As the leader of a Montessori school, I feel that Montessori is the best form of education we can offer a child. Now this may seem biased, but hear me out. I wasn’t always a Montessorian. In fact, my career in education began as a teacher at a Detroit public school. In this traditional system, we would frequently bribe our students into doing whatever we needed them to do. We praised them for doing what should have been natural human behavior. We taught them that school was boring and a chore, but if you go through the motions, you get a prize.
It all just felt wrong and it didn’t take me long to become “fed up” with the functions of the public schools. I wanted more for the kids in my classroom. I wanted more for my child. I wanted more from myself as a teacher and as a mother. There had to be a better way.
With this in mind, I began paying careful attention to the teaching methods that I encountered. Closest to home, I noticed the habits forming at my son’s daycare center. Every toddler seemingly did the same art project in the exact same way. As I examined his class’ work one afternoon, I noticed each child’s name was perfectly printed in the lower left hand corner. Without thinking, I exclaimed to my three year old, “Tony! You know how to write your own name! Why is your teacher writing it?” The teacher stood in the background and replied for Tony, “Oh, I like them to look nice so I insist on writing all the names.”
At that moment, I realized that the teacher had not only sucked every ounce of creativity out of an “art” project but had also made it clear to my son that his messy three year old lettering was substandard. At the time, I didn’t know for sure if there was something better out there. All I knew was that I had to give it my best shot to find it.
A month later, I came across a booth for a Montessori school at a local art fair. The teacher at the booth did a craft with Tony and told me a little about the program. She urged me to take a tour. I called the school and arranged a tour the next week.
The school was less than appealing, an old Catholic school building in need of updates, but what I saw in the classrooms was truly extraordinary. The teacher showed Tony and me around. I saw two teachers working quietly with children. I counted four classroom pets as well as numerous plants. There was a wall of cultural souvenirs for the children to look at. There were shelves of scientific artifacts. Instead of a play kitchen or dress-up area, there was a small sink to wash dishes and a child folding small towels. As a math teacher, what really sealed the deal was when I saw a four year old doing four digit addition. When I asked the teacher if this was common, she replied, “If a child can do one digit addition, he can certainly do four digit”. A tuition check was written that day.
Tony started Four Corners Montessori Academy the next fall as I continued to teach at my inner-city traditional school. He came home saying peculiar things like, “The shelves in the classroom are all empty,” or “We learned how to ask to use the restroom today.” At this point, I was a single mother who was writing a check that equaled my rent to this school. I couldn’t believe that my child was doing what seemed like absolutely nothing at school for the extraordinary amount of money I was spending. I decided to take a day off and observe.
I went in early in the morning and first observed ‘circle time’. It was pretty standard to what you would see in any preschool room. It was then time for the morning lesson. The assistant teacher whispered in my ear, “Today’s lesson is chair washing. You’re in for a treat!” I did everything in my power not to respond. CHAIR WASHING! CHAIR WASHING??? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? But then I saw it. The class was silent and the teacher demonstrated each and every step to washing a chair. She did this in silence without a word of explanation. When the lesson was done, she dismissed the students and one by one they silently went to their own work. One child chose the chair washing work and began the steps the teacher had just showed.
The teacher later explained this activity to me as “Practical Life” work. I absorbed her every word as she described in detail how in the practical life area students are able to gain more physical coordination and concentration skills through this type of real-life work. You see, physical coordination is good for the child’s development and provides the strength needed for good writing skills. The intense concentration needed to watch and repeat work, such as the chair-washing lesson, is exactly the level of concentration needed to succeed in advanced academic work.
I was in love. The self-discipline. The passion. The sheer love for learning. At that moment, I knew Montessori was it and worth every dime. Tony was lucky enough to attend a Montessori with a public K-8 program, and has continued his Montessori education, now at Battle Creek Montessori Academy.
After I saw the beautiful chair washing demonstration, I soon after asked for a job at the school. I was then able to see and learn these extraordinary lessons on a daily basis with children of all ages. I often think of my kids in Detroit and wish that they too would be able to experience the wonders of a Montessori education.
Today when I walk into Battle Creek Montessori Academy, I see a symphony. I see teachers seamlessly moving from task to task, I see children working in harmony, solving their own problems and thirsting for work and knowledge. I see beautiful classrooms, with brilliantly crafted materials. What a lucky person I am to witness this each day.
So when parents ask me why their child should go to a Montessori school, the answer is simple: how do you want them to perceive school? If you want your child to behave well only if they receive a reward, to be given cute dittos to learn, and to have teacher-centered classrooms – keep them where they are. But if you want your child to explore at school, if you want your child to be in a beautiful, harmonious environment where the child’s interests and needs are at the center, come to Montessori.
By Ann Pilzner