This Is How We Do It: Why Montessori Education

This is another post that falls under the category of “getting it down for my own sake” (i.e., for me, not you).  It’s not meant to bring anyone over to Montessori; although, that’s a nice bonus if it does.  I am not writing this because I think Montessori is The Way, nor am I implying that a Montessori education is suited for all children.  I have found that I am/we are getting asked more frequently about Montessori and why we chose it for Harrison. It’s nice because we have now been a part of the school community for almost 18-months, and parents are asking us how we like it and what we think.  In the past month, I have had email and face-to-face correspondence with families considering Montessori.

It’s also a bit frightening. There are all these outward/concrete reasons we chose Montessori, but there are also many internal reasons we chose Montessori, and I am not always eloquent at describing that part.  And I kind of feel like that’s the most important part.  That’s the part I want people to know about, but I realize it’s probably different for everyone. It is very much a personal decision you make for not just your child, but your family.

I had long found the idea of Montessori appealing.  I first experienced Montessori while working as a speech therapist.  I treated a little girl in her Primary classroom at a Montessori school.  I remember being awestruck by how fluid everything seemed in the classroom. A class of 20+ pre-k/kindergarten age children was operating smoothly.  An image that stuck with me was this one little girl who had been working on a puzzle (perhaps a puzzle map) and when finished, got up quietly, placed the puzzle back where it went, and chose another material.  The Directress was working with a small group of children, but many of the other children were working independently with materials.  I remember talking to David about it when we were both home, and that was that. Harrison wasn’t even a twinkle in our eye at that point, so that experience was tucked away for later.

Fast-forward to Harrison being almost 2 1/2.  For many reasons, it was becoming apparent to David and I that he needed a more academic environment.  Harrison was also quite the social child (and still is), and he needed something outside of home.  Not being the homeschool type, I quickly realized we needed to look into something more structured for Harrison.  We specifically wanted a school environment.  We weren’t necessarily ruling out preschool, but we know we didn’t want daycare.  After all, I was at home.  We didn’t want to pay someone to watch him. I mentioned Montessori to David, and we looked into our options near us.

Here’s some things that came into play for us:

  1. Harrison is very intentional.  He typically has a specific “end” in mind.  You can’t just give him anything and expect him to be content.
  2. Harrison likes to be active.  If he is interested in the book/activity, he will sit for a very long time or stay with something to completion, regardless of time.  If he isn’t interested, good luck. He needs to be allowed to make choices.
  3. Harrison enjoys work; especially, purposeful work.  It’s even better if this work helps someone else. We wanted him to be someplace that would give him the tools to accomplish the work he so often sought.
  4. Harrison enjoys interacting with other children. He loves playing, but he also enjoys asking questions and learning from other children. A mixed-age classroom sounded ideal.

Those are/were some of the key playing points. When we toured Harrison’s school, we were given the book, Montessori Madness by Trevor Eissler, to read. I highly recommend it. It’s not a book on Montessori philosophy; it’s a book written by a parent who chose Montessori for his child, and why. It’s a parent-parent perspective. I liked that because I’m not really the type of person who’s going to call a bunch of parents asking what they think.  I am totally fine with someone asking me, though.

Really, Montessori just felt right.  Maybe a lot of it had to do with the particular school Harrison attends. That certainly helped.  Harrison was so quickly welcomed at his school.  As in, he walked into the classroom during our tour and at least two children came up and took his hand and showed him around the room.  He maybe looked back once.  Nothing is quite so bittersweet as seeing your first child so happy to leave you.

Now that Harrison’s into his second full year at his school, I can confidently say we made the right choice. Honestly, I could say that after his first few months.  His teachers are wonderful.  He is cared for and taught wonderful lessons.  He is respected and trusted.  He is LOVED! I don’t mean, “Oh, we love Harrison.  He’s so sweet and funny.” I mean, he is loved as their own.  And, Harrison loves his teachers.  Seriously, there was a time last year when Harrison would call me both of his teachers’ names before he got to, “Mommy”. I was third fiddle!

So, there you have it.  Why we chose Montessori education.  As we learned, it’s much more than an educational philosophy. It’s a way of life, and it’s playing a big role in our family life.  That’s another post, though.

