Sunset Hills Montessori School

Reston Pre-School and Private Elementary 20th Anniversary. Sunset Hills Montessori School is nestled in the woods of Reston, on the edges of Lake Audubon and Lake Thoreau. We provide a peaceful school setting for children ages 18 months to 3rd grade.

If your questions are not covered by this website section or if you would like further clarification of any of the answers given, please do not hesitate to contact our Head of School, Katherine Talamantes.

Katherine Talamantes contact information:

Phone: 703-476-7477

Is Montessori a franchise?

No.  Montessori is a method of education developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy.  The first school based on her methods opened in Rome, Italy in 1907.

Most Montessori Schools in the United States are private schools.  These private schools follow many different administrative models: sole proprietorship; board directed; parent cooperative; charter.   There are private Montessori schools that are affiliated with a particular religion and some that serve special needs children. For-Profit and Not-for-Profit are tax designations rather than a statement on whether or not a business shows a profit.  There are both For-profit and not-for-profit Montessori schools in the US.  There are an increasing number of Montessori programs in public schools across the US.  In the Washington area, there in public programs in the school systems of Arlington County, Prince Georges County and Washington, D.C.

Sunset Hills Montessori School is a sole proprietorship owned by Sunset Hills Montessori Children’s House, Inc. whose President is Eileen Dowds Minarik.  It is a small business, sub chapter S, which pays taxes.

My friend told me that Montessori allows a child to do whatever he wants for as long as he wants to do it.  Is that true?

Yes and no!  A child may choose to work with any activity in which he/she has had a lesson.  A child may ask for a lesson from an adult or another child.  If the work the child chooses is inappropriate for his/her developmental stage, the adult will direct the child to an activity which has elements that have drawn the child’s interest and which is a foundation for what the child wants to do. 

If a child chooses to do work that someone else is doing, the child who has the work may, but does not have to, share his/her work (some work is meant for only one child at a time.)

A child may work with an activity as long as he/she wants under the following conditions: Sometimes a child works with the same activity every day for a long period of time.  It is up to the teacher (and it is part of her/his training) to observe why the child is exhibiting this particular behavior.  It may be that the child is afraid to move on to a more challenging piece of work, and it is then the role of the teacher to invite the child to have a lesson on the next level of the activity.  One way to do this is to tell the child when he/she enters the classroom in the morning that you would like to give him/her a lesson on a particular activity.  The teacher may ask the child if he/she wants to do it first or second.  The child will almost always say second, but will then come for the lesson later in the morning.

Sometimes a child works with the same activity every day for a long period of time because he/she wishes to socialize with a friend and if he/she has some work out, the teacher isn’t going to say: “You need to get some work out.”  The need to socialize may be the child’s most important developmental need at this time.  It would be up to the teacher to allow the child a reasonable amount of time with the activity and then suggest that the child put that work away and choose another piece of work.  The child may choose new work and go back to socializing with the same friend but at least the child is not monopolizing materials that he/she is not focused on.

How does the teacher know when to direct a child to new activities?

The Montessori teacher’s training is different from that of traditional early childhood and elementary teachers in that a great deal of emphasis is on observation.  The teacher spends a part of every day just observing the children, and the assistants are asked to share their observations with the teacher as well.  On occasion the teacher will spend the day as a “watching day” where the children know that his/her work for that day is to observe. 

Other ways for the teacher to know that a child is ready for a new lesson include: the child asking for a lesson, another child asking if he/she my give a lesson (the children are frequently keen observers of each other), and information supplied by parents and caregivers.  The teacher is but a partner in the child’s education, and communication among all of those concerned with the child’s development allows the teacher to design the environment to meet each child’s needs.

How are a child's mistakes corrected?

Most Montessori activities have a “control of error” built into the work.  For example, on a cylinder block each piece fits correctly in only one particular hole.  In a classification exercise each category has the same number of objects.  A pitcher to be filled by a child has a piece of colored tape inside to show the child to what level the pitcher should be filled to have the best chance of successfully walking from the sink to the work area without spilling the contents. 

Some activities do require the control of error to rest with the adults or older children.  One example would be in the math area.  Let us say that the child is multiplying 5 times 4.  That is 5 taken 4 times, so the child would remove four 5-bars from the multiplication box (a box with wire bars of beads in sets from 1 to 10.)  The child then counts how many beads he/she has all together.  Hopefully the child counts to 20, but he/she may get 19 or 21.  The adult would then say, “Let’s count this again,” and may touch each bead, as the child counts to help establish the one to one correspondence of object to numeral.  Or the teacher may say, “You need to count this again.”  In both cases, the child has been told that he/she does not have the correct answer, but is also told by the manner of correction that he/she can get the correct answer, perhaps with a little help.  This is very different in the building of self-esteem than saying, “You’re wrong”.

What are AMS and AMI?      

