Mommy Minute
A+ For Montessori Schools
By Rachel Greene
Dec 1, 2002 - 5:07:00 PM

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A Montessori preschool in the Los Angeles Area. Jenna Skarzenski / Canyon News
LOS ANGELES — One of the biggest decisions parents have to make is where to send their children to school. Many parents just "accept" public schools as the logical choice and look no further. Other parents look into private schools, perhaps even religious schools.

When it came time for my husband and me to make this momentous decision for our oldest son, Ryan, I wasn't going to leave any option unexamined. Part of my mania over the matter was that I used to teach in a public school. I had an "insider's" view of all the positives and negatives, and unfortunately, from what I experienced, there are more negatives. So, we looked into private schools as well.

As I went through this process, I started realizing that it's not just public schools that fall short but "traditional" education that does as well. I can't recall exactly how I stumbled across Montessori schools, but thankfully I did. Ryan, at age 4, started in a Montessori school this fall and my mania has turned into an inner peace, which I never thought possible to find with making this decision.

What is Montessori?

Montessori is a method of education based on the discoveries made by an Italian physician, Maria Montessori, in the early 1900's. When working with young children, she noted their individuality and how, in a prepared environment, they could ultimately guide their own learning at their own pace. "Follow the child" is the philosophy. Nothing is forced on a child until he is ready and nothing is held back from the child just because of his age. By offering a wide array of activities, children can use all five senses or multiple intelligences (the buzzword of today) to enhance learning and become self-motivated and self-disciplined while doing so.

The classroom is divided into different sections (i.e. math, sensorial, language) with different activities in each section. The teacher's job is to keep the classroom "prepared" and to give lessons to small groups of students as she observes their readiness for the concepts. Although class size is often large and students are of different ages (for instance, 3, 4, and 5-year-olds are grouped together), there is a minimal need for discipline and re-direction from the teacher. Because the students learn to respect themselves, others and their environment, and because they "own" their learning, they stay on task quite well. It's a wonder to behold.

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What makes it better than "traditional" education (in my humble opinion, that is)?

When you think of a typical, "traditional" classroom, you have 20-30 desks in which students sit and "listen" to the teacher's lessons and then do some assigned "busy work" related to those lessons. It's a very passive, inert, unmotivated way to learn. There are plenty of students who can succeed in such an environment, but there are plenty of others who become bored, frustrated, etc. Much of this frustration stems from the fact that traditional education teaches to the "middle," to the "average" child. What about the highly intelligent or gifted child? What about the "below average" child? They often struggle to find their niche and either accept the mediocrity or completely give up. I witnessed it many times when I taught. Although I actually made an effort to make my class interesting and offered options to students (unlike MANY teachers who just photocopy worksheets and wait for their summers off), by the time I got some of these "lost" students in 7th grade, it was nearly hopeless. So much potential, down the drain.

In traditional schools, the day is almost entirely dictated by the teacher. A student might be engrossed in a math lesson, but, oh, sorry, we have to start reading class now. A student might not be ready to learn how to read, but, oh, sorry, all of the students are doing that lesson right now, better keep up! Not all kids learn in exactly the same way or at the same pace and if they can't adapt to the cookie-cutter world of traditional education, they miss out on the wonders of learning.

My personal observations:

Ryan has been in the Montessori environment since September. It is amazing how much he has accomplished in that time.  He has always been a bright kid and he absolutely thrives with Montessori. At age 4 1/2, he is now working on multiplication. If he was in a traditional school, we would not even know that he is ready for that because it is not even offered to kindergartners. And if we did know, he'd have to wait until 3rd grade to learn it. 

Sure, schools have gifted and talented programs, but my experience has been that they meet with the kids maybe once a week and do some "harder" work...maybe a more advanced book, etc. That is not sufficient as far as I'm concerned. Now, do all the 4-year-olds in Ryan's class know multiplication?  No and that's precisely the point. There are some who are still learning their numbers and others who are doing addition, etc.. It's all individual. Does this mean that all the kids are off on their own doing their own thing all day? Absolutely not. There is such a strong sense of community in a Montessori classroom that it is like a big family. Due to the multi-aged grouping, you have all kinds of social and learning opportunities. The older kids mentor the younger ones and the younger ones look up to the older ones.    

In conclusion...

Montessori is what I've chosen for my children. I do not fault other parents if they choose a more "traditional" education. However, I just ask that parents give some thought to the educational choices they make for their children, and that they at least consider Montessori. If it were up to me, ALL schools would use the Montessori method, but that would be such a HUGE overhaul of the current system that it'll never happen.

Unfortunately, most Montessori schools are private and thus tuition costs can be the deciding factor for many families. We have decided to make sacrifices just as we did to ensure that I could stay home with my children rather than send them to day care. I just think that it's all worth it. The foundation children acquire from experiencing Montessori will help them succeed anywhere and teach them to love learning for life.I give it an A+.

For more information on the Montessori method and how to look for a legitimate Montessori school, go to montessoriconnections.com or montessori.edu.

Note: I am taking a hiatus from my "Mommy Minute" column. For those of you who don't know, I am the editor for Canyon News. Since becoming a print newspaper in addition to the Web site, we are getting bigger and better and BUSIER. So, I'm going to focus on that part of my involvement with Canyon News and hope to perhaps return to my column at a later date. You can read all of my past articles by clicking on "Mommy Minute" in the left column. Thanks for reading!



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