People often ask why we picked a Montessori preschool for our oldest son. I want to say something really deep. I want to talk about how Maria Montessori and I share similar educational philosophies. Or how I knew my son would thrive in an environment full of choice and freedom. I’d like to talk at length about the power of individualized learning and explain that I had always envisioned my son spending much of his learning day in an outdoor space.
Alas, the truth is far less profound.
The truth is I knew very little about the Montessori method of early learning when I registered him for school.
The truth is, I was desperate. Our son had been wait-listed at the preschool where his sisters had gone and where we had registered him months before. We were forced to find a new place for him to learn—and fast!
I started cold-calling full-day preschool centers. One director literally laughed aloud when I asked if she had any spots left for the upcoming school year. Feeling increasingly desperate, I reached out to my mom friends on social media. One knew of an opening at a Montessori center.
Relieved, we visited the center and registered our son on the spot.
Each day he went to a place where he was loved, engaged, and given freedom to choose.
E.M. Standing, Maria Montessori’s biographer, explains that freedom to choose is not freedom to do anything, but freedom to do the right thing. The right thing is what the child needs to fulfill the next step in his or her development.
At his school, my son was free to dive head first into his passions: first, an obsession with geometric shapes, then an unbridled love for the solar system. His teachers took the time to learn what he loved. Then they leveraged their knowledge of his passions and personality to create individualized learning opportunities.
Early on, he would come home with blobs of finger paint on a paper that he identified as circles, squares, ovals, and rectangles. His teachers engaged him in an art and sensory-related activity and asked him to use communication and language by giving him the freedom to paint shapes.
My son learned to purposely choose and persist in meaningful play by matching solar system themed three-part cards.
He developed his fine motor skills with the freedom to create planets—after all, what’s harder to cut out than circles?
By giving him the freedom to choose, my son didn’t spend his days doing nothing. On the contrary, he spent his days approaching the same early learning standards all preschoolers should develop before kindergarten.
My son still had circle time with his peers. He sang songs and learned through dance. He played with dump trucks in the schoolyard and rode tricycles. He learned about the days of the week and started writing letters and numbers. His day had a lot of choices, but it had a lot of traditional preschool elements as well.
As parents, it was fun for us to watch him grow and learn in an environment that was a little different than the schooling his older sisters had, but it would be inaccurate to say that his preschool was better. My daughters had delightful experiences in their more conventional preschool settings. They both were well equipped with the skills they needed to succeed in their kindergarten classrooms.
We plan to enroll our youngest son in the same Montessori school. The price, hours, and location of the center work well for our family, and we adore the staff. I am looking forward to seeing how they will tailor learning activities for our littlest family member.