I am always surprised at the number of times I get asked, “What is a Montessori school?” It’s become a normal part of our life. One we are so thankful for finding and love. What I’ve found though is people have become accustomed to hearing the term “Montessori” and never really understand what it means. Why it is different from traditional school.
Our journey with Montessori started early. Cameron had just finished a traditional VPK (voluntary pre-kindergarten) program through the public school system. We had a great experience! It was a half day program. He was thrilled going to school in the mornings. I’m sure if we had not bought our house and moved to a new area, we’d still be at that school and be very happy. That is just not how our story played out.
I’m going to be very blunt here. Florida is not known for being a strong education system. When I laid eyes on the elementary school we were zoned for, I knew immediately it was not an option. We had a mini freak out moment. Research on alternatives began immediately. It was narrowed down to going with a Montessori school or trying our hand at homeschooling (this surprised us).
We had heard about the Montessori method. Like everyone else, we really didn’t know much about it.
Here are the basics:
- Founded by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early 1900’s.
- Based on scientific observation of children’s learning processes. Her discovery: children teach themselves.
- Emphasis on learning using all 5 senses (not just listening, watching, reading).
- Children are self-directed learners at their own individual pace within a properly prepared environment.
- Classes are mixed by age. Younger learn from older. Older build confidence “teaching”.
In theory this all sounded great, but we initially had a lot of questions about how this worked. It all seemed a little strange. Their approach is really very different from mainstream education.
Different from traditional school:
- Learning is a hands-on process of discovery. It is exciting!
- Teachers do not stand at the front of the room and lecture. Children choose what to work on.
- Kids do not sit at desks. They are free to move about the room.
- There are no structured grades, tests, or report cards.
The second question I always get is, “How do you know your kid is learning what they are supposed to learn and on par for their grade level?” Well this question we initially took a leap of faith with. A couple of months into school, we scheduled 1-on-1 meetings with each of their teachers to review their work. We were shocked at what we saw!
Cameron was in kindergarten. They had structured silent reading that included regular 1-on-1 time reading aloud for their teacher. In math he was working on addition, subtraction, and multiplication. In language he was identifying sentence structure (noun, verb, subject, etc.) and writing in a journal. Everything else was classified as culture (science, geography, history, etc.). This was his favorite! He was researching animals, learning about the parts of plants, and identifying places on a map (continents, countries, states). Things he never would have been doing in public school at that level. By the end of the year he was giving book reports in front of the class and participating in the first grade spelling tests.
Melia was only 3 at the time. This is the age many children start in a Montessori school environment. At this age, their focus is around building independence. Practical life skills like carrying things correctly, preparing snacks, pouring, and folding. Teaching respect, grace, and courtesy. Helping them understand the importance of taking care of things and cleaning up after themselves. She was also focused on letters, sounds, and numbers. By the end of the year she was writing her letters really well, knew all the Presidents, and at home was practicing adding with Cameron.
To top it off, both were learning Spanish. They had a drama teacher, music teacher, and P.E. teacher. This was just the first year. We realized right away that we were in love with Montessori school. It was the perfect fit for our kids!
What we love about Montessori:
- Our kids LOVE learning! Even at home. One of their favorite things is getting quizzed on spelling and math.
- Each child is challenged according to their readiness, enabling them to reach their full potential.
- Personalized work plans for each student to guide their learning.
- It goes beyond book smarts. It prepares our kids to think for themselves and solve problems.
Our teachers are invested in the success of each child. It is like a family! They really ensure a quality education. We have no regrets with our decision. The only negative is that Montessori schools do not typically extend beyond elementary.
Do you have any experience with a Montessori school?