Frequently Asked Questions

Following are some of the most common questions about our school and about Montessori education. To learn more, we invite you to schedule a classroom observation and tour of our facilities.

What is unique about a Montessori Education?

Montessori is unique in its core philosophy that recognizes every child’s innate potential and natural tendency toward learning.  Within the Montessori setting, each child is met with respect in an environment created to ensure individual comfort, success and achievement. The Montessori classroom provides a broad range of materials and subjects which stimulate a child’s interest through self-directed activity and the carefully guided support of trained Montessori teachers. As each child develops in independence and self-confidence, a love of learning naturally follows.

What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?

Montessori education emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just through listening, watching or reading. Montessori students learn at their own individual pace and according to their interest, ability, and choices at a given time. Lessons are presented by teachers who are trained to observe the needs of individual students and the group as a whole.  Learning occurs through shared experiences and without competition.  In Montessori, student’s creativity is ignited through self-discovery, which leads naturally to concentration, motivation, self-discipline … and a love of learning.

What kind of Curriculum is followed in a Montessori classroom?

Our teachers are thoroughly trained in an integrated curriculum, at whichever level they teach, which includes but is not limited to the subjects of language, math, history, geography, biology, chemistry, geometry, music, movement and artistic expression.

  • Beginning at the Toddler level, lessons emphasize basic skills of self care and independence and healthy socialization.
  • At the Primary level, lessons emphasize practical and social skills to build independence in care of self, awareness of the needs of others, and community. Academic subjects are introduced through manipulative materials which utilize all five senses and lay the foundation for abstract thinking.
  • The Montessori Elementary curriculum expands this basic foundation of skills and knowledge to address broader philosophical questions and in-depth study of the origins of the universe, the nature of life, different cultures, and the fundamental needs of humans. Areas of study include but are not limited to language, math, history, geography, physics, geology, biology, chemistry and natural history.

Why the Mixed Age groups?

Mixed age groupings in every Montessori classroom create a community of varied skills and abilities which allows for healthy individual and social development, and dynamic peer-peer learning.   This approach affords us the ability to adapt the curriculum to meet the needs of each individual student. Each age brings a special dimension to our classrooms. The multi-age format allows older children, even those who are less outgoing, to naturally grow into leadership roles over time.

Why do even the youngest students attend school Five Days a Week?

A consistent schedule and routine provide young children a sense of security and order which is key to a successful transition to school.  Therefore, our program is based upon a five-days-per- week experience at every level. A consistent, five days a week schedule and school routine supports your child’s development of self-confidence, socialization, concentration and focus, and lifelong love of learning. We do offer one 4 days per week schedule for the Toddler level only, at our Lake Oswego campus.

Do you have a Kindergarten Program?

Not in the traditional sense.  The Primary program serves children ages 3 – 6+; the last year of the Primary class serves students of the same age as a traditional kindergarten class.

Why Does Montessori Primary Include the Kindergarten Year?

The Montessori Primary program serves children ages 3 – 6+ and includes the kindergarten year. Most children enter the Primary program at age 3 and spend a full three years (and occasionally 4 years) in the same classroom community.  The Montessori Primary curriculum provides a rich and diverse exposure to many areas of study, on a multiple year schedule that is customized to each child’s individual readiness and interest. Over several years, children receive lessons which build upon themselves, adding layers of understanding and deeply engrained learning of concepts in math, language, science, geography, music, artistic expression and cultural studies. The mixed age grouping and 3 year cycle offers each child many proven benefits including learning from and with peers who are both older and younger. New students join an established classroom community in which they have role models to look up to from the first day, and in which they grow into their own leadership role within the community as they age. The older members of the classroom community benefit from being leaders and mentors to the younger ones, and all the children benefit from learning to live in community with others in a way that is collaborative, compassionate, and empathetic.  In this way, the full cycle Montessori experience naturally builds confidence, self-esteem and uniquely prepares our students for success in school and in life.

Does West Hills School enroll beginning five year old students?

Yes. Every year in a school this size we lose some students of various ages unexpectedly (moving, illness, transfer, etc.). Applications for new 5 year old students are processed with special care and consideration for how that particular child would benefit from a Montessori experience and generally includes (current) teacher recommendations and visitation (to the current school) by West Hills’ staff. We do give enrollment preference to families who express interest in a multi-year Montessori experience.

What is the average Class Size and Composition?

The Toddler Community is limited to 12 students with three adults (a Montessori guide and two assistants), while the average size of our Primary classes is 25 children with two adults (a Montessori guide and an assistant). The Elementary class can vary in size, usually between 25 and 30 students with 1 guide and 2 assistants.  Each class also has access to additional staff support as needed.

Why is it important for my child to complete a full cycle in each Montessori class?

