When I think about my first years in Montessori (pre-k and kindergarten), the first memory I flash to is me holding a hammer, standing in front of a tree stump that had several nails speckling it. These nails had been hammered in by my fellow classmates and I over the course of the school year. All of us were six years old or younger, but we had been trusted enough to be taught to use these tools, to follow directions carefully and precisely. Some of the nails were bent from wayward strokes, some had been hammered exactly.
I have gotten the reactions you’d expect from this anecdote. Parents clutch at their heart and say,
“How could you hand a hammer to a four-year-old? They’re not capable of managing such a dangerous tool.”
But that’s just the thing. After being in a Montessori environment for some time, my cohort had learned how to become capable at any task we were entrusted with. None of us got handed hammers on the first day of class. We were, perhaps, handed two pitchers—one filled with water, the other one waiting to be poured into. Or maybe we were demonstrated a lesson by the teacher, or one of the established students, on how to wash a table, or cut fruits for snack time. Steadily, all of us in that Montessori environment, learned how to learn. We began to actively listen, observe closely, mimic actions, and ask questions. Until the day our ability to learn had matured enough to the point where our teachers felt that we could learn how to use a hammer, and demonstrated how to do so safely.
The Montessori methodology is without peer in the current educational line up. I say that as a biased decade-long student of Montessori, and briefly, as an assistant-teacher of Montessori, and as a daughter of a renowned Montessori Trainer. But don’t take my words with a grain of salt, because everything I say is based in realism, not idealism.
Montessori is first and foremost grounded in the world that we can witness. Young students first learn about things they can touch, see, smell, hear, taste. Then, those senses get a status upgrade as they’re used as evidence for abstract concepts. Math becomes about sight with the Pink Tower and the Brown Stair. Language becomes about touch with the Sandpaper Letters. Every concept is manipulative, even the abstract ones, so that the children understand the why and the how. Very oftentimes, a child is more ingenious than the teacher, and asks a question or proves a truth using very simple evidence-based conclusions, never mind that they’re four, five, or six years old.
The value that your children come away with long term is that they will have learned how to learn. In this day and age, adaptability is equivalent to success, and those who need no hand holding when confronting a new object, obstacle, or opportunity are the best prepared for the future. Challenge has no negative connotation because it is confronted with curiosity, and a consideration of what creative ways one might go about solving this problem, because very often there is no one way.
Some people are worried about the consequences of extracting their child from the Montessori environment, afraid that it has bubbled them and that they’ll struggle in a new setting. But remember what I said about adaptability. When a child’s ability to adapt is greater than the struggle of transition, that’s when they’ll succeed. Each child is different, each learning environment is different, and there are many variables of childhood and adolescence that one cannot count on to make a nice, neat equation to tell you whether or not your child will turn out perfectly. But I did alright.
I was Montessori, born and bred. From a toddler day care through my middle school days, I was always in Montessori environments. I decided for myself that I would go to a large public high school. It was entirely my choice, definitely not that of my parents, as they would have much preferred I go somewhere else. I had a very enlightening experience in public school, in a strictly non-academic sense. But academically I did very well, and completed all the requirements in three years, along with many dual enrollment credits. I finished up my Associates of Arts degree the following year (in what would have been my Senior year), while I worked at my former Montessori school, which was my first job. I went to a state university, which I graduated from in two years with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology, a Minor in marketing. I was able to knock off two years of Gen-Ed classes through my earlier Associates degree work. I took a semester off after college to tour China on my own for three months, which was the best experience of my life. I returned in December, and in the first weeks of February I got my first professional job as an interactive copywriter. Next week I turn 21.
So, if this story has a moral, it is to trust your child’s capability. Equally as important, put them in an environment that encourages their self-confidence, their independence, and shows them the fundamentals of how to learn.
They’ll be just fine.