Metamorphosis Elementary School Of Monticello Inc

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

We Win Some, We Lose Some, But, Oh, The Ones We Win

We're losing one. Oh it's happened before, and undoubtedly, will happen again. I should be used to it-- not dwell so much on how much the child will miss. And how much I'll miss the child. I'm as frank as I can possibly be when I give the initial parent tour of our school. After I've shown all of the beautiful materials that Dr. Montessori designed to serve every single child, at every conceivable stage of their development, after I've explained our beautiful natural history shelf that spans half the length of the room, upon which there is a living plant or creature which represents each kingdom, after I give a demonstration with the magnificent bell cabinet, and show my timeline of musical composers with CD's from which the children can choose to hear, representing primitive drums, medieval chants, classical to contemporary, after I've shown the amazing cooking and art experiences offered to the child, after I've shown and explained all of this, and so much more...the richest, warmest of environments designed to nurture intellect, body and spirit, I tell them this: Montessori is not preparation for traditional kindergarten. It is preparation for life. I even go so far as to say, "If you are thinking of enrolling your child for a year or two, and transferring to traditional kindergarten, you are doing your child a disservice. I would rather the child attend a traditional preschool, than come here, flourish in preparation for our kindergarten, and then be plunked into a seat at a desk to learn ABC and 1, 2, 3." This, I feel, is as honest and sincere as I can be. I am serious about Montessori education, and I want our parents to take it seriously as well. I want them to understand why they are choosing Montessori, so I go out of my way to explain this.

For a time, we had parents sign a contract that stated they understood this, and they paid a two hundred dollar deposit to be held in escrow until the first month of their child's kindergarten year at our school. This did appear to make an impression, but in the last few years, I've seen a generation of young parents who don't mind fudging the paperwork, or losing their two hundred dollar deposit. They don't get it, and I used to take it all upon myself, lie awake at night trying to figure out how I could have educated them to grasp the fact that this environment means the world to their child. How could I have made them see?

Some years ago, I purchased Tim Seldin's Finding A Perfect Match. Our enrollment was good at the time, and I found the information to be helpful. I think the concept of seeking compatible families is a sound idea. I felt encouraged that we would keep all of our families through kindergarten, as I selected parents who I assumed got it. Unfortunately the results have been about the same. At each year's end, our staff agonizes over whether or not particular children will get the opportunity to complete their Montessori early childhood education.

A puzzler is that sometimes the families who leave are parents who want the best "pre-school" in town, but feel compelled to place their child into real school kindergarten! From feast to famine...

Dr. David Elkind once stated that it is the kindergarten year in which a child develops either a "sense of industry," or a "sense of inferiority." I know this is true. I've seen children in public kindergarten be crushed by not making it to the bathroom, because they had to raise their hand, or because their handwriting was not strong, or because they were afraid to break a rule. I've seen them do worksheet after worksheet when they have not been prepared to hold a pencil. (And yes, perhaps by the end of the year they learn to write to 20 or 50 or to 100, but can they actually count those numbers?) They immediately begin to compare themselves to others, compete against instead of strive with--rather than have the opportunity to build themselves, with the help of their friends as they do in Montessori. I remember this happening to me as a child, I've seen it in my own children, my grandchildren, and in children of friends. It is precisely what Trevor Eissler describes in his video. That spark, that eagerness to learn simply begins to diminish.

My only solution to this is consistent, perhaps constant parent education. I go into family homes, help them to set up spaces that encourage and allow the child to develop her independence. I talk about the fact that the most successful individuals are those who had consistent daily, weekly and monthly chores. I show films and we hold workshops. We ask parents to observe often, and most are greatly impressed. They are not, however, trained in child development for the most part, so they do not fully understand the sheer magic they are seeing. So I realize that all of these measures may not be enough to convince the parents that their child needs to finish the crucial year for which we have so carefully prepared him. Some might say that money is the biggest factor, but I have proven that it is not. A few times I have offered particular families a scholarship for kindergarten. A free ride for the most important journey the child takes in early childhood. For I truly believe, as Elkind does, that character, self-worth, leadership, and an unshakable can-do spirit is formed during this kindergarten year. Academic skills that have been building are solidified at this time as well, and that is wonderful. But I'm most concerned with the spirit of the child. And you know what? These families have passed anyway. So what can one who loves Montessori education and reveres the child do? Keep trying. The factory model of education is crumbling. We have a scientific method of education. Proven. Evidence-based. But until people are better informed about the developmental needs of children everywhere, we shall have to wait, and, yes, worry as I do. And keep trying.

The child who will leave us at the end of term has flourished in our environment. Her parents realize this, but also disagree with some of our ideas, like the ill effects that media has upon young children. So, perhaps it is for the best. (But if I could just find a way to make them see!)

Last week I was working with their child with matching the pink tower to the brown stair. This was surprisingly very difficult for her. She didn't seem to understand bigger, or smaller, or grasp the relationship between the objects at all. Then suddenly she began to click, and fell in love with the game of carrying the pink cube a few feet to the brown stair prism that was exactly the same. After she got a few of them right, she bounced up, and announced to everyone in the room: "This is a beautiful place!" Yes it is, honey.

P.S. ACTUALLY, truth be told, most of our students do end up staying for kindergarten. And each year  a couple of students stay for first grade, which is as high as we go. So why do I dwell on the families that leave? Because I am obsessive about Montessori, and want it for every single child in the world...

For fun, let's look at one who has been with us since she was two, and is finishing first grade this term. Her two sisters before her stayed as well. All I can say is, "Look out world. These girls are coming, and they know who they are!" They are Montessori!






  1. This makes me glad all over again that my children and grandchildren have all been Montessori students!

    1. Yay! I commend you all! Thanks for posting!

  2. I relate very deeply with this post. I have harboured the same sentiments, many times. Feels good to see them written from someone else's view. Thank-you, for putting it out there.

  3. Thank you, Andy. Well it just hurts, doesn't it? We want so much for each of these children. And we have this key...

  4. Written exactly in the way I feel and think about it. And sometimes it makes me sad, that some parents just do not get it! Good work and all best!

    PS My child is in a Montessori kindergarten and he is staying there until he goes to Montessori school!

  5. I love Montesorri. We have been at a montessori school starting at age 2 all the way through third grade and couldn't be happier. It is frustrating that our extended family and friends don't see the value of Montesorri.
    However, I do think for some families money does become an issue. With three children attending Montessori, our cost will be over 36 thousand. Every year the cost of tuition continues to rise. At some point it will not be possible for us. Unfortunately, our wonderful Montessori school is becoming more and
    more elitist.

  6. As a parent who has been offered, and gratefully accepted, a scholarship for the second year of the primary classroom, one who has been paying for Montessori despite having an income that qualifies us to receive medicaid, I can say that money is definitely a big factor. However, we are dedicated to giving this to our children and looking for ways that it can work out. Somehow it has so far.

  7. Oh, this post made me cry for those whose parents make them go, and then cry some more for the little girl who made it all the way. What a beautiful timeline of pictures!

    And let me say something about money: I have worked with many parents who live in 4-bedroom houses, drive expensive cars, take luxurious vacations, and tell me they can't afford a third year of Montessori. We live in a tiny condo, have one six-year old car, vacation at our relatives' homes, and rarely go out to dine. Why? Because we want our child to attend Montessori for as long as possible. It's all about priorities!

    I am in love with your blog, your dedication, and your desire to get every parent to understand that their child's development should be their #1 priority!