In September 1998, Sunset Hills Montessori Children’s House became a full member of AMS, the American Montessori Society.  Each of our lead teachers is AMS or AMI certified.  Our membership in AMS affords us the opportunity to communicate with other associated schools, participate in continuing education, and more.  AMS was founded in 1960 at the Whitby School to revive Montessori education in the United States.  Although Montessori schools had been in operation in the U.S. since 1912, they had been pretty much confined to major cities on the East and West coasts.  In the Washington area there is an AMS accredited training program call the Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies at The Barrie School in Silver Spring.

AMI, the Association Montessori Internationale, is the original organization founded by Dr. Montessori.  It is currently headed by her grandson and is located in Amsterdam.  It accredits training programs worldwide including one here in the Washington area, the Washington Montessori Institute (WMI).  The WMI has been training teachers for a half century. 

For a good while the two programs were antagonistic toward one another.  AMI frequently acted as though they were the only true believers and AMS thought that AMI was stuffy and outdated.  Fortunately, that has changed and there is a great deal of interaction between the two organizations.  All have realized that our first and foremost concern is children and what Dr. Montessori’s work has to offer them.

While AMI and AMS are the largest Montessori organizations, there are other organizations which have been formed to further the work of Dr. Montessori.  Some of these include the Montessori World Education Institute, the Saint Nicholas Montessori Society, and the National Center for Montessori Education.  These organizations, while not as large as AMS and AMI, have excellent training programs.  We have in the past employed superb teachers who were graduates of the above training programs.

There are also Montessori organizations whose goal is to promote Montessori education by supporting teachers and parents, but that do not have training programs.  Some of these include the North American Montessori Teachers Association (NAMTA) and the Virginia Montessori Association (VMA.)

Are all Montessori schools the same?

The short answer is no, but there is more to it than that.  Montessori schools are not franchises.  They are independently owned and operated.  Some are parent co-ops, some, are run by a board of investors, and some are sole proprietorships.  The name Montessori is not copyrighted or trademarked so it can mean different things in different states.  Some states have regulations defining who may and who may not call themselves a Montessori school.  Virginia has no state regulations about this. 

We are very fortunate in the Washington area to have an abundance of Montessori schools.  Northern Virginia has seen an incredible growth in the number of Montessori programs in the past 10 years.  Parents are now seeking a school or childcare facility providing more than just a place for the child to spend the day and they have realized that the Montessori approach of dealing with the whole child in a developmentally appropriate setting is what they are looking for.  There are three Montessori schools in Reston alone.  They are all an outgrowth of a school Eileen Minarik started in 1984.  The schools are now independent of one another and each is owned by a certified Montessori teacher who has also been a Montessori parent.  For all three, Montessori is a way of life, not just a business or a job. 

While there is a core program which, all true Montessori schools share, there can be slightly different ways of implementing the program due to the teacher’s particular training.  Also, the Montessori method is a dynamic, not a static pedagogy.  The teachers continually update their classrooms with new materials that reflect advances in toy design or technology, always adhering to Montessori principles in the organization and presentation of these materials.

There can be a different atmosphere from one school to another and even from one classroom to another within the same school due to the personalities and interests of the staff.  For example, one class may have a teacher who is very soft-spoken with a great interest in biology.  This teacher’s class may be very quiet and filled with plants and pets.  Another teacher may be in inveterate traveler whose classroom is filled with objects from around the world.  A third may love to sing and dance so her class always has music in the background and the children learn folk dances. 

After you have done all your reading, visited schools, talked to friends and relatives, the best way to decide which school is right for your child is going to be your own feelings.  We each have certain environments to which we respond positively or negatively.  There are some people with whom one has an instant rapport while there are others with whom you will have to spend more time to feel comfortable.  With the fine Montessori programs in this area, you will surely be able to find one that suits the needs of both the children and adults in your family. 

Where can I get more information about the Montessori method?

Many books are available by and about Dr. Montessori and her work.  We have a large lending library for parents.  The Fairfax County Public Library has a fair selection of Montessori books, and a number of local book stores carry Montessori books or will order them for you.

We recommend the following:


To order from the publisher:

Parent Child Press                             Phone: (814) 946-5213

P.O. Box 675

Hollidaysburg, PA 16648

MICHAEL OLAF’S ESSENTIAL MONTESSORI  This is a combination educational materials catalog and introduction to Montessori.  It is available for $5.00  from:

Michael Olaf               Phone (707) 826-1557 (Mon-Fri, 10 am to 5 pm, pacific)

P.O. Box 1162 Fax (707) 826-2243

Arcata, CA 95521

MONTESSORI – A MODERN APPROACH by Paula Polk Lillard.  This is available in paperback.

THE ESSENTIAL MONTESSORI by Elizabeth Hainstock.  This is available in paperback.

MARIA MONTESSORI by Rita Kramer.  This is a wonderful biography recently reissued as a part of Radcliffe Biography Series.  It is available in paperback.

MARIA MONTESSORI by Michael Pollard.  This is a biography for young people that is part of a series called “People Who Have Helped The World” published by Morehouse Publishing.  It is very well done, with a lot of pictures, a glossary, and a time line of Dr. Montessori’s life.

Dr. Montessori’s own works need new translations to update the language, but with the background information from the above materials they are wonderful reading.