Monte-what? The FAQ

My kids attend a Montessori school. Two girls of eight and four. I thought I’d just lay it out there. Personally I thought the whole idea leaned a little toward the tree-hugger side of the spectrum when the Wife first proposed it to me. I mean, was educated in the traditional manner and I thrived in it. I thought it taught you that what you put in, you get out; that it separated the dedicated from the lazy. Right?

Well, I wasn’t too impressed initially, and in true Wifey style I had the words “I told you so” fed to me several months later, when I inadvertently voiced my surprise at the acceleration in Eldest’s academic faculties. I have since come to realize that my misgivings were based on ignorance, and although I often stumble over my words to explain the Montessori principles when asked about it, here I’m going to attempt to answer the questions other prospective Fathers might have regarding the method of schooling.

Personal disclaimer here: I’m not an expert in Montessori, nor am I endorsed by any Montessori organisation. I am simply trying to relate my first-hand experience.

1. Your kids go to Montessori? What’s wrong with them? Do they have special needs?

Yes. Nothing. No.

Montessori is more a lifestyle than a classroom regimen. The children undergo the same rigorous learning cycle and are held to the same (or sometimes higher, depending on the curriculum offered) standards and yardsticks as that of any child going through traditional schooling.

2. Does it take a special kind of child to be able to learn through this medium?

No.

3. Wow? Really?

Yes.

4. Isn’t an age range of three years in one class a hindrance?

Nope. In fact it helps to facilitate learning. My Youngest of four is actually teaching the ones younger than her, and interacting with the older ones who are eager to help. She’s more sociably robust for it.

5. How is it different from traditional schooling?

Ok. The best way I’ve found to describe it is to have you imagine yourself in your classroom from yesteryear. Like me, you probably were seated at desks in rows. You had a teacher tell you what you needed to learn, maybe explain it and try to get it into your noggin,  and then you were supposed to study it and get it right for the exams. In short, it’s as if you were being “pushed” into an education, wasn’t it? ( for lack of a better term) i.e. you sat there and the knowledge was imparted on you regardless of your thoughts on the matter. You had to take it in.

Montessori turns that all around. Instead of “pushing” you into an education, you’re pulled into it. How? By your own curiosity, your own will and your own desire to learn more about what’s going on around you. This is all stimulated by the environment of the classroom and the manner in which the Directress guides you. Essentially they make you want to learn, you attack the material of your own volition, and you gain your education without realizing that it’s by virtue of the little community created in the classroom. The learning equipment also differs from the traditional as in that it’s a more tactile and sensory approach to education, especially in the formative years.

Oh yeah, there aren’t any tests (in the manner that we know them).

Oh and no homework either.

6. (Gasp) No homework?

(Sigh) No homework. Or tests. The Montessori method is designed so that children don’t move on unless they’ve perfected the previous step in the educative process, and big brains out there have discovered that children have more than enough time to complete all the necessary work during the normal hours of schooling. Their progress is graded in what you could consider tests but I have yet to see my Eldest study for one like we had to. She is progressing perfectly by the way.

If you don’t believe me then just think of it as magic, but real.

Disclaimer: I have heard of some Montessori Schools issuing ‘homework’ in the form of assignments. My above answer is based on my personal experience with my daughters’ school. When they reach the High School Phase they will write the standard tests every South African Child needs to complete in order to obtain a Matric Qualification.

7. Can the children still convert to traditional methods at a later stage?

This is the usual big concern. There are some conflicting views on the matter, but from what I’ve seen and heard the Montessori educated generally tend to integrate well into normal schooling. The overall concepts of working on your own and completing tasks to their end seem to stand them in good stead for later years. I think that the kids pick up a certain ethic that becomes part of their nature.  Again, I am no expert here, and perhaps you or others may experience something different.

8. So, you’re saying that Montessori is the way to go?

All I’m saying is that it’s a viable alternative. As I previously mentioned, I loved my school years, but I’d be pretty near-sighted to say that it brought out the best in everyone. If you had to ask Wifey this question her answer would be: 100% absolutely yes!

9. This sounds suspiciously like some new-age hippie bull#$/*…

Ok, first of all I like hippies. Don’t hate. Secondly, the philosophy was founded some one hundred years ago by a lady of the same name, Maria Montessori, an Italian Physician and Educator. It’s not new, and it is established as a legitimate educative system worldwide.

At this stage, I’m pretty pleased with the results. Obviously I keep a wary eye on my children’s education, but that’s probably because one of my goals in life is to ensure that my children end up cleverer than I am. So I’m paranoid about their academics regardless of where they go.