Montessori?

We’re contemplating a switch to a different school.  There are all sorts of reasons why our current one deserves suspicion but the enumeration would range from pointless to outrageous.  Overall, the reasons fall just short of the “act now” range and so we’ve been comfortable maintaining the status quo.  We’re engaged (and if we weren’t, we’d definitely be in the act now stage) but the pile of concerns is beginning to outweigh our desire to push through a fix.

This next school year will be the first year she can attend our Montessori school*.  We’re visiting on Tuesday to see if the values and the pace of the day suit our family.  Our family doctor highly recommends the school and we’re friends with other Montessori fans, including a teacher and parent alums.   Everyone raves about the experience and says “helpful” things like, “RR is where?! She should really move to Montessori.” and “My kids went there and they are spectacular superheroes.  In fact, look right there, our sons are just now saving that old lady from a falling piano!” (and they are).  We’ve read about the philosophy and reviewed our local school’s literature in detail.  Everything – even the ever critical google – seems to be pro–Montessori.  When I try to find information that will help me determine if Montessori is right for RR, I see things like, “Do you want your child to be respectful and independent?”  and “Do you want your child to learn self-motivation and problem solving skills?” Well, no, of course not.  Come to think of it, I think I’d like her best if she just sat there and moaned.  No Montessori for her!

Before the internet gets its Montessori feathers ruffled (not you, of course, you are as always moderate and inspired in your thinking), I think it’s a good idea for RR and for us.  Many of our current concerns would evaporate and I expect we’d see her fit right in.  She plays independently, she likes to work, I think she would benefit from being in a classroom with older children.  Overall, the philosophy seems to be in line with our own.  I’d have to get over my aversion to elastic waistband pants though.  I know it’s easier for small children but ugh…

So here are my primary concerns:

  • The school is designed so that some (many?) of the kids will attend for a half-day and the rest is “after-care”.  I’m concerned this climate will mean she’s barely looked after in the afternoons or not stimulated in any way.  I realize this is a holdover opinion from other after school programs I’ve encountered – things reserved for kids whose parents couldn’t or wouldn’t get them and where bullies roamed wild as teachers just waited for pick up time.  We can’t stay at home.  We wish one of us could but, since the illustrious state of Virginia is disinclined to offer us any rights at all, work it is.  In fact, pick-up time is earlier, eliminating the wiggle room we have now.  I don’t want her (or our family) to be considered less than in any way because one of us doesn’t stay at home.  
  • There are an inordinate number of days off.  Huge spans of time.  For example, two full weeks in August.  The full week of Thanksgiving.  Two full weeks around Christmas.  What do people do with their kids during all the days off (and snow days, too)?  We don’t have that much vacation time unless we divide and conquer but then we’d never be able to take any substantial time off as a family.  I know this is coming as we face public school but right now it seems scary and overwhelming.  
  • Finally, I wonder what happens if RR decides she’s not interested in working on specific skills?  I wish I knew how to ask that question without sounding like an asshole but there it is.  I want her to go to school to learn and grow and develop and be the best version of herself but I’m not entirely certain that letting her set the pace will result in a well-rounded child.  This is the child who will tuck herself behind the recliner in her room and read when we have company.  She’s not exactly warm and fuzzy.  

Surely, this is where you tell me that all of my fears are unfounded and that visiting the school is our best bet.  Check.  We’re off to see things in action on Tuesday and, since we have to make a decision on our current school by the 31st, we’ll have to choose sooner rather than later**.  If you know us at all, you know that six months is a normal timeframe for decision making – we don’t waffle, we just like to ponder.  For example, would you believe we’ve been considering Montessori since she was born and we STILL haven’t settled on a position?  Of course you would.  So tell me, do you have any insights?  Did you attend Montessori?  Did/does your child?  What do you do when your child has more days off than you do?  How do you ask the school questions without sounding like an asshole?  But then, isn’t that my perennial question?

* Yes.  It meets the criteria and is affiliated with the organization.

** Lest it sound like we haven’t considered other options, I assure you that we’ve considered a range of the town’s church preschools, nanny situations and independent/specialty schools, an alarming amount of which use comic sans in their communications.

19 Responses

  1. Oh man. This is EXACTLY (almost) where we are. Our son is just over a year and is currently enrolled in the play-based infant/toddler program I am the director of. We love it, he loves it, but he gets kicked out at 2. I had him all set to move over to the local hippy-style school with tons of outside time and less structure. But now he’s actually showing us how smart he is, how quickly he learns and how much he seems to like “work” and structure. Well, crap. Now what? Do I send him to the hippy school where he might not be challenged enough and we might (gasp!) miss a window of opportunity for learning or do we look into Montessori, which as a Early Childhood Educator myself, I’ve never been a huge fan (too much structure I fear).

    So this afternoon I go to tour a school that has a traditional play-based preschool that runs along side a Montessori program that starts at age 3. So we could watch him for another 2 years and potentially have an easy transition into Montessori at 3 if that seems like a good fit for him.

    Do we ever get to truly relax and feel confident in our decisions about our children’s education or will we always panic that we’re dooming our children to a life of poor math scores and burger flipping?

