10 Reasons Montessori is For Us
When we moved to the U.S. from Rome, there were two things I couldn’t wait to do: 1. Sign up for a Montessori preschool where everyone spoke English and 2. Live on a little farm. So you can imagine how my bleary eyes perked up when I saw the Montessori Farm School during yet another an online search (Dear Google, I’m new to this area and need a house, and a car, and a grocery store…).
It’s a Montessori preschool and it’s also a farm, and yes, it’s about the cutest thing ever. But beyond the chickens in the garden, there are a few elements of Montessori that I have come to appreciate deeply.
The first time we met the teacher, way back in the spring when we were thinking of applying, she immediately had my two young daughters sitting at a miniature wooden table drawing while she explained the program. There was a scuffle when our two-year-old pulled the pencil cup toward her instead of leaving it squarely in the middle of the table. That’s when Virginia asked our four-year-old to understand why Estelle may have moved it. “She can’t see into the pencil cup unless it’s closer to her, so let’s give her a minute to look and I’ll bet she’ll move it back.” And she did. And it was amazing. No one got hit. Or shoved. No one cried. As if that wasn’t a lovely enough moment, Virginia followed up with this, “Thank you for understanding, Phoebe.”
We signed up on the spot.
And as I drove away, I kept thinking to myself, I want to hang out with that Montessori lady all day and have her say reassuring things to me.
This is our second time at Montessori, which is coincidentally an Italian concept. In Rome, kids start preschool at age two so Phoebe had a preview there. (We loved it but had to transfer to a school closer to home once Baby #3 was on the way.) Now that we’re in the States, I had my choice of schools but I’m hooked on Montessori and here’s why:
- The mixed ages. Kids from the ages of 3 to 6 are all in the room together. Younger kids learn from older kids, who use this coaching opportunity to master their own skills.
- It’s a calm, beautifully organized room. Pottery Barn Kids has nothing on this place. Everything is made out of wood, nothing beeps. Little baskets filled with sensory activities fill bookshelves around the room.
- Play is called “work”. Everything they do is called “work” and guess how it makes the kids feel? Important. And guess what? This stuff IS important. Learning how to read, write, count and most of all, how to figure out how the world works.
- It’s a cartoon- and character-free zone. There aren’t any licensed characters on anything. In fact, pictures on puzzles or any other activity are realistic depictions (usually photos).
- Kids choose their own activities. During the designated “work” period, your four-year-old can reach into a big basket, pull out a rolled-up mat, find a spot on the floor and go to town on the activity of his choice.
- The glasses are real. The napkins are cloth. I’m a sucker for anything civilized and I love this. It’s so charming, and arguably more eco-friendly than tossing glasses and paper towels into the trash every day.
- Kids are encouraged to be independent. Student-teacher ratios are actually the opposite of what you’d expect elsewhere. Twenty kids and two teachers means kids have more chances to figure things out on their own OR get help from each other.
- Emphasis on learning through all the senses. Here’s an example I saw on our first day: One bookshelf is filled with what looks like little tackle boxes. There’s a tactile letter on the front, say a “G”, made out of sandpaper and the box is filled with things that start with “G”. A miniature gorilla, a little toy goose, and half a dozen other things they can hold in their doughy little hands.
- Freedom means learning self-management. Kids are allowed to choose when they’ll have a snack, and get it themselves. Glasses and a little water pitcher are available for the pouring. Throughout the day, they can choose what to “work on” but they also have to put everything away.
- On birthdays, there aren’t cupcakes. There might be low-sugar muffins but treats of any kind take a backseat to this special thing: The birthday child holds a globe (the whole world) in her hands while the other kids circle around (like the sun). When the teacher explained this tradition during parents’ orientation night, that’s when I started to cry. It’s such a beautiful idea. I think I’ll do that for my birthday this year, too.
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