Montessori School Ramblings

One of the big reasons that I’ve been happy with and am keeping Nefarious in the Montessori school system is that they have the same general philosophy as I do — that the role of parents and educators is to guide a young person to grow and learn independently, and become their own person that’s capable of expanding themselves. In the Montessori system, kids are expected to meet all of the Ontario educational standards (she’s definitely way ahead of where I was at her age, and I think I was a bright kid), but on the whole each child dictates what areas of study they’ll focus on and it’s done very independently, solo or in small groups of students — rather than mindless copying of lines from a chalkboard, followed by more mindless homework, all of it holding back the top students and failing to meet the needs of the students at the lower end. As a result, it’s not uncommon for kids to have areas that they’re working at a university level on by the time they are in grade six — which is not really a surprise, since the mind of a child is far more capable of learning — and desiring of learning — than a twenty year old.

It’s a broader skill set and independence as well, so when Nefarious moves up to elementary school next year (right now she’s finishing off the equivalent of kindergarten) the school integrates the students into the community. So for example, parents no longer send in snacks — the classroom has a budget for apples, which the students are expected to manage and also supply (so a small group of students is sent out to the nearby grocery store to purchase the needed apples). Or instead of having a big school library, the kids go out to the local library, get themselves cards, and understand how to do their own research in the community when they are doing projects… So as well as providing a traditional education, they build the skills that eventually create an adult that has no fear of all the responsibilities of life.

Maria Montessori died before really developing a high school system, but her basic idea, if I understand it correctly, was that at that age (twelve or thirteen) kids need to learn with increasing distance from their parents. There’s a Montessori secondary school in Ohio built on those ideas where the kids all live on an organic farm, which they help run — in addition to all the regular high school level studies — on all levels, including growing the food and managing the animals, as well as running the market and keeping it profitable… It really seems like a remarkable idea.

When I was doing the tour of the elementary school, there was another parent there as well and it was very sad. Because she’s new to the Montessori school system, she had lots of questions… One of the things she was most concerned about was homework (which is never required, but sometimes kids get excited about a project and want to continue it into the evening). Not because she objected, but because she and her husband were both hard working dentists and leave before their kid gets up and get back after their kid goes to bed, so she is tended for exclusively by a nanny that is apparently not linguistically capable of helping with schoolwork. How sad! I mean, if you’re both dentists, you’ve got more money than you need — surely at least one of you can spend some time other than at most one day on the weekend with your child! One of the teachers we were talking to created a very awkward moment when they pointed out that it was very important they they be reading higher level literature (ie. novels, not little kids books) to their child. Sorry, too busy with work. Anyway, very sad. There are a couple kids in Nefarious’s school as well that take advantage of both before and after school care — imagaine a three year old that gets dropped off at 7am, and then is picked up at 6pm by a nanny. Sure, you’ve got lots of money, and I’m sure you have a very nice house and a fancy car, but is it really worth it?

Today Caitlin and I are going to serve pizza lunch at Nefarious’s school (which reminds me — one of the other cool things is that the older kids at the elementary school plan lunch once a week, research the recipe, shop for the supplies, and cook the meal), which means I got to be lazy today and not pack Nefarious anything to bring to school… other than her tooth of course, which I watched her proudly showing to her teachers as soon as she arrived. So we had time to watch some videos this morning — a selection of what we watched is below. I like watching YouTube videos with her much more than TV because it not only offers something more than the same mindless repetative formulamatic modern kids show, but greater variety and a great opportunity to discuss what we’re watching. And after school is her yoga class, so I think today will be a very good day.


  1. Carol wrote:

    I think my heart just broke for those children who don’t see their parents – and their parents as well!

    My kids go to a public Montessori school – its great. My 6th grader is doing a major report on the Environmental Impact of Wind Energy. He reads my master’s level papers to help me with word choice. So fun!

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 6:42 am | Permalink
  2. Erica wrote:

    Shannon, I get the point of what you’re saying, but I think that may be an overgeneralized characterization of working parents.

