I’m off to a great start today. I dropped Carlos off at school. I vacuumed my car and cleaned the inside. There is just something refreshing about a clean car. Then I ran to Trader Joe’s for a few things to complete my grocery list for the week. I planned my route accordingly so I could run on a bike trail near Trader Joe’s. It was almost 9 o’clock by the time I got there and it was already hot and humid. I’m waiting for you fall!
I hit the trail for a 4 mile run and I felt amazing. My legs were finally acting they knew what to do. My breathing felt great. I ran along at what felt like a slightly speedier pace than what I’ve been running and smiled the entire way. It was an awesome run. After that I browsed around Bed Bath and Beyond for some toiletry organizers. Boy is it easy to lose track of time in there! I found a few things, drove home and immediately threw two pots of water on the stove, one for quinoa, the other for brown rice. I just zipped off a couple of emails and now I’m writing this post.
Today is Carlos’ first full day of school. He had two half days last week to get acclimated which was helpful as he transferred to a new school for 2nd grade. Last winter it became apparent that Carlos needed a different learning environment. I had decided that if we were unable to find another school to meet his needs then I would home school. Prior to becoming a nurse I was a teacher. I was confident that I could learn the ropes of home schooling and reignite Carlos’ love of learning.
Carlos is inquisitive. He loves to explore a variety of subjects. He learns quickly and retains an astonishing amount of information. He is imaginative and creative. He reads at an advanced level. He is bright, not brilliant or a genius, but clearly intelligent. Education is very important in our home. As first grade progressed he was coming home increasingly more frustrated. He finally said what I had suspected, “I’m bored.” I think I’m to blame in part. Whenever Carlos gets interested in something we allow him to explore it in depth. For example he had fascination with Benedict Arnold last fall. We found documentary type videos, stories geared toward children and historical facts. He soaked it up and that led to more questions about the Revolutionary War, George Washington, etc. We found answers to his questions if we didn’t know the answers.
His boredom was compounded by the fact that his school had limited facilities for indoor gym and recess which only led to more aggravation during the long cold winter. The outdoor playground was a parking lot and by the year’s end kids were so restricted that they could simply walk around and talk to each other. Kids need to run and play during the day. The kids were discouraged from taking books out of the school library. Spanish class was little more than coloring and watching movies in English (yes that’s right!). Despite a small class of only 13 students the teacher told me personally that they were a difficult group to manage. Carlos began coming home with headaches because of the constant yelling his teacher was doing to discipline the class. I’ve known these kids for the last four years and I find it very hard to believe that an experienced first grade teacher would have any trouble laying down the law from day one. Her major complaint was that the kids talked too much. I’m sure Carlos did his share of talking, but he was not a behavioral problem. Carlos’ teacher abruptly retired at the end of the school year prompting thoughts that perhaps she had some personal issues going on which made it difficult for her at school.
By February I began exploring other options and after visiting a Montessori school I knew immediately that Carlos would be a perfect fit for the school. Carlos spent the day at the school back in June and loved it. He was beaming when I picked him up and wanted to go back the next day. The feedback we received about his visit was so encouraging and made it an easy decision. Carlos acknowledged that although he would miss his friends he really wanted to attend Montessori in the fall. This was a positive sign that we were making the right decision.
Last Thursday he was quiet on the way to school. He was excited, but appropriately nervous. I walked him to the play area where they spend the first 15 minutes before heading into the building and I waited until he found another boy his age. He turned and said goodbye, gave me a quick hug and off he went.
I couldn’t wait to pick him up that day. I saw the director of admissions when I got to the school and she told me that she had seen Carlos midday and he told her it was the best school day ever!! Carlos got in the car shortly after and was a bundle of excited energy. He talked nonstop on the way home about his day. This, in and of itself, was a miracle because most days over the last year he would simply grunt “fine” in reply to my question “how was your day?”
Carlos couldn’t wait to go to school on Friday. It was another great day. Carlos even said to me this weekend, “I wish there were no weekends now so I could go to school everyday!”
So what is so magical about this new school. Well these are the things Carlos loves the most:
- When you are finished with your assignment you move on to something else.
- If you have to go to the bathroom you are allowed to go without asking the teacher.
- Snack is provided by the school and children are able to eat it when they are hungry rather than all together at a designated time.
- The playground is amazing!
- No assigned seating, no desks and the freedom to move around the classroom.
- Mali, the school dog.
Things I love the most:
- The huge smile on Carlos’ face when he talks about school.
- The environment. The school is newly built and looks like a large home. It’s calm, bright, clean and inviting.
- The school’s commitment to giving back to the community.
- That independence is valued and children learn to problem solve.
Prior to this experience I knew very little about Montessori, but I’ve since read a bit about Dr. Maria Montessori. Her story alone is fascinating. What drew me towards a Montessori school for Carlos is that it encompasses the whole person. Montessori is much more a way of life than an educational philosophy. Dr. Montessori developed her program through observation of young children. Though the children operate with a certain sense of independence it is within an environment specially designed for them and prepared to meet them where they are at individually.
Some think of Montessori and think disorder, but actually it is quite the opposite. Children learn that everything has a place and they are taught to respect and care for their environment. In my brief time at the school I witnessed a rhythmic flow of activity where the children seemed to know what they needed to do without being told. There was peace, quiet and calm. Carlos’ teacher, known as a guide, is genuinely kind, caring and clearly enjoys what she is doing. She is soft spoken yet in a very understated manner she is in control of her classroom. There is a mutual respect throughout the school.
A Montessori school may not serve well for every child though I am inclined to believe that some of the principles might just be worth giving a try in mainstream classrooms.
“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” Dr. Maria Montessori