 

It’s Nice To Feel Appreciated

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and Target has already nixed those cards in preparation for Mother’s Day. Seriously. Why do they do that?! It’s okay to have Christmas decor out before Halloween is over, but it is apparently asking too much to be able to get a card for Teacher Appreciation Week the actual week it occurs. I guess I have no one to blame but myself for not “getting on that”.

I don’t actually need a special card to thank Harrison’s teachers. I am beyond thankful for them day after day. I gush about Harrison’s Montessori experience constantly, and I jump at any opportunity to tell my friends about his school. I talk about the classroom; how it’s set up and how beautiful the materials are. I talk about how I am in awe of the fact that a group of 25+ children 2 1/2 – 6 can coexist in this environment without constant intervention from adults. I talk a lot about how wonderful I think Montessori is, and I mention the teachers, but I don’t really hang on that point. It has nothing at all to do with me not appreciating what Harrison’s teachers do. I feel like it has more to do with me not being able to fully comprehend how they do what they do.

First, let me say that I have respect and appreciation for all (okay, most) teachers. And, I do not mean to say that unless a teacher is a Montessori teacher, I think they are any less of a teacher. It’s more that I know and understand my son, and I know that Montessori is for him. I also know that Montessori with the teachers he has is for him. My intrigue with Montessori started before I was even pregnant with Harrison. I worked with a little girl who attended a Montessori school in North Carolina, and I remember thinking to myself how impressed and amazed I was at what was happening around me while I was there. I talked to David about it that night, and I casually mentioned that I would consider Montessori for our child(ren).

Fast forward 4 1/2 years, and we were trying to decide what we wanted to do with Harrison. I thought about his personality, his skills, his needs, and I didn’t feel like traditional preschool was for him. I recalled a friend of mine telling me about her first son’s experience with traditional school, and how it wasn’t a fit for him. The things she talked about hearing from the teacher regarding her son reminded me so much of Harrison. She said that after that experience, she and her husband looked into Montessori, and they ultimately decided to enroll their son. He has flourished. I kept thinking about Harrison, and I thought back to the Montessori school I had been in. David and I had talked about options, and we decided to schedule some observations. Well, after visiting the school Harrison currently attends, we knew it was for him. Harrison knew, too.

I know I want to write more about Harrison’s experience (and ours) with Montessori, so I’ll direct this post back to being thankful for his teachers. Of course I am thankful for the work he does there and the”formal” lessons he receives, but I am mostly thankful for the person they are helping form. I am thankful that these women have opened my eyes to who my son is and his potential. I don’t mean I didn’t already have high hopes for him, but I mean his potential in this moment. I feel like it’s easy to just see what your child isn’t doing (not putting shoes on, not cleaning up toys) and to look past what they are doing (he got out napkins for everyone without being asked; he put away his brother’s toys). When I look at those things, I realize the potential in Harrison to be this kind, generous, loving person if I don’t constantly remind him of what he’s not doing and let him know I see what he is doing. I don’t know that I did enough of that before, and maybe other people don’t need someone else to help them to do that. I did. And I’m thankful Harrison has the type of teachers who helped me do that.

I’m thankful that Harrison’s teachers love him.  When Harrison needed a little more guidance to choose materials for work, his teacher would invite him to walk around the classroom and help him to choose something. When Harrison struggled to rest his body at nap time, his teachers would sit next to him and stroke his back, knowing that helped calm his body. I think Harrison tells them, but if not, he loves you, too. He talks about Miss Sarah’s beautiful hair or Miss Peggy’s pretty outfit. He always talks about them with such fondness, and he lights up when he mentions a time he was invited to help with something. And I really know he loves them because there have been multiple times, “Mommy” is the 3rd name that comes to mind when he starts to tell or ask me something.

There is so much I appreciate about Harrison’s teachers, but most importantly, I just appreciate the women they are. They are more than the training they have to be a Montessori instructor. To me, they are special people who are seeing my son’s potential everyday, and they are helping him grow and always better himself. And they have made me better (I think, anyway) in the process. Thank you.