To Montessori, Or Not To Montessori

March 25, 2008

That is the question. Among others.

Wonderbaby – who is now, admittedly, more of a Wondergirl, even if I can’t bring myself to call her that – is 28 months old. Soon, she’ll be old enough to attend the well-regarded Montessori preschool that is just around the corner from our home. Which means that she would leave the lovely daycare to which we have all become well-attached in the three months that we have lived here, and move on to a more regimented, learning-focussed environment, when she is just shy of three years old.

She’s been pretty happy in her daycare, which she attends three days a week. But she’s a little ways beyond the other children her own age in speech and movement and general activity, and so – with our permission – she was moved into a higher age group where she could move beyond the things that she’d already mastered and not run circles around the other children in the room. And so far, it’s been fine, but my heart does ache, just a little bit, when I see her in there with all the bigger children, her tiny self asserting her dominion in whatever corner she has staked out, defying anyone bigger to treat her as smaller, and I wonder, could we – should we – do better with this? Place her in an environment where she’s not necessarily the smallest or the youngest (or, conversely, where she is not, by whomever’s standards, the smartest or the fastest), but where activities are tailored more to her specific needs?

(There’s a whole other post here, waiting to be written and filled with heartache and confusion, about how to do what is best by my spirited little dictator – how to adequately provide the stimulation and learning that she thrives upon while still allowing her to be the wee child that she is. I never, ever want to smother her with concerns about maximizing her potential or aspiring to whatever excellence I think she might attain or like nonsense – and I do think that it’s nonsense for parents to pressure their children, especially their small children, toward such things – but neither do I want to close off opportunities for her, nor do I want her to become bored or enervated. All of which is to say – my questions here have far less to with ‘what is best for her development’ and everything to do with ‘what is best for her soul?’)

Her daycare is very good about early learning and engages children, within their respective age groups, in activities that are designed to stimulate their curiosity and facilitate interest in words and numbers and science and craft and whatnot. I think that it’s more than adequate as a preparation for ‘real’ school later on. But then again, Wonderbaby’s ‘skipping a grade’ – in freaking nursery school – concerns me. Is keeping her with older children the answer? Or do I need to be seeking out a program that is more suited to her, as she is, at her age? And might that program be Montessori?

We’ve visited the Montessori school around the corner. It was very impressive. But it was so markedly unlike her – noisy, chaotic, bright, messy, playful – daycare that it was almost disconcerting: quiet (although clearly happy and engaged) children busy with quiet activity, all in coded dress (nothing extreme, just variations on navy blue and white kiddy ensembles) and all seeming more mature than their three-plus years. More mature in many of the ways that Wonderbaby is herself already ‘more mature’ – studiedly reflective and tending toward extremely close engagement with tasks at hand – but also more, I don’t know, mature in that mini-adult kind of way that spooks me when I see it in her, and makes me worry about the possibility of squashing, even just a little, the silly, free-spirited child that she is at her core.

And I just don’t know enough about these things, and it’s a lack of knowledge that weighs upon me as a lack that I cannot afford. Might Montessori be the right choice for her? Will her daycare suffice? Is ‘sufficing’ sufficient? How am I to know what’s best for her, what’s truly best for her, both the child that she is and the full person that she’s in the process of becoming?

Anyone out there have some advice, personal perspective, personal experience with Montessori, personal experience with other early-education systems, general sympathies and/or – most importantly – reassurances that I am not the only mother out there who worries about not always knowing what is best for her child?

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    tallulah March 26, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Although I think that a Montessori has the best children’s interest at heart and would choose it over a daycare any day, with another baby on the way, I might consider waiting on the Montessori thing. Children often revert back to more infantile behaviors after a sibling is born. They long for the attention that the baby gets which is normal and natural. Putting Wonderbaby in to a more structured environment at the wee age of 3 may be a little too much to handle with the changes that are taking place at home. (Mom of 5)

    Anonymous March 26, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    Please read this blog entry that I came across on the same subject from Mandajuice- someone who choose to pull her son out of Montessori. I found it interesting.

    Lisa b March 26, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    I looked at the montessori where Sandra’s son goes as my colleague sent his son (who is brilliant like her’s). I decided against but now I have to call them tomorrow just to see if there are any spots for sept.
    damn you all! I am so indecisive about school. It is so hard to know if a school will be a good fit for your child.
    The best thing about Katie’s nursery school is the mix of kids this year. That just cannot be planned.

