Curious about Montessori? Vancouver mom Nicola Lott shares her experiences with her son’s Montessori preschool.
“What the heck is Montessori anyway?” is the question other parents often ask me at the playground. It’s a valid question, and as my child is half way through his second year of Montessori preschool, you think that I would have a succinct answer to that question.
Montessori is to regular schooling as a windsurfer is to a jet-ski. Technically they are both ‘boats’ but they work in completely different ways. While Montessori is schooling, it works in a very different way to the regular school system. Some differences are obvious while some are less noticeable, but they all have meaningful long-term consequences.
What I Like About Montessori
I’m a mom, not a Montessori teacher. If you want to know all the technical differences, about the anatomy of a classroom and how it works, then schedule an observation at your local school and get a tour from the teachers. What I can share is what aspects of our Montessori experience have become very important to me.
Montessori classrooms offer mixed age groups spanning three years. Preschool classrooms have three, four and five-year-olds. The effect of this mixture of ages is a little short of magic. Each year the youngest members are welcomed into the community. The older children mentor the younger children. The younger children look up to the older children and get a sense of ‘where they are going’ by watching the big kids do their work. These differences may seem small but they are part of how Montessori fosters the independent, curious and well-behaved kids that it is famous for. There is no strange Italian form of discipline in the classrooms, it’s mainly just the kids saying “hey, we don’t do that here”. It’s very powerful.
Montessori environments have guides instead of teachers. The difference is huge. A teacher acts like a ringmaster whereas a guide acts like a facilitator. The guides I’ve met have been warm and loving people. Certainly our guides have a hug at the ready for anyone who needs it (parents included!). They observe everything but are masters of saying little, encouraging the children to work for their own enjoyment rather than to look for external recognition from an adult or other person. Montessori allows children to enjoy the process of the task they are doing, as well as the satisfaction of completion – I keep hoping the former will rub off on me someday!
My favourite part of Montessori is the hardest part to explain. At its very core, Montessori is grounded in a profound respect for the child, a small detail that is spread throughout like chocolate on the hand of a preschooler. Montessori looks at every child as unique, and teaches to his or her pace, level and interest. There is no such thing as a child being ‘left behind’ in a Montessori classroom because everyone is moving at their own pace and no one moves on until they have mastered their work. Class time is free flowing as children choose what they want to do and for how long they want to do it. If a child is completely engaged in an activity, why interrupt that passion and focus because it’s time for circle time? Montessori has always treated ‘concentration’ as a learned skill and, in this day and age of ‘dumbing down’ and ‘short attention spans’, who wouldn’t think that’s a valuable skill for a child to work on? It seems strange at first, but the extra time to explore their interests creates kids who just love to learn.
A Haven for Preschoolers
I see my son’s Montessori classroom as his haven. The place where he can get away from the franticness of modern-day life and really be the curious preschooler that he is, a boy who loves to explore stuff at his level and at his pace. I can tell you, from my classroom observations, that pace is really slow! It’s not just him, they are all slow when given the opportunity. Maybe it’s not them. Maybe it’s us, so used to rushing from place to place at our adult speed thinking about all that’s left to do and then paying for yoga classes so that we can learn to ‘live in the moment.’ Frankly, if you want to learn to live in the moment, watch a preschooler. For me, the greatest gift I can give mine is to get out of his way and provide him with an environment where he can be just be himself – a four-year-old explorer.
Nicola Lott is a Montessori mom with a child at Family Montessori School in Vancouver. www.familymontessori.com