    Here’s a quote I read a while back:
    “I always say to women who are trying to do everything, ‘Of course you can do it all, but it’s going to be difficult’. My mother did it and I do it, just not in a conventional way…just understand that sometimes you’re going to think, ‘I’m losing my mind’.”
    –Nora Ephron

    My mom was PTA president, participated in carpools, came to my basketball games, and so on and so forth, while still having time to do the things that made her happy. She showed me that if you’re willing to bust your ass (and make yourself crazy sometimes), you really CAN have it all. I’m grateful to have such a great female role model and I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today without it. Because of my mom, I feel unstoppable. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed or underconfident, I channel my mom and it really does give me strength and courage. And despite juggling the three of us, our numerous activities, and running a household, she always had a manicure, makeup, and her hair done :)

    And yes, she was always insane, too ;)

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 7:49 am | Permalink
  3. Shannon wrote:

    I’m not saying people shouldn’t work — I’m saying that they shouldn’t work so much that they have no time at all for anything else. Clearly your mom had/made time for you. I’m speaking just about people who don’t see their kids *at all*.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 7:54 am | Permalink
  4. Erica wrote:

    Ahhh okay, nevermind then — I agree :)

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 8:07 am | Permalink
  5. Twwly wrote:

    I’d give my left arm for a Montessori school nearby.

    We’re going to be going the homeschool route. One of our neighbours (they run an incredible biodynamic farm and have more kids than I can count) do homeschool until grade seven, send the kids to elementary for grade 8 and then off to high school. Sounds like a great tentative plan to me.

    The public school system here is fucked. The more I’ve read about the history of it, the more I pay attention to parents and kids experiences in it, the more appalled I am that it is The System. The system to make more cogs in The System – we’ll be opting out and there are more and more opting out it seems, so we’ll have plenty of company.

    Anyway. I’ve just finished a few Montessori books and a great book titled “The Well Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling” and re-read Joel Salatins “Family Friendly Farming” (in which he addresses his theory about Greenhouse Kids, which is great)… and long ramble short:

    I am feeling very excited about the educational future for our kids.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 8:34 am | Permalink
  6. peted3 wrote:

    your such an awesome parent, just be careful of pushing beyond/high expectations which can lead to burn-out.
    i know that shit killed my interest/ability to pursue a higher education.
    nao i m stewped

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 1:57 pm | Permalink
  7. Amanda wrote:

    I really wish this kind of early education was available to everyone. When I went to high school there was a group of “Montessori kids” who looked down on everyone. Having to do group work with them was HELL: “How unfortunate for you that your parents couldn’t pay for you to have a GOOD education”… “its not your fault you don’t understand, you went to public school”. That’s my only complaint and worry about a Montessori education.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Permalink
  8. Shannon wrote:

    I’ve definitely seen that the kids that go all the way through the standard Montessori system (ie. through grade 6) definitely do appreciate the education they’ve gotten and understand its benefits… That said, they are usually pretty well adjusted socially, so it’s possible your experience is a combination of high school cliquism (since there was a bunch of them), and, more distastefully, classism from rich kids.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 3:47 pm | Permalink
  9. wlfdrgn wrote:

    A woman walked into her vets office in Indiana with her dog. It was one of those little show dogs. Very expensive, purebreed type. The dog appeared in excellent condition, but she asked the vet to put it to sleep. Surprised, he asked her why. “I just got new drapes, and she clashes with them.”

    When I hear about Madana, or any of those Hollywood types, going to various foreign countries to adopt yet another kid, all I think is that they’re just trying to collect kids. I suppose, if the kid’s an orphan anyway, in an orphanage with little chance of adoption by a real parent, being adopted by a rich, but stupid, american, and being raised by nannies is perhaps an improvement, but still, they’re just collecting kids like some people collect stamps. See how many countries you can collect!

    The dentist parents don’t sound much better. They wanted a kid, because it’s what everyone else was doing. They didn’t want to actually raise the kid, they just wanted one. Now they have one, and they can get on with their lives.

