Yesterday was John’s first day of Montessori school, so of course I took pictures like every other stereotypical parent.
I dropped him off in from of the school, and then I went home and cried just to prove my mothering cred. MOCK ME. I deserve it.
His teacher told me he had a great first day and emailed pictures of him working in the class. He told me his favorite thing about school was “the clock.” I know they have a clock activity that he was playing with when we visited the first time, but when I asked him to tell me about it, he started rattling off a list of letters. So who knows what’s going on there. :) He also had numbers and corresponding dots drawn on his knuckles from a number lesson.
It’s weird to think that he’ll be gone every morning. James seemed a little lost without him but mostly happy for all the mom-time.
This whole summer as I’ve been conducting my Bastardized Home Montessori Preschool experiment I’ve thought of it as merely The Best I Can Do since “real” Montessori school wasn’t an option. But then two days before we left for our Texas/England four week vacation, I received an email from a local friend telling me about a new Montessori program run by a Montessori teacher with 16 years of experience. The school was literally across the street from the college campus where Michael works, which removed a HUGE roadblock since we only have one car and Michael has to pick up John twice a week while I’m teaching Mom’s Day Out.
We were able to visit the school the day we left for vacation. The room was still being set up but I already liked how well-lit, well-organized and asethetically pleasing the classroom was. I liked the teacher. And I also liked the price, which was slightly less expensive than the first program we looked into.
We arrived back from vacation on Sunday, I called and set up a classroom visit Monday, and last Tuesday my mom, John and I went to visit the school that had just opened the previous week. The primary thing I was looking for in this visit was how the teachers corrected John when he wasn’t using a “work” correctly – as that seems to be the primary difference between good Montessori and “Scary Montessori.” Since we’d been doing BHMP this summer, John pretty much understood the drill: take something off the shelf, work with it, put it back. But there were plenty of things there that he’d never encountered before, like the water pouring exercise. He picked up the little sponge and started dunking it in the green food-coloring stained water when the assistant approached and showed him how to pour without making him feel like he was doing something wrong.
I really, really wanted this for John. So we crunched the numbers and figured if I boost my freelance writing a little and we employ our Flexible Spending Account for Dependent Care, we would be able to afford Montessori school for John. We may eat beans all year, but at least John gets to learn to pour himself a glass of water. And, you know, read and stuff. Can you feel me grinning like a fool?
I’m really fighting to impulse to buy him this shirt.
This is fourth in a series of posts on Bastardized Home Montessori Preschool.
I’ve found that making decisions about how to educate my children is the most stressful thing I’ve faced as a parent. Perhaps, I was more stressed about trimming John’s two-week-old newborn fingernails – I actually cried about that – but I think there were some hormonal fluctuation going on there so that doesn’t count. Public school, home school, private school? And before that preparing them for whatever school they end up attending by picking from the 49,082 different preschool options. They assimilate information so quickly and easily when they are so young, and I feel like I need to provide them with the best opportunities to cram their heads full of knowledge while making them think Learning Is Fun!
Until about, oh, last week, I carried this tension with me when it came to Bastardized Home Montessori Preschool. There can be a big emphasis on perfection when it comes to Montessori, and at first it really felt like no matter how hard I worked, it was never quite enough and, even worse, it would always be subpar. I’ve finally started shaking off some of that feeling. For a while I thought we had to make a big production out of “doing school” when really all I needed to do was stop what I was doing and sit down for 15-20 minutes when John came to me asking if he could “play school.”
Also, there are so many everyday things in the home that fit the Montessori model even if it’s not special Montessori equipment. One of the activities is learning how to button buttons, zip zippers and tie shoes with dressing boards. Well, one day John wanted to button the buttons on his “Tuck-Tuck” blanket, so I demonstrated how to do it and let him go to town. And another morning I slept in a little late and, to give myself a few minutes of quiet, I sent John out on the deck to hang up diapers on our drying rack. It was new and fun for him, and it’s also a Montessori activity. And just little things like hanging maps and calendars where kids can more easily see them and talking to them almost in passing about where their grandparents live or what day it is all counts. It’s incredible to me how much they remember from these fleeting conversations.
One of the new books I discovered through this whole BHMP journey was this sweet story called The Listening Walk about a girl and her dad who take a walk and listen to all the sounds they hear along the way. We started doing listening walks and it was such a nice thing for me personally, just to stop the noise going on in my own head and listen to what was going on around me. Doing BHMP has required me to be extremely present with my children in a way that is so easy not to do when I have other daily tasks competing for my attention. Their first few years are far too short for me to spend them primarily thinking of my children as roadblocks to my productivity. And if that’s the only thing we take away from this whole experiement, then it will be worth it.
