Tomorrow morning I’m going down to a local radio station for a brief interview about our experience with the Montessori school our son attends. I haven’t written much about our son’s education and the choice we made to transfer him to a completely different school system in 2nd grade. The decision was made much easier because Carlos was 100% on board with it, but it was a bold move in my opinion. The interview will likely get chopped down to a 30 second parent testimonial for a radio advertisement for the school, but feeling a little nervous I asked the Director of Communications for the school to share some of the questions that might be asked.
Why did you choose Montessori School?
We chose the Montessori School because we wanted our son to be in an environment that identifies each child as an individual and is dedicated to helping the child reach his potential. I had heard about Montessori education, but had no experience with it. When my son was in first grade it became clear early on that we needed to explore other options for schooling. After a visit to Montessori, I knew instinctively that it was the right place for Carlos. I arranged for him to spend a day with the Lower Elementary class towards the end of first grade. When I picked him up that day it was as though new life had been breathed into him. I saw that excitement, enthusiasm, and energy I used to see when he was in kindergarten; all of those things missing throughout first grade. He asked if he would be returning the next day and was visibly disappointed when I said no he had to finish out first grade at the other school.
We chose Montessori School as a family, but it also chose us. It was very clear that Carlos would benefit from this style of education. In 1st grade he was accelerating in some areas, particularly reading, but was told to wait for the other students. Carlos was respectful, but was also understandably bored. He grew more and more frustrated by other issues in the classroom. His teacher had a habit of hollering at the small classroom of 13 students when they were talking too much, and the punishment was typically no recess. Carlos cherished any time outdoors because sitting still all day in the classroom was challenging for any child that age. He would get in the car after school with such sadness. He was no longer excited about school and learning. He also had little to no physical release throughout the day. By the Christmas break I was exploring other options including home schooling.
Montessori is unique because it allows students to work at their own pace in a very organic environment with readily available materials that facilitate the child’s understanding of the subject matter by using a progressive concrete to abstract approach to learning. Montessori seeks to educate the whole child while nurturing a love of learning at all stages throughout their education.
Can you describe what Carlos might say about his Montessori School?
Carlos would say he loves his Montessori School. He would tell you his school has the best playground and that recess is awesome because it’s long. Carlos would let you know that he enjoys the freedom to sit or stand in the classroom because he is a fidgety 9 year old, and sometimes he simply does not want to sit. He would tell you about walks to the wetlands, soccer games at recess, and really cool science experiments. He would say that he is happy to go to school every day.
How would you describe his teachers?
I would describe Carlos’ teachers at Montessori School as gifts. Each guide (this is what the teacher is called) seems so uniquely suited to the age group they work with and I have yet to encounter a teacher that seems unhappy in their work. They are giving, kind, and attentive to the individual needs of each student as well as how the students function as a community in the classroom. The teachers all display a sense of calm that has a profound impact on the learning environment.
Carlos also has guides for art, music, Spanish and gym. His art teacher is his favorite, but we won’t tell the others. She is amazing, and to see his enthusiasm not just for the art work they prepare in class, but for the knowledge she imparts to the children about art is truly magnificent.
Please describe the Montessori School community?
The Montessori School community is made up of the families and extended families of the children who attend, the children, and every single person on staff. The community promotes involvement, team work, and giving back to both the school and the larger community around the school. I think the children are given a rare opportunity to learn about community on different levels. They stop being the center of the universe and learn to become a part of something that is bigger and ultimately stronger when everyone works together. The Montessori School community is built on a foundation of peace, problem solving, and empathy for others. The children are given the unique opportunity to see community development on so many different levels.
How is the Montessori elementary program different from a traditional elementary program?
The Montessori School elementary program is vastly different from a traditional elementary program, and I can sum it up with a concrete example from earlier in the school year. Despite not having a Montessori foundation from early childhood, Carlos was, as I expected, a natural fit for the Montessori program. He adapted fairly quickly in his first year, and really enjoyed the experience. He entered 3rd grade this past fall. The elementary program is divided into lower elementary which is 1st through 3rd grade in one classroom and upper elementary which is 4th through 6th grade.
In December, I was approached by one of Carlos’ teachers who explained that he had been observed for a number of weeks by various staff because they believed he was ready to progress into the upper elementary classroom. The plan to transition Carlos was explained and I returned home to discuss it with Orlando. We had no reservations because this was exactly our expectation when we moved Carlos to the Montessori School. We wanted him to be helped if and when he fell behind, and at the same time we wanted it to be acted on when he was ready to move forward in anyway the staff saw fit. Montessori eliminates boundaries on learning. There are no limits in the curriculum. In Montessori a child is never finished learning.
Carlos made a very smooth transition to Upper Elementary after our trip to Mozambique. He has had a tremendous amount of support from his classmates, old and new, and his guides. Of course we couldn’t be more proud of Carlos, but we are also grateful to know that if he begins to struggle at any time it won’t go undetected and he will receive the support and guidance he needs both at school and at home.
If I could do my own education over again I would choose to attend a Montessori school. If I had another child knowing what I know now, I would absolutely start them in Montessori’s early childhood program. I will shorten these answers for the interview tomorrow, but it is clearly a topic I am very passionate about.