“We are made of our smallest thoughts
We are breathing and letting go
We will take the best parts of ourselves
And make them gold”
–Chvrches ‘Make Them Gold’
Just like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, it turns out, I had Montessori inside me all along. I had to take those parts of myself and let them grow.
In August of 2007, I was immensely pregnant and expecting my second child. I knew I would need to spend some time bonding with the new baby so I set off to tour preschools. I wanted a school that was a just-right fit for my bright and articulate son, who would soon be three years old.
I know every mom thinks her kid is the smartest kid on the planet. I am no exception. But no, really — my kid was so clever and so articulate. It was crazy how much more verbal he was than his two year-old peers. He started to talk exclusively to his teachers. He even began to take on the profound stutter of the teacher at his twice-a-week Mother’s Day Out program. His peers couldn’t have a full-on conversation with him, so he decided he would chat up the teacher instead. The stutter passed, thankfully, but what lingered for me was a nagging feeling that a play-based program wasn’t the right learning environment for my little man. I thought he needed something more.
Several people (including my mom and my mother-in-law, both of whom often offer sound advice) suggested that I look at Montessori schools, so I decided to start there.
During my first tour, I felt overwhelmed. The director walked me through a mixed age, mixed-skilled classroom, telling me that Montessori was about “experiential learning and supporting independence and autonomy.”
My 8-months-pregnant brain became cloudy and overwhelmed by what she was saying to me, so instead, I focused on the children working in the classroom. I was impressed. Rather than zipping wildly from one bleeping toy to another, the children were calm. The room was quiet and peaceful. There were activities rather than plastic toys. Instead of an alphabet of animal-shaped letters and distracting cartoony posters littering the walls, the room was decorated like a home with lamps and plants and framed art. I saw children sitting at little tables, deep in concentration. I saw two children on the floor poring over a map of the world together. It was clear at a glance that the children were independent and had purpose. I was surprised that it took me several moments to locate the teacher in the room. She was practically invisible, quietly assisting a child with a box of letters spread out on a table.
As I hoisted my huge, round belly into my car after the tour, tears of joy and relief fell. I knew that some of the tears were hormone induced. Fine. Pregnant women cry at the drop of a hat. But I was also crying because I knew this kind of school was perfect for my curious and clever kid.
I enrolled my guy into a Montessori school shortly before his third birthday. The classroom was small, warm and inviting. It felt like home. As I began to learn more about the way Montessori teaching works, I realized something: I was already incorporating many of the foundations of the Montessori philosophy into my parenting style, and I didn’t even know it.
- I used real language and didn’t use baby talk. (To this day it bugs me when a parent says “horsey” or “doggie” to their child!)
- I followed my child’s curiosity and stayed out of the way as he experienced new things. (I offer open-ended questions to lead him to find his own answers and I “help” without doing it for my kid.)
- I set clear expectations and I allowed appropriate choice. (My husband and I have firm boundaries with our boys and we respect them as much as we expect them to respect us.)
A few years later, I enrolled my second son into the toddler program at a Montessori school.
That’s when I found myself lingering in the coatroom just after I dropped the boys off. Parents weren’t allowed in the classroom, so I hung around and asked questions. I wanted to see what was going on in that school! I was jealous that my boys got to go there every day and I had to go to the grocery store, run errands, clean house, and all that boring mom stuff. I took on any and every task that teachers gave me. I volunteered to Xerox copies, cut paper into booklets, sharpen pencils, organize office supplies, and whatever else they would let me do, just to get an idea of what Montessori was all about. The director of the school was so patient with me for several months. She must have thought I was crazy! One day, she handed me a business card for the Montessori training center.
I completed my Montessori certification from the New Mexico Center for Montessori Education in 2012. I have worked at Hawthorne Montessori school, here in Austin, Texas since I got my certificate. Both my boys attended Montessori through their kindergarten year.
The parts that are ingrained in me — my parenting style, my core beliefs, my inner voice — are what drew me to that Montessori school building. I found the building. But I think parts of the Montessori way of life had me all along. I just never knew it.
Please join me on my blog journey next time as I explain what Montessori calls “Practical Life” activities and why they are essential in a child’s development.