The Kindergarten Year in a Montessori Classroom
We had a lively, moving and informative parent resource talk about the Montessori Kindergarten year and Montessori Elementary. Our guest, Amy Eshelby started the talk by inviting parents to describe their children’s current experience in a word, and to verbalize a wish or hope that each parent has for their child in their educational career. Parents used words like ‘joyous’, ‘independent’, ‘spirited’, ‘confident’ to describe their child’s experience at school. Our wishes for our children in their educational journey seemed very consistent; ‘self motivated’, ‘a lifelong love of learning’, and ‘confident’ were all mentioned.
Dr. Montessori developed an educational paradigm based on her observations of children, and her observations (many of which have been scientifically proven to be correct) suggest that Kindergarten is actually the capstone of preschool development – and not part of the elementary experience. Where can a child be a leader at six years old? In our classrooms, that’s where! In our classrooms, children move sequentially through the materials, gaining concrete experiences with abstract ideas they will encounter later. When we remove a child from preschool before they have had that experience, it is like throwing the caterpillar up into the air and expecting her to fly. When children stay in the Montessori classroom through Kindergarten they are allowed to move through the materials to completion, to gain confidence in reading and writing, and to become the leader of their class and one of the ‘big kids’.
Amy shared some insights about a Montessori environment vs. conventional education. Many charter school and language immersion programs utilize very traditional and conventional teaching methods. I am not in the business of bashing our public school teachers – I know teachers work hard, and are constrained by the limitations of the system. The following is a general survey of the differences between the two paradigms. Please know that I have a great deal of respect for teachers and the job that they do, and the following is a generalization of some differences one may find between Montessori and traditional Kindergarten.
In a conventional or traditional kindergarten children may be:
- expected to remain sitting or still at desks or in circles, requiring them to focus on the same lesson at the same time at the same rate
- expected to ask permission to use the rest room
- given homework
- required to complete worksheets with little relevance or academic impact
- limited in their social interactions with other children
- placed into an unnecessarily competitive relationship with classmates, with grades and assessments.
In a Montessori environment children are:
- allowed to move freely, choosing activities of their own interest
- allowed peer to peer learning, many social interactions possible during the school day
- allowed to use the restroom as needed without raising their hand or asking permission
- homework is not given, as time at home is meant to be family time
- given all possibilities to follow up with lessons that have been given. Instead of teacher directed, predetermined worksheets, children are able to develop their own follow up work in any way that they might imagine
- not judged by ability and allowed the freedom to develop at their own pace in their own time.
We watched a lovely video produced by the Montessori Foundation specifically about Montessori Kindergarten which you can watch here:
Then we heard from Dr. Steven Hughes, a pediatric neuropsychologist and FOM (friend of Montessori) who hails Montessori education as the best educational system he’s found consistent with optimal social, emotional, and cognitive development. His talk can be watched here:
And probably the most moving video of the evening is here:
Some parents may feel hesitant to commit to a Kindergarten year for the following reasons:
I’m worried my child will not have a peer group: This is an understandable concern. There is a great deal of development and growth around peer relationships for five year olds. Children develop at different rates and for many children age in a peer relationship is irrelevant. Friendships are born and maintained based in social development and not necessarily the age of a child. Because there is an opportunity for the oldest children to play a leadership role and become a mentor to children with different abilities, the impact of a small peer group is lessened. Additionally there is a great deal of independent and individual work, and it is often the oldest children who do not nap, who have the benefit of working with the Montessori trained guide one-on-one doing individualized work and lessons.
“I’m worried that if my child doesn’t start at our neighborhood school, they will not make friends:” This is a fear based in an adult perspective of relationships. Being a part of a community and extending yourself socially is a wonderful byproduct of a Montessori education. Because our children have had such a strong foundation in Montessori, they know how ask for help, to talk to peers and adults, and to include others as a part of their community. With this strong pro-social foundation, our children graduate from Montessori preschool to go on to first grade in their neighborhood schools and integrate quite nicely. Any social concerns could be further mitigated by finding a sport or activity that many children from one neighborhood engage in and building relationships in that way so that your child has a foundation for friendships before a school transition.
As a parent, I understand the pressure to make a sound decision for your child’s Kindergarten year. We want the world for our children – we want to provide an educational experience where everything is possible. As a parent (whose child was a four year Children’s House child), a Montessori teacher, and an advocate for peace and sustainability I am confident that a Montessori education is beautifully aligned with our wishes for happiness, self motivation, confidence, and instilling a lifelong love of learning.