Parent Perspective- Why We Chose Montessori
When my wife, Ashley, and I tell people that our son, Michael, attends a Montessori school, not everyone knows what we’re talking about. Reactions range from curiosity (“Oh, tell me about that!”) to wariness (“Is that a normal school?”). Everyone wants to know why, unless they’re also Montessori parents. In that case, we get knowing smiles and nodding heads. Many of our friends have either enrolled – or plan to enroll – their kids in a school they may be a little more familiar with. Sometimes they’ve even moved to a specific area for the sole purpose of enrolling their kids in a particular school. These are parents who are focused and insistent on a quality education for their children. They’re no different from Montessori parents in that way. Most traditional schools, though, rely on memorization of facts, rules, and formulas. They also tend to keep children in their own age groups.
This was the case with our son at his previous school. Michael was two years old at the time, but pretty knowledgeable. His mom and I like to work with him outside of school, and we enjoy watching him learn new things. As a result, he soon got bored in class. Even though Michael’s knowledge base was growing faster than his classmates, the teachers insisted on keeping him with his age group. When we brought it up with the principal, the reply was, “Oh, we try to keep them together in their age groups, so they develop at an appropriate social level. But don’t worry! They’ll be moving up to a more advanced class in three or four months!”
Three or four months? While his classmates were picking out circles and squares, Michael was pointing out octagons. He had already named his favorite toy dinosaur ‘Trapezoid’ (I had to look that one up). His classmates were counting to ten, but Michael was already up to thirty (okay, he needed a little help at the end remembering it was ‘thirty’, not ‘twenty-ten’, but still). He started acting out because he was so bored. Ashley and I were called in to talk about his behavior and how we might need to discipline him. We couldn’t get them to see that Michael’s behavior was directly related to a lack of challenge in the classroom. To them, they were two unrelated concepts.
That got me thinking about my own education and how bored I had been in school. We were expected to memorize facts and regurgitate them on command. Our grades depended almost exclusively on our abilities in that regard. Read, read, read, memorize, memorize, memorize. I didn’t want that for Michael. Yes, there are things that children need to memorize, especially when the material is a basis for more advanced things. But school should be more than just taking notes and reciting textbooks.
That’s what my wife and I found at Hillsboro, the Montessori school where we enrolled Michael. Students are given the freedom to create their own schedules each day as they choose what they want to learn, in what order, and whether they complete their tasks alone or in groups. They learn both personal and social responsibility as they complete jobs like cleaning up and taking care of plants and animals. Kindness is paramount; they aren’t afraid to ask each other for help or to give it when asked. Each student is charged with being a role model for those that are younger.
I was a little nervous the first morning I dropped Michael off. He walked with his teacher into the classroom with hardly a look back. I spent the day wondering if he was acting up or if he had finally found the challenge he needed. When I picked him up later that afternoon, my worry
vanished. The teacher brought my son out to the car with dirt on his pants, dried paint on his hands, and a tired smile on his face. She told me what a good day he’d had and presented me with the projects and artwork he had completed. It was the first time in weeks that he didn’t come back from school bursting with the unused energy he’d been sitting with all day. And despite how tired he was, he still found it in him to name of each vehicle we passed on the way home: car, truck, school bus, bulldozer, dump truck, police car.
Why a Montessori school? Because our child loves to learn. Because Montessori loves to encourage him. Because of dirt, paint, and a tired smile. -Bo King