Thursday, May 08, 2008

why montessori

I've long held the belief that no one can do as good of a job raising our children as we can.

No one will shower them with love and affection the way that we will. No one will care for them as completely as we do. No one can teach them kindness, patience, compassion, respect and civility the way that we will. No one has longed for these children the way that we have - nor have they gone through hell and back to get them - so no one could possibly be as good to them or for them, as we are.

I never held any preconceived notions before I was a parent about whether or not I would send our children to preschool. But once I became a mother and I imagined dropping off my precious little children with someone who was being paid to watch them, I broke out in emotional hives.

Up until recently I have held firmly to the belief that our children do not need school. They would receive all of the positive stimulation, love, education, and structure necessary at this point in their lives, from me ... their mother.

Fast forward to present day.

I love my kids with all of my heart and soul. But at this stage in their young lives, I'd guess that around 60, maybe even 70% of their waking hours, I don't like them very much. They drive me more insane than should be allowable by law. Sure, we do some wonderful things together and this past year that I have spent home with them full-time has been the absolute best year of my life.


It can be extremely difficult at times. On the one hand, I want to "always" be a positive role model for my children, and on the other hand I want for them to leave the toilet paper roll alone. I want for them to stop destroying everything that they touch. I want for them to stop beating each other up. I want for them to stop teasing each other, incessantly. I want to stop setting up one project - only to have them bore of it - and abandon that project to start another project before I have even processed that they have moved on. I want to stop feeling like I am running around in circles trying to positively stimulate our kids, from the time I pick my head up from my pillow until the time I put it back down again.

I want for them to stop screaming and whining and fighting and throwing tantrums about anything ranging from the underwear they are wearing to the fact that the SUN IS SHINING.

Recently, I have determined that I want to give our children more than what I, alone, am able to provide. I want to give them a better me.

A kinder, more patient mother.

A more compassionate, gentle teacher.

Charlie and I are trying to create the best home environment that we possibly can for our children. Yet, very often, I will struggle with guilt because I know that I am not the embodiment of patience and virtue that I really want to be. The job of a mother, is also the job of a teacher. And although I am wonderfully proud of many things that I have taught our children ... when I see my three-year-olds grab at their hair and yell "Sweet Jaysus!", I feel like crawling in a hole.

In the Discovery of the Child, Dr. Maria Montessori states "…every defect of character is due to some wrong treatment sustained by the child during his early years".

I totally believe that.

My mother has always said "Give me a child until they are seven and I will give you the man." This was the Jesuit motto, alleged to be attributed to Francis Xavier, the co-founder of the Jesuit Order. The implication, here, is that the best opportunity to indoctrinate a person in a lifetime of belief and devotion to religious dogma is when they are young. But the first few years of life are so important - for reasons beyond religious dogma.

According to Dr. Montessori, during the first six years of life, "a child becomes a member of their culture and their family. They absorb language, manners, values and attitudes of those in which they interact. If they spend the first six years in a loving and supportive environment, a child learns to love themself and feel safe in the world. A child who has experienced the joy of making a contribution to her family or group, learns to love making an effort, and feels needed.

Every child, by instinct, wants to learn and grow to the limit of his abilities. In the first six years of life they do this by imitating those around themselves. To support this need we must carefully prepare the physical and social environment, provide tools that enable the child to work to create himself, watch for those first tentative moments of concentration, and get out of the way, following the child as his path unfolds."

From the research that I have done - and from the observations I have made - I am convinced that the education our children receive in the first six years of their lives, will be the most important education that they receive during their entire life time. The first six years is the time that the foundation is laid upon which all other educations will be built. Most important, perhaps, is that this is the time in their lives in which our children's character is developed.

I have visited and interviewed several preschools. But when I first sat in on a Montessori classroom, I was moved to tears. (Not to be confused with when I first saw the tuition fee schedule, and began to sob.) I could not believe that the small children I observed were so disciplined and positively engaged in their activities. What surprised me the most is that when Charlie sat in on a class a few weeks later, he had almost the exact same response.

We both had the impression that the children we observed were thriving as they graciously moved from one activity to the next. These children were being challenged independently of any teacher or specific curriculum. We imagined our children being a part of this group. We imagined them learning from the older children, teaching the younger children. We imagined them having the opportunity to be away from one another - for a few hours each day - so that they could have a sense of self. We imagined them coming home and talking in hushed whispers and cleaning up after themselves.

We imagined the kind of vacations we could take with the money spent on tuition, or the years we would shave off our mortgage payment. And ultimately, we decided that although I need to return to work so that we could foot the bill for Montessori, this quite likely, may be the best investment we could ever make in our children's education and subsequently, our children's future. Yes. I feel that strongly about it.

And if they actually do learn to clean up after themselves, I'd be willing to pay twice as much.

