We aren’t rich. We didn’t grow up being private school kids, we didn’t wear uniforms and use flash cards to practice our math and reading skills. We didn’t go to elite universities and we definitely never thought paying for the early part of our daughter’s education would ever be in the realm of our reality.
I’ve worked in the birth to five population for the past 10 years, and with school aged kiddos for the five years prior to that. I’ve talked to parents for an eternity of hours about listening when our kids have something to share with us, about showing them and talking to them about the world around us. I’ve watched hundreds of toddlers and preschoolers, not even including my own, toss themselves to the ground amid tantrums. I’ve laughed with parents about these moments, and I’ve cried with them about these moments.
I’ve watched so many kids struggle in the school environment, I’ve watched so many teachers throw blood, sweat, and tears toward trying so hard to help them adjust.
The truth is that school is hard for… well every kid. I mean come on, it is. And that’s alright. Think about how many lessons you learned, social lessons, during those years. And of course some kids (research says at LEAST one in every classroom) is struggling with something real and diagnosable; whether it be sensory, developmental, or mental health.
But yet, year after years, teachers and administrators find themselves stuck between 78 rocks and 197 hard plates trying desperately to get these kids off on their way. And it matters, we know it matters, because we all remember how much it mattered to US.
We chose Montessori, at least for now, for our preschooler for so many intangible reasons, it’s hard to explain without it sounding like I tossed a stack of cash at the staff and walked away. And every kiddo needs their own educational experience, there is no one size fit all.
We got a very inquisitive, charming, highly-wired kiddo. She’s just who came out.
So here she was, three years old, academically ready for school but socially a little bit like the kid in the back of the classroom walking in circles with a pail on her head.
And that is why I chose this school. Built on the experience and understanding that there are windows of time when kids are super interested in taking in different skills and experiences, it’s main focus is setting up an environment that will, to be honest, catch their eye and never let go. When I took her on the tour of this school and we walked into the classroom, she took the cutest little deep breath, turned back and looked up at me, and was across the room. The materials are insanely intriguing, and all formatted in a very tactile way to lay learning foundations. She knew at that moment that this room was for her. She knew at that moment that these friends were for her, that these teachers were for her. And it filled my heart.
The sense of community is such a huge part of the atmosphere as well. Kiddos are encouraged to ask their classmates for help before asking a teacher. They are encouraged to respect one another’s space (yeah, they’re three and four) and problem solve together to come to solutions. The expectation is firmly believed that kids will grativitate toward the work that interests them most, and that when they’re ready, they’ll move along to the next, and then the next. As a result, the room is very child-led. She walks in and surveys the room and decides what she would like to explore first today.
Now I know kiddos can have a hard time transitioning out to public school afterwards, and this is something I think about a lot; and take seriously. But the feeling in my heart that I get when I see her so completely focused on something with this utter concentration and JOY is exhilerating. School became so rote for so many of us; this thing we had to do because we had to do it, and why the heck were we not getting paid for it. But I never hated learning, did you? I got frustrated with the other stuff, but gosh, you know that feeling you get when you’re totally entranced with something new and fascinating? That’s how she starts her day.
And honestly, sometimes I’m jealous.
Even if we incorporate the community atmosphere into the classroom as much as we can; that alone could do wonders. I miss the early 80’s where school was a place safe from the outside world of politics. I know you do too. So let’s teach them how to collaborate, how to be respectful of all of our peers, and how to take on learning as a personal goal, not something we feel forced to do. Because the truth is, the only way we get places in life is when we light our own fire and keep it lit. Come on guys, let’s help them light their own little fires.