    Meg March 26, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    Okay, so I’ve heard so many people singing the praises of your blog, yet I’m somehow just coming around to finding it and reading it. So I just had to get that out of the way first.

    Secondly, I find it refreshing that I’m not the only mother of a toddler-soon-to-be-preschooler that is worried about not enough stimulation versus too much stimulation. I find myself in a very similar situation as you, with my 28 month old daughter. I wish I could say I have it figured out, but I don’t. We’ve decided to let her be a toddler another year. No preschool. If she seems like she needs more of a push, then we’ll find ways to challenge her little brain, but I don’t want to rush her into school.

    Wow. A novel on my first comment. Sorry. I’ll try to be shorter next time!

    the new girl March 27, 2008 at 8:08 am

    I haven’t read the comments, so I apologize if I’m repeating.

    I say get quiet for a moment, get out of your head (not that you’re super in your head but for a *decision* like this, I often don’t listen to my *head*) and listen to what your gut says about what kind of environment would be the best for Wonderbaby.

    I believe that you know her better, care more about her individual spirit and her overall growth more than anyone else and I also believe you can trust your deepest instincts about what will be right for her. It’s hard to think of that, though, when the situation is confusing and conflicted and brand new (like schooling.)

    I hope that doesn’t sound too simplistic. Or crazy.

    Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 9:45 am

    I moved to Canada from England when I was 6. I was put into grade 1 but they realized that I already knew how to read, write, etc. so I was put half a day in grade one and half in grade 2 for a few months and then moved in grade 2 permanently. Socially, it has left its mark I think. I hate feeling ‘different’ and always felt a little alone. I loved to read, rocked math. I’ll say it – I was very smart. Trouble was, I had terrible work ethic and that carried over into university where I floundered and got the easiest degree I could and left. If there is one thing I tell myself about my kids is that peaking and being the smartest in grade one or grade two means nothing if you don’t have the work ethic.
    Everything I’ve read on this blog leads me to believe that you are pretty smart! Look back to when you were a kid and where you are now. WB will succeed because of you and your husband and the work ethic you teach her and the confidence you give her.
    I peaked way too young – it was all downhill after 6!

    Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 11:46 am

    catherine we all fret and worry about what is best for our children and whether we have made the right have great instincts as a mom so just listen to yourself and you will always make the right choice for wonderbaby and for sprout.i am debating whether to put my 3 year old in playschool/preschool but she is so attatched to me can we say double sided velcro.and this is for next september i am thinking of doing this…LAVANDULA

    Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    I also have a strong willed child who is creative. Everyday he dresses in a costume of some sort. I was worried the nonfiction montessori environment would squish that creativity and imaginative play. It hasn’t. Instead, it has helped him develop in other areas like self disipline, organization and manners – all of which were not being taught much in our frenetic, chaotic, noisy household. He still dresses in elaborately detailed costumes when he gets home from preschool now but at the end of the day he actually folds them and puts them in the tickle trunk.

    His spirit has not been quashed and his self disipline has helped maintain my sanity.

    MommyTime March 27, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    I know I’m coming very late to this discussion, and you may be uninterested in more opinions by now, but I have struggled mightily with this myself, as my son just turned four and misses the birthday cutoff date to attend Kindergarten next year by six weeks. Yet he is already taller than anyone else in his current class, extremely verbal, writing reasonably well… academically, he could certainly be ready for K in the fall, but socially, I worry about the shyness factor and other elements of his personality. On the other hand, the notion that he will be in pre-K for ANOTHER year next year seems heartbreakingly dull for him. I really struggle with this balancing act of “academic” versus social. This is a particularly hard thing to figure out when there are all those stats out there about kids who are “too smart” for their classes being so bored that they fail.

    It’s also hard for me personally because I was one of those who was skipped ahead (started first grade a whole year early at urging of the preschool), and I did very well that way. I would have been bored to tears another year back, I think, and was in the AP classes all the way through school. Socially, I was not ever part of the “popular” crowd but always had a few close (geeky) friends like me. I suspect that had I been in the grade below, that situation would have been exactly the same, as I have always been inclined to be social in more one-on-one ways than as part of a large group. Which is to say: you might want to think about how WB interacts with others and what her m.o. seems to be in order to help you decide what environment will be best. Also, I think you might want to wait another year before putting her into a more structured school if she is just three, since there is still plenty of time for that yet.