Our triplets will begin Montessori school, this September. They will be attending five days a week, part-time, for three hours a day. Truth be told, this is still a little difficult for me, because we do so many things during the early morning weekdays that I know we'll miss. But, I'm hopeful that we'll have ample opportunity to visit the museums, zoo, nature center, library and a host of other locations, in the afternoon.

I have weighed the options.

I have thought about the advantages and disadvantages of sending them to school. I have thought about their childhood and how important it is that they are free to enjoy themselves. I have thought about how they may potentially be in school for 16+ years and how I only have this short period of time with them, as small children.

But I do not see Montessori as a restricted, overbearing educational environment. In contrast, I see it as a wonderful opportunity for our children to have structured time, every day, to explore, discover and develop a deep love of learning. I also see it as an opportunity for me to learn more about becoming a better teacher (and mother) for our children. Since I am entertaining the notion of homeschooling - I think that the skills that we learn in Montessori now, will be critically important for our success, later on.

At this point in time, I do not believe that with the appropriate books, tools and equipment, I would be able to effectively replicate a Montessori environment in our home. I think that our children need to be with a teacher who is trained in the Montessori method and I think that they need the classroom experience and the time away from each other to build their independence, confidence and sense of individuality.

But I also feel assured that even with school five days a week, our children will still have plenty of time to continue their training for the Couch Olympics.

In their underwear.


  1. You put it so wonderfully, so eloquently. Living in the Goldfields of West Australia (otherwise known as Nowhere Near Anything) makes it impossible for me to send my child to I am very envious that you have the chance.

    Those three hours will mean that the rest of the hours you spend with your children will be much more fruitful, much more satisfying. And those three hours will be so wonderful for the kids too!!!

  2. I'm way ahead of myself, but I'm really looking forward to sending my kids to Montessori (um, 2.5 years from now!). While I really enjoy being at home with them, I know that my patience and creative abilities are limited. And I love the way that Montessori teaches, above all, a love for learning.

    It does not go unnoticed, however, that they don't post tuition on their websites... I'll make sure I'm sitting down when they tell me.

  3. Jen -- I'm a regular reader, but an infrequent commenter. But I had to pipe up here because I have recently decided to send my two boys to a Montessori school in the fall and am SO excited about it.

    My sons were forced into day care when I had to return to work (husband left, took all the money...long story) and I have hated every single day that I have had to take them there.

    But when I think of September and taking them to the Montessori school, I break out into a smile. I know it is going to be so good for them, for all the reasons you describe.

    Interestingly, however, is that the cost of the two of them attending a Montessori school will be cheaper than what I'm paying at the 'academy' (really a day care) now. We live in the DC metro area.

    You will treasure those morning hours with Henry and everyone will have better afternoons because they have had a break from each other and you've had a break from them!

    Go Montessori!!!

  4. A-MEN! I find it impossible to be the mommmy I *want* to be with less than you've taken on. I can't imagine how you do as much as you do!

  5. I think they are going to love it, Jen. I think you are ALL going to love it!

  6. yay! I'm glad you are at peace with your decision. Peanut has thrived in the Montessori environment and BB has had me one-on-one weekday mornings.

    The first two weeks will be an adjustment but I think your kids will love it and Henry will have alone time with you and/or Charlie.

  7. The nuts Mom5/8/08, 11:11 AM

    Hi Jen, it's been so long since I've read your blog! How I've missed listening to another mom! For the past 2+ years they've been taken care of at home by a nanny. I didn't like how they interacted with other children because they just wouldn't speak to them or even try to play with them. They just stuck together and clung to each other for dear life. My boys started at a little christian school back in march. We went about 1 1/2 months of back to back sicknesses but now, they are having a blast, everyone is healthy, and I LOVE their school. You're going to love it! Congrats!

  8. You really do express yourself well ... you know that yes?

    I am so glad that you feel peaceful about your decision. It sounds like a great decision to me.

    And I think that it's the time AWAY from our kids that helps us retain our grasp on our own personal sanity, making us better moms.

  9. Beautiful Post Jen. I see I am not the only one moved to say that.

    Jessica (fellow Montessori devotee)

  10. You have confirmed my decision to place DJ in preschool. Thank you for writing this.

  11. I would just like to warn you to not get your hopes up too high about it improving their behavior at home. Three kids, then the triplets, killed my hopes in that from the time the first went off to school. But preschool was awesome for them in so many ways, too. Hopefully it will be different for yours, anyway! ;)

  12. Jen- We decided to make the plunge too. This was a very well writte explanation that I plan to send to my curious friends and family. :-)

  13. My son's are in Montessori daycare/preschool & we LOVE it. I work FT outside of the home so they're there from 8-5. Cost? 28,000 per year total...HOLY SHINOLY but it's worth it. NICE environment, very positive & fun!