The full benefit of a Montessori experience is gained over a full cycle in which the social structure includes a mixed age grouping of children at various levels and abilities and in which continuity and peer teaching is present.  For the Toddler child, the full experience is what prepares them for a successful transition to the Primary class. Likewise, for the Primary child, the third year in a Montessori classroom is the culmination of all the previous years and offers essential preparation for a successful elementary school experience. Socially, when the child is among the oldest in their group (at any level) they become the role models for the class. In this leadership role, these children gain confidence through using their skills, expertise, and knowledge, which prepare them for the next step in their educational experience… and for success in life.

What does “Process” vs. “Product” oriented mean in a Montessori setting?

 “Process-oriented” is a phrase used to describe learning that is derived from the child’s activity and repetition, and without concern for a specific outcome or product. As Montessori educators we understand that a child must grasp first the concrete concept before he is able to make an abstraction. Therefore, the youngest members of our classroom communities will experience their learning environment first through concrete sensorial exploration, and only later, when they are ready, will they transfer this knowledge into a written form. By allowing a child’s naturally inquisitive mind to delve deep in its exploration, confidence and understanding of concepts are able to develop.

Is West Hills Montessori School certified or accredited?

West Hills is a member of OFIS (Oregon Federation of Independent Schools) and Oregon Small Schools Association. We are a State recognized private school.

What certification do teachers hold?
Every West Hills Toddler, Primary and Elementary Montessori teacher (sometimes called Guides) holds a Bachelor’s Degree in addition to a Montessori teaching credential. All West Hills guides are fully trained and certified through the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). Many of our guides also hold Masters Degrees in education.

What is Practical Life?  Why is my child spending so much time cleaning and polishing?

The Practical Life area of the Montessori classroom offers the child many and varied ways to explore movement in the context of real life activities. This unique aspect of our curriculum, which begins with the Toddlers, focuses on hands-on, repetitive activities such as washing and polishing, through which the child gains confidence and concentration while learning to manage her own needs and contribute to her community. This area is where we introduce the “work cycle” which leads to focused and self-directed activity, the ability to complete a task, and the inner satisfaction gained from a job well done. The practical life exercises easily draw children into this level of concentration through precise movements and specific purposes which capture and hold their interest.  Likewise, many practical life lessons teach coordination of movement and prepare the child’s eye and hand for the left to right sequence necessary for later reading and writing. A child who has been able to develop this level of confidence and concentration will be able to move deeper into intellectual work as they move through the Montessori curriculum.

Why does my child need a lesson before he/she can choose an activity?

Children progress successfully through the Montessori curriculum, at every level, when lessons are presented at the right time. We want a new lesson to be challenging, but not frustrating for the child. Certain skills need to be in place for the child to be successful. It is the teacher’s responsibility, with a trained eye on the child’s interest and readiness, to determine when the time is right for a new lesson. Maria Montessori called this “following the child.” Within the Montessori curriculum, there is a progression which assumes the child’s relative mastery of one skill or concept through repetition, before moving on to the next.

Is my child required to take a Nap at school? How do you decide who gets to stay up?

According to State of Oregon Child Care Division guidelines, all children younger than age 5 who are enrolled in the 9am–3pm program will participate in the school nap period. A nap is not provided for children in the 9am–1pm classes.  Primary children ages 5 and older attend the extended day (afternoon) in their classroom.  Each nap room is staffed by at least two adults. For children who no longer sleep, a period of “rest” may be followed by quiet activities during the nap time.

Are there “Arts & Crafts” activities in the Montessori classroom?

In the Montessori program, artistic expression is viewed as an important means of personal expression and we accept a child’s artwork as a part of his/her own developmental effort… the process always being far more important than the product. Children are introduced to media and tools such as crayons, Cray-Pas, pastels, chalk, charcoal, paint and clay, sewing and embroidery, based upon their level of interest and readiness.  These varied media help them discover unique qualities of color, line, form and texture. Over time they will master techniques that allow for greater personal, individual creative expression. Our school also participates in the “Arts in Education” program. Each spring we invite a local artist to work with each of our classrooms to create some unique art piece or experience. Residencies have included clay sculpture, creative movement, musical and dramatic performances.

Does West Hills offer any special classes or after school Enrichment Opportunities?

