I fought preschool. When my son was three, we returned from Christmas vacation and I looked around and realized that every single one of his little friends, except one, was enrolled in preschool.
I turned up my nose and crossed my arms. We don’t need preschool. Life is preschool. We bake, we go to the Shedd Aquarium. He knows how to count to 10, usually.
And I still believe a lot of that – when a home environment is rich with language and creative experiences, life is preschool. I’m a huge believer in the power of independent, creative play in human development; I think I’m a bit of an unschooler at heart.
But as the next fall came near, I found out I was expecting a baby and planning to start teaching childbirth classes. I imagined how many hours of Wild Kratts or Curious George he would be watching and how little baking we would be doing, and I started to rethink my arrogant preschool aversion.
Then I hit the jackpot. I found a local Montessori Preschool Co-op at a church I knew and respected, and we could actually afford it. (Chicago mamas – let me know if you want details.) At the time, I didn’t know that much about Montessori education, but I’ve come to love it.
Montessori is different than typical school. This is a good article outlining some basics. I’ve seen a lot of growth in my son – more respect for his environment, more attention to detail, a willingness to persevere when activities are challenging. I’ve learned a lot, too.
1. I’ve come to embrace that development of ability is as, or more, important than skill development. My son can’t write his name and he doesn’t color in the lines. Honestly, he hates coloring. These things bothered me for a while. Our culture, myself included, is so focused on outcomes and achievements, and I know that someday, test results will matter. But at four-years-old, the process is more important.
At school, he doesn’t practice writing or coloring. He spends time spooning beans from one cup to another, practicing picking up tiny beads with a tong, and building a “tower of 10”. I’m pretty confident that he’ll be able to write his name one day; right now, refining those fine motor skills is the priority.
2. A major emphasis in Montessori education is order in the environment, and I’m embracing this for our home. Montessori classrooms are delightful and peaceful. While they are full of materials, there’s a place for everything, and everything is in its place.
You can see the effect of this on the children. My son is really a mini tornado – he’s usually running full speed and leaving a wake behind him. At preschool, he’s still full of life, but calm and careful. He mirrors the peace and order of the environment. I’m trying my best to do this in our home.
3. I’m also learning something I’ve felt in my gut since he was a little guy: choice is really important. My boy is a classic strong-willed child. Potty training was a nightmare – really, teaching him anything directly has been tough. He couldn’t count to ten for a long time because he refused to participate, no matter how sneaky I was.
And then, one day (like two months ago), he started to enjoy counting and often wants to count whatever we’re doing – from bites at dinner to pieces of poop. Last week we borrowed a hundred board from our classroom, and he completed 1-100 two days in a row. He even came into my room first thing in the morning (right about the time I was thinking how nice Curious George sounded), and asked to do the hundred board (called a “work” in Montessori) before breakfast. I never thought he would choose to do something like this, but he was ready, and his curiosity was sparked.
There is a perception that children in Montessori classrooms do whatever they want all the time. Not the case. They have lots of choices and are free to work on whatever they desire, but they are also being guided and encouraged by the teacher as she learns the strengths and weaknesses of each student.
I could go on for a while, so maybe I’ll write a Part Two. I’m thankful to have found a good fit for our family in Montessori education and am learning a lot in the process, including not to turn my nose up so easily.
Do you have any experience with Montessori? Any questions? Share your thoughts and experiences below.
Lindsey lives on and loves the west side of Chicago with her husband Mike and her kids – Caleb, 4 and Lily, 3. She works part time as a doula and childbirth educator and is fascinated by birth. In winter she likes to bake with sourdough, and in summer she likes everything. In all things, she is covered with God’s grace.