    More people need to collect stamps.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 7:37 pm | Permalink
  10. beholden to their worldly trinkets.
    Children grow up fast. Eight and a half years. Where did it go? Like lightning. No amount of money will buy back those precious years. What a horrible deal some people make with the devil. I didn’t make that deal, but I still wish I had more time with mine. I’m giving it all up soon so I can get more of it back. In your case Shannon, Clearly i can see who the winner is.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 7:51 pm | Permalink
  11. siobhan wrote:

    One of Cohen’s clients works at an alternative school here in Vancouver. It is a Vancouver School Board school, but it is alternative in that they follow a Montessori approach. Because it’s a public school, it is free for students to attend. I looked into how students get in and the popularity of the school is so great that they need to have a lottery for admittance, after that you’re put on what I can only imagine is a crazy waiting list. What I wonder, is if it’s a project that is that popular, why doesn’t the school board create more “alternative” schools like this.

    Friday, April 10, 2009 at 9:49 am | Permalink
  12. Mars wrote:

    I went to a Montessori preschool, and I BEGGED to get into elementary school early. We didn’t have a higher Montessori school nearby, so my mom begged the school to accept me a year early, and they did. I also ate raw oysters for the first time in my Montessori school. Looking back, I really appreciate the education I received there, and I’m sure it’s had an impact on who I am now.

    On the other hand, I don’t get to spend too much time with my son because I go to school full time and work part time, plus we both have other activities. I feel guilty that he doesn’t get the time with me that he needs, but it’s just temporary. I’m thankful that’s he’s a great reader though, in fact I often have to tell him to stop reading so he can get some sleep!

    Friday, April 10, 2009 at 6:39 pm | Permalink
  13. Gracie wrote:

    You’re such a good dad to her. When I was growing up, my dad could basically dictate his own working hours, and because he worked on certain projects for the government, he wasn’t allowed to take his work home. He was always waiting for me after school, and I had a lot of great afternoons with him.

    If I ever have kids, I definitely want to spend time with them. I never had a nanny, and while I understand that some careers are really demanding, why bother having kids if you can’t enjoy their company?

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 5:24 pm | Permalink
  14. xchristinex wrote:

    If you have Nickelodeon, I recommend the show Yo Gabba Gabba!. I’m 20 years old and I love it!

    Thursday, April 16, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink
  15. Amy wrote:

    I think it is so sad that a lot of people believe Montessori schools are only good for younger children (18 months- 6 years old) I hate when people say “It’s fine when there young but when there older we want them to have homework, computers and a more structured environment.” I know this great little school called Clanmore Montessori school in Oakville Ontario. They are losing a lot of students in there Upper Elementary (Grade 4-6) because the parents are worried that there children are not learning enough! They believe this because there kids are having so much fun at school they think they are not learning! Let me tell you, this is the best school out there, how do I no, you might ask? Because I was a student there and graduated. Please if you are in the area and are looking for a school for your children, please check out this school. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

    Friday, April 24, 2009 at 7:21 pm | Permalink
  16. Violet wrote:

    Parenting is weird all around, imho, but it all comes down to choices.

    Some people think that the best way to care for their kids is to have loads of money and spend it on the twice-a-year vacation, high-end electronics, lots of lessons, etc. Most people have to work some mighty long hours to pay for that sort of parenting.

    Other people, some by choice and some by circumstance, decide that their kids need one-on-one attention, affection, experiences, etc. that don’t cost a lot of money – but DO ‘cost’ a lot of time.

    Last year my husband and I adopted three boys – now aged almost-12, 9 and 5. We made the choice to have a stay-at-home parent during the adjustment period and have adapted to one income for 5 people. It’s a balancing act all around when it comes to money vs time vs experiences vs what the kids need..

    I think a lot of people are afraid of their kids. They’re afraid of connecting emotionally, of confrontation, of being inadequate, of making a mistake – so they hide behind the need to “make money” and claim that their child *needs* the expensive doodads to be happy.

    And, the more money we make, the more we spend. We make more money and buy a bigger home.. and it requires more money for upkeep. We make more money and we buy more ‘stuff’ and we need to spend more to maintain it. And on and on..

    Human beings are weird.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Permalink
  17. divisionbyzer0 wrote:

    SHANNON: classism?. I’m seeing classism right here with the notion that children should be reading classical literature, and not “kids books”. It is not obviously true that this should be the case. Yer frowning upon these parents because they don’t fit in with your idea of what is righteous. That’s classism, in essence.

    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Permalink
  18. Shannon wrote:

    Oh give me a break! Quality education is not some “upper class” privilege. It’s a right that all people should demand and aspire too.

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 5:40 pm | Permalink
Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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