Second in a series. Former Mountain Shadows parent Paul Algreen (P ’15) shares his journey as a Montessori parent.
If only I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me, “Isn’t Montessori just for preschoolers?” Or often I get the corollary, “Isn’t Montessori a free-for all? Don’t the kids just get to run around crazy all day?” Clearly those posing the latter questions haven’t witnessed a well-functioning Montessori classroom in person. Anyone who has a chance to observe a typical workday at Mountain Shadows Montessori (or I expect any other AMI recognized school) will quickly have his or her fears of “romper-room gone-wild” abated. To see children going about their self-directed work, practicing their lessons, conducting research, studying, and collaborating in a Montessori classroom is a remarkably reassuring experience.
That being said, what about the former question, does Montessori work for elementary aged children?
The enduring legacy of Montessori-based education and the science behind childhood development would predict yes. After all, Maria Montessori was a doctor and scientist who designed one of the most widely adopted education methodologies of the 20th century. Dr. Montessori and her contemporaries produced break-through discoveries in the stages of childhood development; they described four distinct planes of development (Infancy 0-6, Childhood 6-12, Adolescence 12-18, Maturity 18-24). During each plane, scientists have observed that children exhibit common tendencies and developmental milestones. I won’t go into too much detail here, but encourage you to learn more about the planes.
As a parent, in my logical mind I understand that a Montessori-based elementary education is designed to adapt to the second plane of development. I’ve learned that classroom time is focused on developing my son’s intellectual mind and that he is capable of so much more than most traditional education programs offer elementary students. He is meant to bridge the gap from concrete to abstract thinking and start asking big, complex questions. But does that actually happen in a Montessori elementary classroom? Can he possibly be expected to decide on his own to work hard, to put forth the effort to learn what he is supposed to learn in elementary without being tasked?
Honestly, I can say that at first I was skeptical. My son’s initial experience with elementary was complicated by both our relocation to a new state and a new school and his own propensity for independence. He initially found it difficult to adapt to the more collaborative learning that often occurs in the elementary classroom, where sometimes the complexity of the material is better assimilated when working in groups. Impressively, his Montessori elementary teachers quickly identified his barriers to transitioning smoothly into the second plane and found ways to help Casey cope and learn to adjust to the new expectations in elementary school.
As we neared the end of this second plane, I thought about the concept of “Construction of Intelligence,” and I was amazed daily at Casey’s growth and his ability to think and operate in the abstract. Since he is my son, I may be somewhat biased, but I have no doubt that Casey’s outstanding level of curiosity and passion for learning are at least partially due to the opportunities afforded him in the Montessori elementary classroom; having a child who is hungry for knowledge is truly a gift I do not take for granted.
Next: Will My Son Ever Learn Math?