I taught upper elementary, I used to allow my students to approach observers to ask if they had any questions. My students would take the visitor on a tour and then sit and demonstrate how to use any materials they had questions about. This is not possible with younger students as it is a distraction, but taking the time to watch them in their environment can help you sort out whether or not this is the right environment for your child.

    In an upcoming blog, I’ll discuss the role of the parent in Montessori education. Is Montessori the right choice for you?
    As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
    © North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, January 4, 2008.


    1. My grandson is enrolled in an all-day preschool/daycare that is labeled a Montessori center. He spends all day at a table doing work with papers and a pencil (he just turned four years old). He is made to complete work sheets on copying sentences, vertical addition facts, long vowel sounds, etc. The classroom bears no resemblance to the one you described in your post. What can we do?

    2. Thank you for your comment, Deb. It is encouraging to see that you are taking an active interest in your grandson’s education. Family participation and communication are very important in the success of a Montessori community. If you are comfortable doing so, perhaps you can discuss your concerns with your grandson’s directress with a view to clarifying the goals of your grandson’s education and working collaboratively to support him in this. It is unfortunate, but sometimes families realize that a particular school is not providing the educational environment as expected, Montessori or otherwise. If you cannot come to a happy outcome for your grandson, this and related NAMC blogs are designed to help you choose a Montessori school that suits his needs.


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