My husband and I went with friends to dinner the other night. The conversation rolled around to education and we were asked why we have our kids in a Montessori school. Thirty minutes later I came up for air and realized I might have stopped speaking right before they dozed off. I decided I needed to work on a succinct answer to that question because it will inevitably come up again. My new answer to the question, "Why Montessori?" simply paraphrases Montessori philosophy; "Our kids are in Montessori because we want them to learn to love to learn."
We purposely bought our house in a wonderful school district. We had our two oldest in a Montessori program for preschool and Kindergarten with every intention of switching them to public school when the time came. I'd filled out all the paperwork for the local elementary school for our oldest to start in the fall. We'd toured the building, attended an open house, and met teachers and administrators. It is an impressive school physically and the staff were all wonderful and seemed very capable and caring. Then my husband saw something that made us both rethink our decision about public school. Sir Ken Robinson, a leading expert on education, creativity, and innovation, was on Charlie Rose talking about why our education system is broken. The system came about during the Industrial Age when our country needed workers to put a widget in a hole the same way repeatedly without much trouble or thought. Our world has changed dramatically since then. Computers, a global economy, Internet commerce have changed our economic landscape and our daily lives. There are still widgets that need to go in holes, but in our world we need computer programmers to figure out how to get the machine todoit better and faster. Increasingly, we need problem solvers who aren't limited by common convention and the status quo. We need workers who are innovative and not afraid of making mistakes in the process of creating solutions.
Rose also had an expert on his program who tested creativity in children who had not yet attended any type of formal education. They all tested at the genius level, specifically in creativity. After one year of preschool, creativity scores had plummeted with no students repeating the genius score. We all know funds for education are limited. Teachers are underpaid, overworked, and held to ridiculous standards given their resources. An inquisitive child is often more of a nuisance or impediment than a joy. Teachers simply don't have time to let a child come to a lesson on his or her own terms with the current set up in most public schools. In many classes, children are taught the same way at the same time with little room for individual learning styles or abilities. "Everyone open your books to page 26..."
I've always been a believer in Montessori, even before I knew what Montessori was. When I was about eight, we went to visit my aunt and uncle in Ohio where my aunt owned a Montessori daycare. She gave us a tour and let us watch the children for a bit. The skills those children had were amazing. Little three year old children showed us all the curriculum they were working on. They knew so much! I was embarrassed that these little children knew more than I did, and I was so much older than they were. Punks.
My husband and I attended The Journey at the Montessori School of Huntsville several weekends ago to learn more about the methods used to educate our children and find out why Montessori is so incredible and effective. We were both amazed and so grateful our children go to this school. The respect shown to each individual child and their learning style is impressive. We love the fact that a Montessori education is all encompassing, forming the whole child and stresses the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have done to you. Maria Montessori believed world peace could be achieved through education. Respect and care for environment and society is a cornerstone of a Montessori education.
As we got into the curriculum of the primary and elementary students The Journey got really engaging. I should note I don't like math and I didn't really care that much for science. It never came easy to me and I don't enjoy it. Why does 2x2=4? Because it does. That's how I was taught math. There was nothing behind it besides rote memorization. Yuck. No wonder it was unappealing. An atom? The basic unit of matter? Why? Protons and neutrons? What? I can't even see them. When it came time to pick a major in college, a big part of my decision was based on which avenue had the least amount of math and science. Certainly, based on our personality traits, we are drawn to specific subject matter. Not everyone was born with the skills, intellect, and drive to become an astrophysicist. However, looking back I find it really sad that I missed out on some career paths that might have been very fulfilling to me because I was afraid of math. I feel very confident my children will not feel like that about any subject. The Montessori method for teaching math, science and English is visual, physical, logical, and both social at times and solitary when needed. Montessori speaks to all learning styles. There are physical pieces to move and see and change to visualize large numbers and sentence structure. There is a partnership with fellow classmates. It was amazing. The students help each other, learn from each other and respect the working space of their peers.
My husband and I are both products of public schools. We turned out okay, with both of us holding Bachelor's degrees and three advanced degrees between us (he has more...Punk). Jim is a Colonel in the United States Army. They don't just hand that rank out. But both of us were asking each other, "What could I have been if I had learned like this." Would I have loved math? Would it have made more sense to me? Would I have been able to find things in alphabetical order without having to mentally go through the whole alphabet? Could I have done simple addition without deferring to the digits on my hands? Could I have been strong enough in the sciences to want to do all the work to become a doctor or a biologist?
We went for a hike a couple of weekends ago with our kids. Everything was fair game for questions; acorns, squirrels, tree bark, sleeping bags, water tables, bacteria, jellyfish, shoe sizes, on and on. I had my phone with me so I could look up answers to the rapid fire questions as they arose. Everything was interesting and appealing, and they all wanted to learn more about everything we saw and heard. Children are naturally inquisitive, but their level of curiosity since starting a Montessori education has increased dramatically because our children know they can find the answer through investigation and creative problem solving (and a parent with Internet access in the woods).
Paying for a Montessori education is a sacrifice for most families. There are vacations that won't be taken, cars that won't be purchased, maybe some families will stay in a house they've outgrown for a longer period of time than they would have if they weren't paying for tuition. For our family, I can say it is a small price to pay knowing the solid foundation we are giving our children to set them up for a lifetime LOVE OF LEARNING.