Karina Hepner

A Parent’s Musings on the Montessori Way

“But two and a half is still so – little,” I lamented to my husband while we deconstructed our open house evening at the nearby Montessori school. My husband smiled. He reminded me that the principal of the school not only had grown children of her own but also had many years of training and experience in the Montessori system. Despite my initial reservations a few months later my son and I exchanged a tearful good bye (my tears being somewhat suppressed until I ran to the privacy of my car and drove blindly away) as I left him at the door. However, we, as a family, were not prepared for the joy and wonderment at having a Montessori-educated child.

It is all somewhat of an enigma for a parent when he or she is introduced to this new system. As most of us have been educated in the more traditional education system we are familiar with the typical school jargon: desks, blackboards (now whiteboards!), grade levels, assemblies, crafts, homework (oh, horror!) and detention. Now all of a sudden we’re thrown into the mysterious world of new terminology: the pink tower, an ellipse, number rods, and so on. To cause us more trepidation we are not even allowed in the Montessori classroom! We are used to barreling on through the door of the daycare/kindergarten, carrying the child’s bag – possibly, the child too – taking off his shoes and departing with a dramatic good-bye. But not in the Montessori classroom: their way is all so new, so different, so NOT the way we did it!

However, nearly one year and a half into this new experience we find that two words aptly symbolize the Montessori way: independence and calmness. Each child is greeted at the door in the morning. We watched our two and a half year old slowly progress at this important start to the day. Very soon he was able to shake hands, look the teacher in the eyes and respond politely to the salutation. The next stage to the morning is to independently remove one’s jacket and shoes, place them neatly in the appropriately named cubbyhole and put on the required indoor shoes. Our son was often frustrated at the complexity of this task. As he keenly observed the older children and listened to the repeated gentle instructions from the teachers, he succeeded at this important first step towards independence.

Later in the year I observed the classroom at the first parent observation session. So that the presence of another and new adult does not disrupt the flow and ambiance of the classroom we view the children at work via a viewing room. To my absolute wonderment, the children were calmly involved in a variety of activities. Some worked alone. Some worked with others of various ages. Some worked with a teacher. The room appeared devoid of the frenetic, chaotic noise from little people. It wasn’t silent (as complete silence does not always indicate that learning is taking place) but the positive sounds came from happy, calm children.

Both my husband and I appreciate the input of the Montessori school. We love that our son loves school; we love that he learns to respect adults, his peers and his environment (whether that be others’ property or the natural environment). All these values taught first at home are then being nurtured and reinforced in a calm and peaceful atmosphere. For us the Montessori approach to education provides hope for our precious children who are participating in an often turbulent and unsettling world.