I just learned that it is Montessori Education Week, which has the Montessori mama in me super giddy and reflective of our personal journey. My love for this method recently grew as we sent our first-born off to Casa Dei Bambini, or The Children’s House. These past four months have been a huge leap for our family as we get a front-row seat to the inner workings of this unique path – one that is continuing to expand its reach as it inspires more families, educators and professionals tasked with reforming today’s education.
Montessori’s approach was – and still is – revolutionary by advocating that children hold the power to their own education. Why is this so revolutionary? For one, it challenges us to stop pre-judging children’s capabilities. Under-estimating their capabilities often leads to assertive roles in which knowledge is treated as our secret that we must bestow upon them. When we stop treating knowledge as an adult’s secret, we begin to see the incredible and unique drive that already exists within children. In this path, knowledge is not treated as something one simply transfers to another. It is earned through self-discovery. This is just one reason why a Montessori classroom looks and feels so different, and why we were so particularly drawn to it for our son.
We actually enrolled him a little early, just past age 2.5, for several reasons, but the biggest one was for support with social skills – an area he was struggling in. Yet, when friends and family heard news of his first day, there was an assumption that it was for “academic advantage.” “Oh, already!?” “Wow, he’s going to be a genius!”
With a rigorous focus on academics today at large, it’s not surprising that this was the reaction. It is becoming the norm to start preschool early, where the concept of developing the whole child – specifically emotionally and socially – is sometimes overlooked in favor of this perceived “academic head start.” Neither starting early nor choosing Montessori was for academics. It’s about meeting him where he is and supporting him in his journey of self-discovery. It’s about building confidence, empathy and respect. It’s about realizing potential, not perfection. It’s about nurturing a love for learning, not a race to learning.
Yet when people see how “advanced” children in a Montessori classroom can interact, they assume it must be the result of formal academics; when really, it is just the child’s innate capabilities shining as a result of that transfer of power given back to them.
The Children’s House is a magical place. Here are some of our most-loved aspects about this unique preschool-kindergarten environment:
Mentorship: Montessori students work in mixed-age spaces, which provides an amazing opportunity for peer mentorship, leadership and a deeper connection to the journey that is learning. My son gets to observe work of older kids that he will one day take great pride in finally achieving, and the older kids get to help guide him, taking great pride in reflection of how far they have come. The depth of community that is nurtured in this mixed-age setting is invaluable.
Independence: Materials and activities are accessible and developmentally-appropriate. He can choose his own activities as well as how long to work on them, and whether or not he wants to work with peers or work alone. Each child is given the space and trust to do more for themselves, with help and formal instruction as something reserved for supporting his journey rather than directing it.
Structure for the Unstructured: The Children’s House operates on a three-hour uninterrupted “work cycle.” My son might spend his day doing puzzles and reading, painting and polishing, feeding the guinea pigs and riding bikes, or just observing and helping others. Whatever it is, this unstructured time promotes the lifelong skill of concentration by allowing him to fully focus on his interests rather than moving him quickly from one thing to the next. What keeps this child-led freedom calm and orderly is the immense focus on structure of setting up and maintaining the classroom, which is why the “prepared environment” is so important.
Nature-based: In a screen-addicted society where getting outside is often feared or dreaded, Montessori’s focus on nature – both getting outside when possible and bringing the outside in when possible – gives my son a crucial connection to his surroundings.
Real & Hands On: Montessori curriculum does have an academic component, but it encompasses a well-rounded foundation. This is most notably nurtured with “practical life,” where my son starts with the basics. He is encouraged rather than restricted to do practical things like cleaning his dish, setting a table, sewing, gardening. This “work,” which has become a dirty word for us as adults, is not seen as work in the dreaded sense to him. Participation in the every day is a meaningful aspect of play.
Respect: There is a whole focus dedicated to “grace and courtesy,” which emphasizes those important social and emotional skills. This instills an overall tone of respect in the classroom, both with each other and for the environment. Furthermore, there is immense respect exchanged between the children and the adults. Being so individualized means the staff have the time and resources to truly honor my son’s own personality, needs and interests.
Intrinsic Motivation: Lesser discussed but my new favorite, Montessori schools believe children are best motivated from within. There are no external reward charts or systems because the child’s own sense of pride is the reward for making a good choice or contribution. Encouragement for the child to evaluate their own work (internal) is emphasized over praise that takes the form of an adult judging their work (external). Discipline is also seen as something that comes from within the child, not something that needs to be taught from an authority. So where one might jump to creating punishments for bad behavior, discipline in Montessori is enforced with natural consequences instead. This is what we try to do at home, so having that consistent at school is a huge boost.
Is your child in The Children’s House? What do you love about it?
*Note, Montessori is not trademarked, which means many schools can claim to be Montessori without adhering to the method. AMS and AMI are two accrediting organizations to consider when beginning your search, if applicable: How to Choose A Montessori Program