    I have a colleague whose kids went through Montessori, all of them for preschool, and one of them till high school — it worked much better for some of them than others. That being said, one of the hallmarks of a true Montessori school is an adaptability to children’s individual needs that is heartening. BUT, schools can call themselves Montessori without a lot of accountability to the true Montessori methods, so it’s worth spending some time exploring the various schools and reading about Montessori options. And, for sure, don’t assume all Montessori schools are the same.

    Good luck with what I know is a difficult, agonizing decision. If it helps at all: we all go through these moments with our children. And after all the research, reading, talking, weighing, and calculating we do, we ultimately have to take the plunge, do what we hope is best, and see what happens. Keep in mind, though, that if you don’t like how things are going, you can always switch schools the next year. Best of luck.

    Loaf March 28, 2008 at 4:05 am

    In my opinion, and from experience with ‘The Beast’ let her choose.

    The Beast currently attends two differnt pre-schools, and her does prefer one over the other (he gets teary when you leave him at one and asks to go to the other one) He is a bit older than WB but still kids know what they like.
    I think you should possibly-perhaps send her to both? And see what one is best for her/what environment she prefers?
    As for the Beast he likes the ‘fishy school’(it has an aquarium…)
    Best of Luck..

    mamatulip March 28, 2008 at 10:28 am

    I wish my mother were still alive – she was a Montessori teacher for years.

    Of all the comments you’ve gotten on this post, I like your dad’s the best.


    Naomi (Urban Mummy) March 28, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    Haven’t read the comments, but it seems to me, in your post, you are trying to convince yourself that this would be a good place for Wonderbaby.

    If she’s happy where she is, and it works for her, then there is no reason to change it.

    I am a fan of Montessori, myself, in theory. A huge fan. But when push came to shove, I didn’t send Linus to the Monessori school.

    Lisa March 28, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    I am dealing with the same issue, for my not quite 30 month old. She is already up a group for her age at her daycare and today her new teacher told me that she is “difficult” because she is “very smart”.

    The being ahead doesn’t worry me to much; I started Kindergarten one year early and never looked back. Even then, most of my friends were older and I took “advanced” coursework. Had I been skipped up, things might have been different.

    Right now, we’re making do with the daycare we’ve been at and whatever her dad and I teach her at home.

    So, no real advice, but I’m constantly trying to figure out the balance.

    gabes_mom March 28, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    Wow! This is so crazy, so many people worrying about all the same thing… and me too!!! We are trying to get our son into a montessori pre-k. We find out if he was chosen to attend in 2 weeks.

    When we toured the school it was completely like what you’ve described, way more structured and stuffy than what we experienced.

    I hope that you find a good solution for you, and thank you for your post here. All the comments have really made me happy that we’ve chosen Montessori for our son. Thanks!!

    Minnesota Matron March 29, 2008 at 11:22 am

    Montessori. Yes, the room is quiet. Seems sort of mechanized, right? Worrisome that way, that the creative happy dictator would feel unhappy, silenced?

    First, Montessori trained teachers LOVE children and are professionals in a way that most daycare personnel are not.

    Second, underneath that quiet is an intense focus, intelligence and tremendous creative energy.

    Montessori all the way for these young ones – our third child has joined the older two at our fabulous (and free) Montessori public school here in St. Paul.

    Wonderbaby almost girl will love it.

    Sam March 29, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    I think my mother was very brilliant. And she did not believe in schools that have uniforms. She did not believe in conforming for the sake of conforming. Neither do I. So I vote no to that school. Oh and hi.

    Another Chance to Get It Right March 29, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    My mother teaches in a Montessori classroom in a public school–in our school district, every parent can chose for their child to enter either Montessori or “traditional” pre-K. Our Montessori program runs from 3 years to 8th grade, and then the kids transition into the public highschool. My youngest two siblings have Montessori experience. My brother was in the pilot group, and was in a Montessori classroom from age 5 to 13. My sister started at age 3, and at age 9, this is her sixth year in Montessori school.

    I would agree, however, that your description does not sound much like my mother’s classroom, which is not always the quietest place [they also don't wear uniforms]. But my siblings–both very different people–prospered in Montessori. Although my brother is not the most “academic” of people, he is a self-taught [beautiful] guitarist [at age 17], and I do believe that his Montessori education gave him the self-sufficiency and drive to learn something as complicated as the guitar without a formal music education. My sister continues to learn way more than I did at her age, and I am always astounded by her knowledge when I go home.