    • I’m so glad I’m not the only one trying to strike a balance between free spirit and poor math scores. At least we’re in it together!

  2. Hi! I’m a Montessori directress.:) all your questions are very valid. I’m answering on my phone so it might be bitty. Depending on how ‘authentic’ the school is, you’ll see very different things. Montessori, unfortunately, is an unpatented name so the standards and quality are often unregulated. If you google ‘Montessori Place Brighton’, this Children’s House has lots of nice videos for you to see what it’s like.

    So first, Childcare hours. The Montessori ‘work’ cycle is 3 hours and generally meant to start the day. Montessori observed and charted lots of children’s behaviour and response to an environment like this and found that this time period is quite optimal for allowing children to discover and build their interests and concentration. The afternoons are usually for say, older 4-6 year olds who can manage the length of time. I have also worked in a Montessori Childcare setting and have to honestly tell you that the children are very very tired then so the afternoons are sort of down-time for little ones and they really do need it. And if you consider very young children to be like new citizens of the world, everything is very exciting and stimulating. The idea of a Children’s House is primarily to protect a child’s chance of developing without obstacles, which can sometimes include adult interference..and just generally living in an adult’s world.

    Q2 is a hard one. It’s always a struggle I think for schools and parents and here, Montessori schools are all private and receive next to no funding so everything is just expensive! :( Although historically, Montessori started the first Children’s House as a place for street children to be for free while their parents worked.

    Q3. You are absolutely right and this is definitely something you should think about. The directress is not going to impose any material on RR. However, if she is a good directress, she should be ‘tempting’ RR to lessons with her where she will be shown a new activity or a different game with the same activity every other day or so. So RR should receive an introduction to a wide variety of things to do. She will ‘follow’ RR’s interest, not in terms of she likes elephants or cars but in terms of interests in ‘small movements’, ‘details’, ‘visual’, ‘auditory’, ‘social’, ‘language’ and introduce materials from a perspective of interest to her. However, most children I have met do have a preference for say numeracy or language when the time comes (usually around 4 years) and development and learning will never really be linear if you know what I mean. In a sense, it’s how geniuse become who they are. They obsess and practice and perfect, with less regard of other things and then they master. There will come a time when you might be worried that RR is doing the same thing everyday for 3 months but just know that there are many activities for one material and RR will definitely not be bored. Montessori was heavily influenced by Rousseau anger experience of WW2 and leaves a legacy of careful instructions and reminders to adults about preserving freedom and choice and how this applies to children so directresses are trained to be watchful and observant and only intervene at choice times. Hope this all makes sense!

    • Wen – this is really helpful! Thanks for chiming in. What happens when kids simply choose to not develop in an area they aren’t interested in? Say RR loves to count and spend time with activities relating to numbers but dislikes anything having to do with reading (this is not the cae – fortunately – but the best example I could think of). Is there any effort to direct her to a more diverse set of skills? And thank for the info on where to find videos!

      • Hi Meredith! Yes and no! I’m afraid this is where some parents do get disappointed by our responses. A good directress will still attempt to present literacy materials while helping the child pursue his say, numeracy interest. However as most Montessori materials can be used by the child on his own, ‘learning’ only happens when the child takes it again and practises it. Practice makes perfect and so the child perfects his interest. There is also a principle of indirect preparation in the Montessori method so that all the things he does in the classroom before the ‘direct’ numeracy and literacy are meant to prepare the child very well for academic learning. For example, when I’ve taught mainstream primary, many children find school work tedious because they haven’t built attention, strength and control of hands, write too hard and tire themselves, and the hardest to remedy.- a lack of interest in learning by themselves for themselves. So there is a chance that RR is going to be multiplying and dividing by age 6 and reading single words slowly or vice versa. So you are definitely taking that risk.:) or a leap of faith that childhood guides children. Hope that makes sense! Goodluck!

  3. Here is a scientific article on the effectiveness of various preschool programs.

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022440512000039

    I’d be happy to email it to you if you like.

    1. My parents both worked and I attended a conglomeration of day cares, babysitters, and grandparents. It was fine, I was not scarred for life by not being with Mommy constantly!
    2. My oldest son attended Montessori and LOVED it. He is bright, loves math, and is just now learning to read in kindergarten. It was extremely helpful for him to have so few transitions between activities, since the majority of time is “free choice.” He also loved being able to go get his snack when he was hungry, rather than have to wait for snack time. He’s cranky when hungry.
    3. I can’t help much on vacation days, our school didn’t have nearly that amount of time off. However, working parents did make friends with other parents, and did kid swaps as needed. It’s relatively easy to watch three 3-year-olds when they entertain each other.
    4. Just ask your questions. No one will think you’re an asshole. Our teacher’s answer to your question was, “Children are encouraged to try all the areas, especially if they gravitate towards one area all the time.”

    So, I’ve done lots of research, and Montessori was an extremely good fit for us. My second son (very different from my oldest), will go to the Montessori preschool in the fall, when they finally have an opening again. I’m a fan.