This is third in a series on Bastardized Home Montessori Preschool.
I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, prepared my environment and am ready to rock Bastardized Home Montessori Preschool! Children do their Montessori activities either at a child-size table or by laying out a mat. The mat gives the children a defined space to work, as well as marks their territory; a helpful thing when you have two little Montessori students, one who always wants to do what his brother Montessori student is doing. I found some old place mats that I never use because our original 30-year-old washing machine left rust marks on them that I’ve never taken the time to get out.
You are supposed to “present” each activity to your child before they attempt it solo. That in itself is a lesson in patience since they are like excited little puppies who can’t wait to get their hands on these New Toys! Once that is done, you pretty much sit back and watch them work. The general idea is you give your children activities that challenge them. They shouldn’t be too hard or too easy, and you have to observe their interactions with the activity to determine what’s what. So like most of parenting, it’s one great, big experiment.
The most challenging thing at the beginning was James, our now 17-month-old. He wanted desperately to do everything John was doing and at first I kept him from trying John’s activities because Montessori tells you that if the exercise is too hard, they’ll get frustrated and angry. But after being completely unsuccessful at getting James interested in his own special activities, I let him try John’s. And he couldn’t do them and got extremely frustrated and angry. So I asked forgiveness of the great Montessori in the sky, and eventually James realized that threading beads and playing with the Matryoshka doll was really pretty awesome. Especially when John showed a great interest in those items as well.
Probably my best moment to date with Bastardized Home Montessori Preschool was with teaching John his numbers. I spent hours cutting out sandpaper letters and numbers (while watching The Tudors on Netflix). The sandpaper letters go back to working with the preschool age child’s tactile learning, so they actually get to touch and trace the letter or number as they learn. This particular activity has the child place buttons or blocks in front of the numbers to connect the quantity and the symbol. I had demonstrated this for John one day and he seemed about as interested as a I am in NASCAR. But then a few days later, he pulled the activity off the shelf and I heard him say to himself, “This is zee-o. It has NO BLOCKS.” That was a good day.
This is second in a short series on Bastardized Home Montessori Preschool.
Montessori has all these code phrases and one of them is “preparing the environment” where you have a neat, orderly space with objects strategically placed for children to explore and learn. I thought I would start small by clearing off a few bookshelves for the Montessori activities, but in order to get the books into the storage closet I had to completely reorganize that. And things I couldn’t fit into the storage closet went into other closets those had to be reorganized to make things fit, etc. ad nauseum, to the point that even if I completely fail at Bastardized Home Montessori Preschool, at least my entire apartment could be featured in an issue of Real Simple. I even found the passport I lost three years ago.
The other thing I had to do before I got started was assemble some Montessori activities. By far the most helpful resource I found was Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Yearsby Elizabeth G. Hainstock. This is an updated edition of the book she first wrote in the 1960s. Probably my favorite part of the book, outside the overall detailed how-to, is she says comforting things like, “If you can’t afford Montessori nursery school for your children, don’t worry! Just do it at home! It’s rewarding and fun and just as good as paying someone else to teach them how to pour beans.” I’m paraphrasing a bit.
The other book I found helpful was Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three that had some helpful resources on ways you could rearraign your home to better promote exploritory, Montessori-style learning even in very young children.
This is the first in a short series of posts about Bastardized Home Montessori Preschool.
Back in March, Michael and I visited a local Montessori school to see about placing John there in the fall. I liked what I understood about the basic concept of Montessori preschool education: tactile learning that focuses on teaching children everyday tasks. Or, to decode that, if you want them to one day write with a pencil and make you a three course meal while doing the laundry and building a car, you need to start by teaching them how to pour themselves a glass of water because they will need the hydration.
I was a little skeptical going in about some things Montessori promises, like child-led learning and older children teaching the younger ones in the Montessori classroom. But after spending 45 minutes just observing a class one day, I left having drunk the Kool-Aid.
The problem was even though this was a very affordability priced Montessori school, it was still more than we could afford. So, like the trained researcher I am, I started reading everything I could find on Montessori and ultimately decided that I would start teaching Montessori (to the best of my abilities given that I am untrained in the great secrets of Montessori – secrets that certified Montessori teachers spend two years of intense training to gain) to the boys in our home as well as in a playgroup once a week with a friend and her two daughters.
I called it “Bastardized Home Montessori Preschool” because pure-Montessorians probably wouldn’t call what I’m doing Montessori. For as much as they try to make their classrooms into a home environment, really the ideal Montessori setting isn’t the nuclear family home. But at the end of the day, if you can’t afford perfection you do the best you can, and this is it for me.