    Although I agree that Montessori is not for every child [my mom has had some children transition out of her room and into traditional classrooms], it does work for a wide range of personalities and educational interests. And, if what I see in my sibs and my mom’s students holds true, their creativity is blooming in beautiful and noticeable ways every day.

    tracey March 31, 2008 at 12:53 am

    I asked myself the same questions with my tiny rebel child before she began at a Montessori. I looked at 3 different Montessori’s and only 1 of the 3 felt right.

    She has THRIVED there in the last few years and it has in no way squelched her wild streak. : ) She is enjoying learning so much (at her own pace and with kids that have seemed far older and now seem far younger than her) and yet she is still as rambunctious, clever, creative and playful as ever.

    Wonderbaby will do well wherever she goes to school because she is your child. How could she not with a bad-mother like you?


    the mad momma March 31, 2008 at 11:51 am

    been there. ranted about that. and finally sent to the damn school. all the best with whatever you decide.

    mo-wo April 1, 2008 at 1:12 am

    I was grateful to have the option of ‘summer school’ as an entre to preschool. We tried out Montessori preschool for four weeks and I was convinced I would hate it. Sure it was not a fit.

    I was wrong.

    My girl and teacher really hit it off. I have no explanation for their good relationship. But she gets what she likes; that suits me.

    If there are any options to more fully case the joint, do it.

    ps. Our Montessori is kind of a Montessori Lite, I think. I actually try not to think about that stuff.

    AdventureDad April 2, 2008 at 10:52 am

    Our son goes to Montessori inspired day care. He’s now 4 and has been in a bi-lingual class for the past 15 months. We love it. SOmeone mentioned above that theri school was Montessori Light which I think was a good explanation.

    Our school uses many “Montessori approaches” which to me is exactly the same as common sense. THey try to let the kids develop by themselves, with a little guidance, and help the kids to become independent early on. If I was running a day care myself I would do exactly teh same thing myself.

    Kids start eating by themselves at 12 months (minimum age for day care in Sweden), they have to clean away their toys, no running or screaming in school, they serve themselves lunch and snacks, etc. You can call it Montessori but I call it common sense with involved parents who look at day care at something else than simply a storage solution.

    Sounds like Wondergirl is doing just fine. A day care can be great and be Montessori like even it’s not official. It depends a lot on the teachers….

    karen July 9, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    I am thinking about sending my 2 year old son to both montessori and tutor time. I think the mix would be good. I like the two setting for different reasons and I think it would be good for him to be able to distinguish what behaviors are appropriate at certain places or situations as in real life. In addtion to these programs, he is going to phyical classes like gymboree and swimming. It is a good idea to socialize children in different settings and expose them different things to see what works best.

    sueinithaca May 16, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    We considered the local Montessori programs for our daughter, who is currently 4 and will enter K in the fall. Considered both for pre-K and K/elementary.

    My primary criticism (and it’s a big one) is thatr, while there is the APPEARANCE of highly individual, child-directed “work,” the childrens output is nearly identical. Just like in the public pre-K program, where all the art projects had a specific look to them (I was terribly creeped out when the art teacher bragged that all the styrofoam penguins actually looked like penguins) and the Waldorf schools where all those projects had a specific look to them, there was a definite style to the Montessori projects. Minor variations on a theme, if you will. Plus, the kids are all freakishly calm and quiet.

    Now, my daughter is more spirited than most, and thinks WAY outside the box, so she’s definitely not your typical kid, even your typical “brighter-than-peers” kid. In fact, she may be an evil genius. She can’t read (which we’re not concerned about. she’s 4) or perform many of the standard gifted-preschooler tricks, but she can problem-solve like a pro, and has the vocabulary of a college student (and can tell you the etymology of many of the words as well). She goes to ballet wearing a hot-pink leotard (with rhinestones) and hot pink and purple argyle tight, with unbrushed hair (sensory integration issues) – while the other girls are in black leotards, pink tights, and tight buns.

    Any school which focuses on conformity on any level is not the one for us.

    A friend has her daughter in Montessori. She’s doing vcery well there, but her parents were concerned the day she came home and told them she had been doing “hitting work” at school that day. (she’s two, and had whacked all her friends with a plastic hammer)

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