The Montessori curriculum includes a rich and engaging study of people and cultures by exploring geographic regions, history, music, artifacts, food, rituals and celebrations. In addition, our curriculum includes the follow special enrichment offerings that may include:

  • Spanish:  Our approach integrates music, movement, counting and games to build basic Spanish vocabulary and confidence for primary and elementary age children.  For those who want additional instruction, we offer after school Spanish classes at our Vermont Street campus for children ages 4 and older.
  • Music:  Musical instruction including singing, rhythm and movement, are a cornerstone of the curriculum in every Montessori classroom at each level. In addition, at the elementary level children explore music in a deeper way through weekly instruction with a music specialist, which culminates in a yearly musical production for the community.  Our Music Specialist, Eric Carlson, also offers private piano lessons on campus, after school, for elementary age children.
  • Artists in Residence: Each spring we invite a local artist to work with each of our classrooms to create some unique art piece or experience. Residencies have included clay sculpture, creative movement, musical and dramatic performances.
  • Creative Movement:  Professional dance educator, “Jumpin’ Joan” Gunness lead your child through twice monthly programs of movement and rhythm. Grounded in frameworks of Yoga, athletics, and dance, Creative Movement builds body awareness, confidence, and offers an opportunity for children to discover their own unique forms of self-expression. Creative Movement is offered to all children in all West Hills classes.
  • Drama: We offer after school Drama instruction with our resident actor, Liz Hayden, for children ages 4 and older at both campuses
  • Yoga: We offer after school Yoga classes for primary and elementary age students at the Vermont St campus
  • Additional Enrichment Program offerings at the Elementary level (Vermont St Campus) vary from year to year, and may include: Soccer Shots, Ukulele, and Lego Engineering

What kinds of activities are offered during Morning and Afternoon Care at West Hills?

The before and after care program at West Hills provides plenty of time for free play, while allowing the children to continue to practice the grace and courtesy, practical life, art and expression lessons they have learned in their Montessori classrooms. We offer arts and crafts projects, creative play, and a snack every afternoon. Morning care for the primary and elementary opens at 7:15am and Aftercare closes at 6:00pm.  Morning care for the toddler program begins at 8:00am and aftercare closes at 4:30pm.

Are Montessori children successful later in life?

Research studies confirm what Montessori parents and educators have known for decades: Montessori students are exceptionally well prepared socially, emotionally and academically. In addition to scoring well on standardized tests, Montessori students are ranked above average on such criteria as the ability to follow directions, manage a schedule and turn in work on time, listen attentively, demonstrate responsibility, ask provocative questions, express enthusiasm for learning, and adapt to new situations.  Read more on the News, Research and Articles page.

If children are free to choose, how do you ensure they receive a well rounded education?

Montessori students are free to choose their own activities… within clear limits.  Children are guided by experienced Montessori teachers who assure that each child is given as much freedom as is appropriate for their level of maturity and ability to manage responsibly.  Individual and group lessons are planned according to a child’s individual interest and abilities.  While no two children will have exactly the same experience, every child who stays for the full cycle will experience the rich and diverse Montessori curriculum for that level.

Since you don’t give grades, how do you assess a Montessori child’s performance?

Parents of children at all levels at West Hills Montessori School meet at least twice a year in conference with their children’s teachers to learn more about classroom work and behavior. Classroom teachers keep extensive records of lessons given and work practiced, and also offer the benefit of their individualized observations of the child’s work in the classroom and in all areas of the Montessori curriculum.

Does the Montessori Elementary Curriculum meet the Common Core State Standards?

By providing our students with a deep understanding of concepts through experiences with concrete materials,  leading them to further exploration through the dynamic scope and sequence of our Montessori Elementary curriculum, and assessing their progress at each step of the way, our approach not only meets but oftentimes greatly exceeds the standards set forth by the Common Core. Mostly importantly, the Montessori approach uniquely prepares children to pursue their own path of learning in school, and to carry their passion forward in life. Read more on the blog at:

How do Montessori students make the transition to a new school?

The natural progression from the Toddler Community, to the Primary class, and then on to the Elementary provides the opportunity for many of our students to experience the full continuum and richness of a Montessori experience.

Whether transitioning out of Montessori after a full cycle in the Primary or after Elementary, the self-motivation, self-discipline and love of learning which children take away from this experience prepares them well for their next school environment. In research conducted [by Peter Hanson] on students transitioning from Montessori to public school, results indicated an overall smooth transition with Montessori students ranking highest in the areas of math, reading, and attitude (respect for others, independence and initiative, creativity, and enthusiasm for learning).  The social cohesion of a Montessori classroom provides a strong base for integration into a new group and for establishing new friendships. In order to facilitate a smooth and successful transition, West Hills’ staff provides a detailed evaluation for each student graduating from our program, which highlights the child’s school experience, academic skills, and individual learning style. Perhaps the best testament to our student’s long term school success come from teachers who receive the students who transfer from our Montessori program. These teachers have described our Montessori graduates as dynamic, self-motivated, cooperative, pleasant children who are assets to their classroom communities.

Contact us to schedule an observation and tour of our facilities.