Spotlight: Houston’s Top Montessori Schools

On Wednesday, we wrote about how play can be used for learning and the efforts of Ashoka and the LEGO Foundation to encourage innovation in that area. The Re-Imagine Learning Challenge brought forth some great new ideas; however, the general concept of learning through play is not new in and of itself. In fact, there is one notable educational philosophy which has been using educational play in the classroom for the past hundred years.

The Montessori Method, pioneered in 1907 by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori, centers on the development of the whole child. The basic Montessori curriculum is rooted in the way children naturally learn – by doing, experimenting, and discovering at their own pace.

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In the early childhood and elementary levels, classrooms are structured around a variety of educational modules which are designed to develop certain skills and modes of thinking when children play with them. The most iconic example, one of Dr. Montessori’s original innovations, is the Pink Tower of Blocks.  Young children can stack the blocks in different ways to build spatial awareness and foundational mathematics skills. At the elementary school level, several popular modules focus on building number sense through the manipulation of unit blocks or peg boards. And of course, in addition to the Montessori modules, the elementary curriculum also includes the fundamentals all elementary-level students must learn.

At the middle and high school levels, the emphasis shifts from modules to creative thinking, as the core subjects are presented in a way that encourages students to investigate for themselves and draw their own conclusions and connections. Many middle and high schools also incorporate a focus on nature, using on-campus gardens and other green areas to allow students to explore biology.

If you think Montessori might be a good fit for your child, you may be interested in one of the schools profiled below. While these aren’t all the Montessori schools Greater Houston has to offer, they are some of the best, and each has its own unique benefits.

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Garden Oaks Montessori Magnet, which serves grades PreK-7, is one of three Montessori magnets in HISD. It is located in the Garden Oaks neighborhood of North Houston and is a zoned magnet school, meaning that neighborhood residents are guaranteed admission. For out-of-neighborhood students, it is among the most sought-after magnets in the district. Garden Oaks incorporates an environmental science focus into its Montessori curriculum; the school’s campus includes spacious outdoor learning areas used for exploring nature. As of 2015, it is also notably the first and only public school participating in the Montessori Model UN.

The Post Oak School, which serves grades PreK-12, is a private Montessori school. Its 3.5-acre main campus is located in Bellaire, and its high school campus is located in the Museum District. In addition to being a Montessori school, Post Oak also offers the IB program at the high school level, so its graduates can have all the benefits of both educational methods. High school students also have the opportunity to use the resources of the Museum District, Glassell Junior School, Main Street Theater, and Rice University through programs embedded into the curriculum.

School of the Woods, which serves grades PreK-12, is a private Montessori school in Spring Branch. As its name suggests, it has an environmental focus. The school’s 5-acre campus is a state-designated Wildlife Habitat, and the campus buildings are designed with a cottage aesthetic to enhance the feeling of closeness to nature. School of the Woods is notable for its commitment to working with LD students; more than half of the student body is diagnosed with a learning difference. The school also serves academically gifted children; at the high school level, students have the option of doing extra work in a class to earn the credit with Honors. Additionally, School of the Woods incorporates technology more systematically than many Montessori schools do; students in higher grades are required to bring laptops.

St. Catherine’s Montessori, which serves grades PreK-9, is a private Catholic Montessori school in Southwest Houston. It is one of two Catholic Montessori schools in the city. Like many Montessori schools, it has a strong environmental focus; its buildings are LEED-certified, and its expansive 7.4-acre campus includes gardens and plenty of green space. As a Catholic school, St. Catherine’s also emphasizes spirituality and Catholic theology in particular, though it welcomes students of all faiths. One distinctive feature of St. Catherine’s is its parent program, The Montessori Journey, which takes parents through what their children are learning and shows them the Montessori classroom experience firsthand.

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, which serves grades PreK-12, is a private Episcopal Montessori school in the Museum district. It is one of three Episcopal Montessori schools in the city. It is affiliated and shares a campus with St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church; chapel attendance is required of all students, and Upper School students must take one religious studies class yearly. St. Stephen’s most distinctive feature is its incorporation of the International Baccalaureate program from the middle school level onward, with the IB Middle Years Programme followed by the IB Diploma Programme. St. Stephen’s Episcopal also systematically incorporates technology into the classroom with a student laptop requirement in grades 7-12.

Wilson Montessori, which serves grades PreK-8, is one of three Montessori magnets in HISD. It is located in Montrose. As with Garden Oaks, it is a zoned magnet school, so students living within the attendance zone are automatically admitted to the program; and as with Garden Oaks, it is among the most sought-after HISD magnets. Wilson is notable for its outdoor facilities. In addition to an outdoor classroom, it has several gardens and a playground which have recently been upgraded with funds from the SPARK Park program. Wilson also offers an Honors/Pre-AP curriculum at the eighth grade level.

You can read more about Houston’s Montessori schools at the Houston School Survey.