Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert on the Montessori method. This post only tells of my specific experiences with Montessori at one school. If you would like to learn more about the Montessori method, I encourage you to check it out.
Over a year ago, my husband and I found ourselves looking for a new school for our son. Each day we would bring him to school (OK – daycare) where he would spend it in a cramped room full of chaos, and each day we would pick him up not really sure if he did more than just run around in circles (literally) with the rest of the class. At the time when we first enrolled him, before he was born, we felt it was the best option. However, after a year, I could not help but feel like there was something better out there. At the end of the school year, I found myself searching for other alternatives and came across a local Montessori school. We toured the school, and it was love at first sight! With my son starting his second year there, I have a pretty clear picture about why I am so excited.
The first thing I noticed during our tour of the school was the calm environment. I walked into the school expecting screaming – coming from both children AND teachers – because that’s what my past experience taught me. Instead, I found myself in an office that felt more like a living room, and I questioned if there were children present. As I walked around the school, I felt as though I were visiting someone’s home. Windows revealed gardens outside and filled the classrooms with natural light. Curtains, plants, area rugs, and pictures felt more like our home than an institution. Most importantly, my son seemed at ease and quickly acclimated to the school during our short visit. To this day, I still feel it has become his home away from home.
Sense of order
Everything has its place. The shelves are not overflowing with plastic, noisy toys, but instead contain a handful of learning materials. The reasoning behind it is simple – the children will know if something is missing and they can easily replace their work when they finish. Not having multiples forces children to share. Clean hand towels have their own bucket next to the sink, and dirty hand towels have their place, too. When my son walks into his classroom, he knows where to find his favorite puzzle or wash his hands or put on his art smock. Also, he knows he is expected to help keep things in order by replacing the puzzle when he finishes it and putting the hand towel he used in the appropriate bucket after he finished painting and washing his hands.
Encouragement of independence
My child is independent (what two-year-old isn’t?), so when he can’t do things on his own, frustration ensues. I have found that it helps ease the frustration when he feels he has some control, and part of that comes from doing things on his own – like putting on his shoes, pouring his own drink, or washing his hands. All of these skills are practiced at school. He can help wash the dishes because the sink is at his level. He gets to feed the pet fish and water the garden. He puts on his rain boots when it just rained and zips up his jacket on the rare cold day before going outside. Yes, there’s structured work time, but he can choose his own learning activity and pursue his interests.
One large part of the Montessori method is fostering a love of learning (which makes my teacher heart go pitter patter). This love of learning stems from the children pursuing their own interests and discovering by doing. The teachers are the facilitators of the learning and nothing feels forced. The most profound thing for me was when my son’s teacher explained they have circle time each morning, but the children are not required to participate – in other words, if my son wants to work on a puzzle, he can do so. In truth, however, he seems to love circle time because, let’s face it, peer pressure is a real thing even at the toddler level.
Focus on the whole child
At the end of the day, it isn’t about if my son comes out of Montessori school knowing his ABC’s and 123’s – he could learn those things at any school. My son is learning how to communicate his needs, work cooperatively with his classmates, and establish independence. He explores the world around him through outside play and expands his love of learning. I feel the school places focus on my son reaching his full potential as a person, not as a student. When I pick up my son from Montessori school, I know his day was well-spent both growing and learning – two things I have placed as highly important.