At all the schools, after my first screening visit they said,”you can come and check it out with your son again”. They told me to bring him in for a trial session and observe. I called the preschool near us and asked for an appointment for such a trial. They told me to bring him along, but pointed out that when they see their parents, the children sometimes don’t listen to us. I thought she was dancing around a bit and said to myself, oh no, here comes the first negative point.
I also made an appointment at the reasonably priced Montessori school. Preparing my son emotionally was a whole another ordeal. I tried to prepare and convince him by saying that we were going to go to aschool, that we were going to meet the teacher and other children at school, that there would be new toys and that we would be playing games. In order not to face a resistance such as him not even wanting to get dressed on the morning we were leaving, protesting, I talked as convincingly as possible.
First we went to the play-based preschool next door. My son didn’t leave by my side. Just like the teacher had said, the children immediately showed an interest in my son and my daughter on my lap, and they totally lost interest in whatever they were doing in class at that time. I didn’t have a place I could go into and hide either, and even if there were, with my son glued to my skirt, there would have been no meaning. Especially the girls really wanted to play with my daughter.
One of my first observations was that the teacher was very disciplined. If it wasn’t free play time, there were certain rules. In a group, those rules needed to be followed. If there was anyone who got up and walked around, the teacher would ask them to sit back down with a gentle but stern voice. At first it seemed a little off to me but then I remembered that I also have consistent rules at home about not leaving the table at meal time, washing hands first thing when we come home, etc. It seemed funny how, when someone else told my child, “It’s time to sit at the lunch table right now. Please sit back down” it really bugged me at first, even though I would have done the same thing.
For the most part the children spoke in a very lively manner in class. They played, observed, were in contact with each other and seemed genuinely happy. After an activity, those who finish would either draw in one area, or go and play with the toys. The cleanliness of the environment and that expected from the children was also an aspect I observed and quite liked. The children were always speaking to each other in English. There were two new girls who didn’t know English, one Ukranian, and one Hispanic. One of the teachers was only speaking in Spanish. This was definitely a plus point for me.
My son didn’t sit at the table with the children and join in on what they were doing. Instead, he played with the toy kitchen. After inviting him once, the teacher let him be. Even if he didn’t join in, I got a general idea of what things were like. I left this school quite pleased.
At the Montessori school, just like at the other school, my son, and especially my daughter, distracted all the children and hence disrupted the teacher’s control. So I understood that the teacher in the first preschool really wasn’t dancing around anything. Because the teacher didn’t interfere immediately at this school, for a while all the children came to examine my daughter. In the meanwhile my son clung to my skirt again.
When I first went, most children were doing language work on rugs on the floor, either alone or in pairs. Only a small group of 3 kids were playing with a farm and animals. The teachers were walking around and looking at what each individual child was doing, sometimes they were providing explanations, and at other times they were simply asking if they were done. Because one of the girls was new and didn’t know the language, she was sitting to the side somewhere. While I was there, she twice ran to the door crying, “mommmyyy.”
After a while, the activity was done, the cards were collected, rugs folded and they started to sing and dance in a line. Then the teacher attempted to take the children standing around us into the line. The new girl was still sitting alone. The teacher invited her to the line. Apparently this line gathering was a pre-ritual to outdoor play time. They sing a song, do a yoga pose, briefly meditate and after that, when the teacher touch them on the head one by one, the kids can go outside. The children gathered, the singing ordeal was completed, deep breaths were taken, eyes closed, blessed by teacher. The children put their shoes on one by one and started to run to go outside. At that moment the new girl ran to the line, closed her eyes and waited for the teacher to touch her head. It was really funny and equally interesting.
They all ran around and went wild in the garden. The boys chasing each other while pretending to have guns in their hands and making shooting sounds unfortunately bugged me. The girls were playing calmly in another group.
We returned to the classroom. In general, I noticed that here, rather than warning the children to conform with the group, the teacher was warning them to work on something. Instead of, “don’t get up,” “sit down” it was “look, this is what we’re doing,” there were warnings like, “did you get up because you’re done with your work?” or “are you working on something?” There certainly wasn’t any chaos or idleness in the classroom. As well as those doing their own thing alone, there were also children working in pairs or groups of three.
I also left this place having generally liked what I had seen.
Finally at this stage I decided Montessori wasn’t right for my son. Montessori always seemed more of a “let’s learn a lot” environment to me. That is, “learn through play/work.”
Also, when I considered my son’s personality, I observed that he might not be able to socialize in a Montessori environment. If you let my son be, he could play with one toy that he set his mind to for hours. He wouldn’t draw willingly or try new things. Someone would need to encourage him, show him and sometimes push him towards it. And I want him to be able to do a little bit of everything. So his drawing and handcrafting skills also develop.
Secondly, while we’re home, if I said things like, “come on son, cut the paper, here, take the scissors like this and cut” he wouldn’t do it. Even if it were something he knew, he would definitely wait for someone to sit down and do it with him. I – or whoever is there – have to sit down, take out the puzzle and spread it on the floor, or, turn on the music and start clapping so that he joins in too. He doesn’t expect others to do things for him, but he expects me (or the nanny) to color, read, line up, cut, clap, etc. with him. And then he will suddenly, when he feels like it, also start to do it. And this will only be possible if there are a lot of kids working on the same thing at once. Also, at that time he had become a little more out-going than before but I didn’t want him to find the environment too calm and continue to hang out by himself or avoid socializing with the other children.
When I spoke to Ana (my son’s old nanny) – she is also an assistant teacher at a Montessori based school now – she also said that she thought Montessori might not be appropriate for every child.
Both English and Spanish being spoken at the other school, my opinion that the food there was healthier, the school being close to us, were other factors that influenced my decision. My son has been going to this preschool near us for about four months and we are very pleased. And he enjoys goings there.
These are the opinions I have formed by considering my son’s and my own needs. I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings there. Some of the ideas and applications of Montessori are great. I just chose to apply and use these at home instead. I want there to be different games at school, for them to play hide and seek, duck duck goose, for him to learn to stand up for himself if someone tries to take something from him, to learn to share, help others besides us, adapt to a group, etc.
I read an article in a local parenting magazine about how early education and learning has shifted from kindergartens to preschools and how expectations for ages 3-4 were quite high. A psychologist wrote that, because we have realized children absorb and learn things easier at these ages, the institutions, which give the education (such as reading, writing, math) that had previously been given at elementary school level, and recently at kindergarten level, have increased. Of course, there are different methods. Each child is different and the desires and expectations of each family are also different.
Beginning of this series:
How to find the right preschool – Part 1 – Screening