Over the last several years, I have had several people ask me why I chose to send my daughter, Taylor Anne, to a Montessori school, and if she's going there for the school next year. These are people who mainly don't know anything about the Montessori education or pedagogy. Many think the teacher has no control over the classroom, the children are wandering about, playing games at their will and whim. I guess I'm going to try to clear up a few things, at least in relation to my daughter's school, and what I have learned since she has been there.
First, I would like to say that I didn't know much about Maria Montessori, or her theories about how children learn, until I heard about my daughter's school. I heard about it, and remembered something from when I was younger about Montessori schools being an easier place for children to learn. That was the extent of my knowledge at that point. It was the spring when she turned three years old, and I wanted to get her into a preschool program somewhere. My Mother-in-law strongly suggested we put her in the summer program at our church preschool, which I did for several weeks. I was unimpressed with what she learned over the course of those few weeks... So I thought more about the Montessori school. When I had first heard about this school, I decided to borrow a few books about Montessori's philosophies from the library. The first ones I picked up were: 'The Absorbent Mind', 'Montessori Play and Learn', and 'Montessori Today'. I didn't read all of them cover to cover, but I did read enough to get the idea that this may be a great way for my daughter to be introduced to learning new things. At three years old, she was a very bright, talkative, curious child. She had a huge vocabulary for a child her age, and she loved learning anything new. I was sure she wouldn't be satisfied with learning a bible verse; and that the Ocean is salty and there are whales, fish, and sharks living in it after a weeks worth of preschool. She knew that already... I personally felt she needed to be able to learn things that interested her, and after reading those books, I understood why. Apparently children go through 'sensitive periods' throughout their life when they're most receptive to and interested in certain things. I found out later in the year that Taylor Anne was going through a sensitive period for language.
Anyway, there are several reasons why I have her at the Montessori school:
***The classroom in a Montessori Children's house is centered around the Child, not the teacher. The classroom is set up specifically so that the children are independantly able to get the activities or 'works' off of the shelf, use them, and then return them back to the place they belong. The furniture is child sized; the brooms, dustpans, and other cleaning supplies are child sized and placed where the children can easily get them if they spill something or need to wipe off a table after lunch. They are responsible for cleaning up their own messes. This fosters independence and a sense of responsibility in the child to respect, take care of, and be proud of their classroom and the class materials.
***Even at the age of 3 my daughter was allowed work at her own pace - this means that if a child already 'gets' a concept such as recognizing letter sounds, she can move on to tracing the cursive sandpaper letters with her finger to learn how to make the shape fluidly, or she can use the movable alphabet and a box of small objects (such as a dollhouse sized pot, figure of a cat, small hat, little cup) and spell out the word for each object. When she masters a set, she can move on to another box, with other objects with stepped degrees of difficulty.
***I like that the process is more important for the child to learn before the product of the process is achieved. I think my favorite example is in the Math section of the classroom. There are long chains of beads hanging on a beautiful rack, and boy do they look enticing to play with! Well, these beads represent units in math. The children first learn what a group of one, two, three, four, and so on looks like, and then they move on to groups of two put together. They learn that there is a progression to follow. They learn how to count by twos (and 3's, 4's, 5's, etc) by laying out the chain with the 'two groups' and labeling each group in succession, 2,4,6,8,10.... they learn that 5 groups of 2 are the same as 10! They learn that 2 groups of 2 equals 4. They learn the reason why 2+2=4, and why 2x3=6. They slowly learn the concept of how math works, why addition works the way it does, not just rote memorization of 'this is the way it is'. I never memorized my multiplication tables... It was a rediculous concept to me, I'm not sure why... but I think if I had learned about the concept and the reason why one number multiplied by another is what it is, I wouldn't have had such a hard time!
***The children aren't compared to one another, they aren't aware that 'Sally over there' can't do multiplication yet, or 'Jessie can already read better than me'. The children each work on their own things throughout the day... sometimes they are paired to work together on something, but the majority of the activities are meant for one person. The children don't feel competition with one another, and they don't pick on each other because of academic achievement or lack therof. This is particularly important to me because I was diagnosed and labeled ADHD as a child and was on ritalin from 1st to 10th grades. I did feel singled out in elementary school as 'the wild child', 'the talkative one', 'the one who couldn't pay attention'. Other kids didn't want to sit with me because I talked too much and even when medicated, I was more enerjetic than most. I don't want her to go through any of those feelings of being 'singled out' within her class. At least not for academic reasons.
***There are a range of ages in the classroom. In Taylor Anne's class there are children ranging in age from 3 to 6 and a half. All of these children work along side each other. The older ones strive to be role models for the younger ones, and working with the younger kids helps teach the older ones compassion and patience. They learn to respect each other no matter what their age gaps.
***Taylor Anne's school is a dual-language school, so she gets some Spanish instruction each day. They also have 30 minutes of recess time outside each day. For now at her school this is unstructured, run around, play on the play equipment time.
***There aren't just academics taught. There is an art section in the classroom, they learn how to mix colors to make other colors, they also have a practical life section where they learn how to pour without spilling, wash dishes, peel carrots, string beads, tie shoes, open and close buttons and zippers, and work puzzles too!
I am not sitting here saying that this is the best education option for all children - I'm not saying the children are always smiling, happy, and cheerfully absorbing all there is to learn. There are still tantrums, still arguements over who is doing what, tattling about so-and-so doing such-and-such. This is a real classroom, there are 26 real children trying to play, and have fun all day, and hopefully learn something too. Luckily there are also two great teachers there to help guide them peacefully through their day.
As for next year... I still haven't decided yet. I am feeling a little bit guilty that I drive my daughter to and from school each day, I go through about 18 gallons of gas per week doing that alone. My environmental impact is quite a bit more than it should be given the fact that there is an elementary school within walking distance of our house. She doesn't go to school with the kids in the neighborhood, either. So kids she meets at the library, or in the neighborhood park, are always 'new', and she doesn't know them. I am a little concerned about that further down the road...
For now I am happy with her school, I love all of the personal attention she gets from her teacher, the things she has learned this year have amazed me. She's reading above grade level, does addition, subtraction, multiplication, and has started division in Math. She knows the continents, and can tell you details about animals that are indigenous to each. She knows the difference between vertebrates and invertebrates, and can tell you how reptiles are different than mammals. Best of all, she is a confident, happy student at this school. Does that mean she wouldn't be somewhere else? I don't know... but for now she's staying there until I am convinced she needs to go somewhere else.
If you've read through this entire thing - I applaud you! I'm sorry if it's a little wordy! Also, it seems my spell-check isn't working on blogger... so please excuse my many many errors!