Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some frequently asked questions by our visitors. We hope you find this information helpful. 

1. Do your elementary students participate in the Iowa Assessments? 

No, they do not. If parents wish for their child to participate in these assessments, they can attend their neighborhood school when that school is taking these assessments. 

2. Do you provide lunch for students?

No. Students need to bring their own lunch every day. We have community lunch together where all primary and elementary students sit and eat together, then clean up together when they are done. 

We do ask parents to provide morning snack for our classrooms about once a month (we send out a calendar). If your child participates in aftercare, a snack is provided for them. 

3. Do children have access to the outdoors?

Yes! We believe that being outside is very important! We have a small enclosed courtyard off of our two classrooms that is visible through the windows. Throughout the day, children are free to choose outside work as an option, just like choosing work in the classroom. Some children choose to rake leaves, some want to shovel snow, some want to roll logs around and stack rocks. We believe that all children have different needs and we strive to meet these needs in diverse ways. 

We also have a beautiful playground that is visible from Franklin Avenue. Students have 30 minutes of recess time everyday before lunch. We occasionally walk over to neighboring Tower Park for playtime on their playground and a picnic lunch under the shelter. When the weather is not suitable for being outdoors, we have access to one of the school gyms where children can move and have opportunities to practice large motor skills. 

If children participate in our aftercare program, they usually spend the afternoons out on the playground. 

4. How do children do if they transition from a Montessori environment into a traditional school environment?

One of the biggest concerns we hear from parents is: How will my child do if she ends up having to move to a public school?  Since a complete PreK-12 Montessori program is not available in the Des Moines area, transitioning is something the majority of Montessori kids will have to accomplish at some point in their school careers.


While all children respond to transitions differently, the simple answer is that your child will do just fine. From the earliest ages, Montessori schools focus on helping children develop a high degree of self-motivation, coping skills for dealing with new situations, and a strong sense of respect and responsibility, all skills that will serve them well in a public school setting. Keep reading here for more information about this transition

5. Does my child have to be 3 in order to start in the primary classroom?

No. We occasionally start children at age 2.5 if they are ready. We want to ensure a successful transition from whatever previous environment your child was in, whether home or daycare, to our school. One way we do this is to schedule an introduction to the class environment before we ask you to fill out an application. This way we have an opportunity to observe your child in our environment and can give you specific feedback about whether or not we think your child is ready, or may benefit from waiting until they are a little older. 

We do require that any child wanting to start at Birchwood Montessori is bathroom independent. This is slightly different from potty trained. Potty trained means that a child will use the bathroom when they are asked or told to. Bathroom independent means that a child will use the bathroom when they feel the need to without having to be reminded. They are also able to complete all bathroom steps independently - taking clothes off, wiping, pulling clothes back on, flushing, washing hands, etc. Accidents happen and we are aware of this! We teach children how to be independent in this area as well and ask that all children keep an extra set of clothes here at school for this reason.  

6. Are your guides Montessori trained teachers?

Yes. Our primary guide, Erin Allen, has her American Montessori International Elementary certification from the Montessori Training Center of Minnesota. She taught eight years as an Upper Elementary guide in Minnesota before moving back to Des Moines. Erin received her Primary training certification from NAMC’s training program in the winter of 2018.

Our elementary guide, Katy Severe, has a Master’s degree in Education and holds a current Iowa Master Educator License with a collective twelve years teaching in public education. Katy is currently enrolled in the Elementary program at The Center for Guided Montessori Studies with plans to complete her Montessori training in 2020. 

7. How can children learn if they're free to do whatever they want?

Dr. Montessori observed that children are more motivated to learn when working on something of their own choosing. A Montessori student may choose his focus of learning on any given day, but his decision is limited by the materials and activities—in each area of the curriculum—that his guide has prepared and presented to him. 

Beginning at the elementary level, students typically set learning goals and create personal work plans under their guide’s guidance.

8. If children work at their own pace, don't they fall behind?

Although students are free to work at their own pace, they’re not going it alone. The Montessori guide closely observes each child and provides materials and activities that advance his learning by building on skills and knowledge already gained. This gentle guidance helps him master the challenge at hand—and protects him from moving on before he’s ready, which is what actually causes children to “fall behind.”

9. Do Montessori teachers follow a curriculum?

Montessori schools teach the same basic skills as traditional schools, and offer a rigorous academic program. Most of the subject areas are familiar—such as math, science, history, geography, and language—but they are presented through an integrated approach that brings separate strands of the curriculum together. 

While studying a map of Africa, for example, students may explore the art, history, and inventions of several African nations. This may lead them to examine ancient Egypt, including hieroglyphs and their place in the history of writing. The study of the pyramids, of course, is a natural bridge to geometry. 

This approach to curriculum shows the inter-relatedness of all things. It also allows students to become thoroughly immersed in a topic—and to give their curiosity full rein.

10. Is it true that Montessori students have the same teacher for all subjects rather than work with “specialists” in different curricular areas?

Montessori guides are educated as “generalists,” qualified to teach all sections of the curriculum. But many schools choose to also employ specialists in certain subjects including art, music, foreign language, physical education, and science.

11. Why don't Montessori teachers give grades?

Grades, like other external rewards, have little lasting effect on a child’s efforts or achievements. The Montessori approach nurtures the motivation that comes from within, kindling the child’s natural desire to learn. 

A self-motivated learner also learns to be self-sufficient, without needing reinforcement from outside. In the classroom, of course, the guide is always available to provide students with guidance and support. 

Although most Montessori guides don’t assign grades, they closely observe each student’s progress and readiness to advance to new lessons. Most schools hold family conferences a few times a year so parents may see their child’s work and hear the guide’s assessment—and perhaps even their child’s self-assessment.

12. Can Montessori accommodate gifted children? What about children with other special learning needs?

An advantage of the Montessori approach—including multi-age classrooms with students of varying abilities and interests—is that it allows each child to work at her own pace. Students whose strengths and interests propel them to higher levels of learning can find intellectual challenge without being separated from their peers. The same is true for students who may need extra guidance and support: each can progress through the curriculum at his own comfortable pace, without feeling pressure to "catch up." 

We might note that from a Montessori perspective, every child is considered gifted, each in her own way. For every child has his own unique strengths—it is all a matter of degree.

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Phone: (515) 306-4593



4801 Franklin Avenue #1159

Des Moines, IA 50310

Birchwood Montessori is committed to a policy of equal opportunity and does not discriminate in the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment or admissions on account of race, age, color, sex, national origin, physical or mental disability, or religion or otherwise as may be prohibited by federal and state law. Any employee, board member, potential family, volunteer or client who believes that they or any other affiliate of Birchwood Montessori has been discriminated against is strongly encouraged to report this concern promptly to the Director.