  4. As a parent in the public school system, we have had to deal with her having lots of time off that we didn’t. We’ve juggled as much as we can, we’ve taken her to work with us, we’ve tapped into extended family and friends as much as we could, we’ve worked from home, we’ve used flex time, I’ve taken oodles of unpaid time off. You name it, we’ve done it. Thankfully, when you get to the public school system, there are more choices as to what to do with your kid when they have more time off than you, it’s these preschool years that are tricky. (I suspect private schools have similar programs)

    Asking what happens when RR doesn’t want to work on certain skills isn’t an asshole question, it’s a good one! I’ve learned as my own has made her way from preschool to fifth grade, not every teacher handles this trait well in children. It’s good to know how it will be treated, because it makes a difference. Classroom management is a highly underrated skill until you get a teacher who lacks it.

    Having looked at all the options out there when we were at this stage, Montessori was my first choice, had I gone back to working. I took some time off when she was 2 and stayed home with her, realized I liked it, realized that if we just tightened our belts, we could do it until she started kindergarten. It was what worked for us, although I realize, it’s not an option for everyone.

    As for elastic waist pants, that’s what sort of works best for little girls, esp as they become potty trained. I like a elastic waists myself, as they are far more forgiving of certain times of the month….

    • Thank you! And as for the pants – the last thing she needs is a fashion forward potty obstacle. But if I see one more pair of hot pink stretch pants (with or without sparkles) I might just keel right over. Fortunately, there’s the internet!

      • Little girls off gas glitter. It’s better to embrace it early and let them get it out of their system. I’d give my eye teeth for mine to wear anything but soccer gear right now.

  5. You probably know what I’m going to say – i.e. go for it. :)

    Aside from that, though, the days off are tough. Very tough. We usually alternate taking some days off ourselves, and then rope friends/grandparents/babysitters into the days we can’t. But it’s definitely rough.

    On the other concerns, not to make light of them, but I read this article the other day, and I thought it seemed appropriate. ;-)

    http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/the_kids/2013/01/how_important_is_preschool_if_you_are_researching_early_education_philosophies.html

  6. Montessori is fantastic! I do some around the house – Bug drinks from glass glasses and uses sharp knives, for example- but can’t afford it unless I’m working, which I’m not, so, free preschool for us.

    #1 – I seriously doubt it- Montessori teachers are usually VERY well trained, and given where you live, I’m guessing they’ll be pretty good. Even if it is ‘free play’ time, there’s so much fun stuff to do!

    #2 – You could also see if you could pay someone you know, such as a housewife, a moderate sum to look after your child those weeks. Some of my SAHM friends have done so in case of temporary childcare needs. And yes, two 3-year-olds are better than one!

    #3 – On the whole, I really think kids kind of even out over time. Bug used to be the world’s MOST timid child and SUPER clumsy and now he’s a lot closer to the median. There’s all the public-school years to force them into doing things they don’t especially like, after all.

  7. P.S. Jeans with fake fly and elastic in the back! Not as bad! Or those cute leggings from Lands’ End!

  8. I’m not a fan of Montessori. :)

    We’re struggling with spans of time off too! WTH?! Although as a teacher I would totally appreciate that type of schedule.
    Sounds like a the school could be a good fit for you, and hopefully it will be. I’m sure RR will do great wherever you place her. Because of you and your chica. You are engaged parents that will provide RR a ton of experiences and opportunities where she will learn and grow.

    Good luck!! This school stuff is for the birds.

  9. Long time reader, very little commenter. Single lesbian mom of two kids (boy, age 7; and girl, age 3). Have had both of my kids in Montessori since a very young age. Cannot recommend enough. I even feel so strongly that I am paying for both of them to attend a private Montessori elementary school (preK-6th grade). Absolutely an amazing, and the right decision for our family. And in terms of the time off? Both of my kids’ schools offer a “daycare option” during times off. They don’t necessarily work on academics, but they do art projects and perhaps watch a movie one day. I could go on for paragraphs about why this has been such a good decision, but I won’t go on and on, but seriously; the best thing I have ever done for my kids. My son LOVES to learn and can’t wait to go to school every day. He learned to read a little later than most, but because of the Montessori philosophy he was never made to feel left behind, and now LOVES to read. Yet he is in 1st grade and in a 3rd grade level in science. A child learning at their own pace is really the way to go.

    Good luck in whatever you decide!

  10. The Save An Old Lady From a Falling Piano Work! That’s going out in my classroom next week! How did you know?
    You already know what I think…. : )

  11. You already have plenty of great thoughts from others, but – I attended a Montessori preschool/kindergarten! And while I’m sure they’re all different, I had a great experience there. I recall being “encouraged toward” different activities when I’d fixate on one. For the most part our time was naturally distributed, though, because we were only allowed to do each activity once per day. It’s also a good social environment, because the children are engaged by activities all the time, not wandering around aimlessly with the opportunity to bully/etc. I recall feeling quite safe there. By the time I left I had learned to read and write, which put me at advantage when beginning first grade. So, I give Montessori two thumbs up.

  12. Honestly, I’m jealous this is even an option for you. Do it. I wish we could.

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