Traditional Pre-K Versus Montessori?
I put my 18-month-old son in a traditional pre-school and he came home crying daily. The school also sent home reports –written in red ink– stating that he wouldn’t sit still at his desk and that he was “clumsy” and kept falling down during the five block walk to the park. He didn’t stay long at that expensive preschool.
I wound up putting him into a Montessori pre-school after that, and I’m really happy that I did. Three years later he can read, write, multiply and divide. He eats off glass plates (and really, it’s ok that he does), he knows the Solar System and has embraced silent letters as “magic letters.” As in “Mommy, there’s a magic E. You can’t hear it!”
That works for me.
I’ve heard all kinds of pros and cons for the Montessori method, (and you should definitely do what makes you feel comfy when it comes to your kid) but it works for my family. Plus, the teachers love on him, so he loves being there. That said, they do many things at school that make perfect sense for our home life. Montessori really pushes basic living skills in addition to traditional academic skills, so my kid has learned how to wash his hands properly, pour tea (coffee, water, whathaveyou), put on his gloves and coat and hat, and feed fish, put the dirty dishes in the sink and sweep the floor. (At school, the sink is installed at the three feet tall level.) They also work on social emotional development tailored to each child, so once the new baby came home and my oldest started whining? The teachers knew how to encourage him, make him feel safe and push the “we NEED the big brother” thing so that the whining was kept to a minimum at school and at home.
And by the way, Montessori works well for black kids. #jussayin. With a teaching structure that encourages active movement plus scientific inquiry, this method works well for our little geniuses, including my fun-loving firstborn who can spend hours and hours finding “new” ways to make sets of numbers add up to 100. I blame Montessori for that.
Once the teachers saw that he liked numbers, they didn’t limit the amount of time he spent on numbers exercises. They found ways to incorporate number work into almost everything. Reading a book? How many letters are on the page? Looking at the planets? How many planets do you get if you take away Saturn and Pluto? How many planets do you get if you add Mercury, Mars and Venus together?
The beauty of this method is that it lets the child explore at his or her own pace and it pushes kid-level independence that in turn helps alleviate those “terrible” twos, threes and fours. Once my son learned that he can thread pipe cleaners through a colander, he grew less frustrated with zipping and unzipping his jacket and trying to tie his shoes. Montessori also is very culturally affirmative and doesn’t focus on punishment or obeying. Rather it focuses on engaging the child. (And before you have a fit, please know that little black boys are often accused of being bad kids, and I believe that is simply because little black boys are born brilliant- just like all children and all genders are born similarly brilliant- and therefore, need a challenging pre-school environment that puts more emphasis on teaching than on obeying orders.) That said, the method created by Maria Montessori is such a hit that I’ve incorporated some ultra basic Montessori stylings into our home.
My Version of Bringing Montessori Home
- Put things on their level. My son’s bookcases are two feet tall, his clothing is hung at 3 feet high and his underwear and socks are in the bottom drawer on the floor. His full size bed has a minimal box spring. And the light switch has a little step stool beneath it. Why’s this? Because when things are at his level, he can get his own stuff. He can dress himself, fold his clothes and put them up and take his books up and down at his leisure. He also doesn’t need me present to turn off and on a light. All his art work is at kid eye level – not at adult eye level. I picked this up from how they lay out the school, where all the “work” is on the kids’ eye level.
- Make sure everything has a place. Every toy has a basket. Every puzzle has a slot. When I give him a place to put things, they always find their way back there. This is not a perfect science though… I’m still struggling with how to get all these Mattel cars into one location instead of strewn about the kitchen floor.
- Let them use glass! Don’t have a cow because you know what? He doesn’t break the plates or the cups because he understands why he should be careful. And my one year old drinks tablespoons of water out of shot glasses. Don’t hate. It’s water! And shot glasses are perfectly sized for his little hands. Also, you can buy tempered glass plates and cups. Those are tough to break, easy on the budget, microwave safe and are safer than using questionable plastics made in countries that skirt around banned chemical standards…
- A fridge snack drawer for my kids. I have a fridge with a middle door, so my toddler can open it and grab his strawberries, or orange slices or yogurt. The very bottom drawer is a freezer and holds his freeze pops and frozen fruit. My kids have to ask permission before getting food, but once I say yes? It’s self-serve. Hooray for drawers that are low to the ground and kid accessible. Plus, the fridge beeps if they leave it open. Win-win.
- Cook together. (I don’t know that this is Montessori exactly, because my mom did this with me, so I do this with my kid. But it seems to fit with what they teach.) My kid picks the stones out of the black-eyed peas and he knows how to count the bay leaves and put them into the cook pot. He cuts pats of butter for our toast and spreads them with a small butter knife. He salts and peppers the chicken and chops. He knows how to help mommy select a good potato versus a bad potato, he can crack an egg open into a bowl and he takes the measuring cups and measures out tablespoons of baking soda and cinnamon for cookies. He also rinses the dishes and puts them back into the low drawer when he’s finished. The thing is: I let him try anything within reason and that is age appropriate.
Some of this is common sense, no? What things do you do to incorporate independence and self-sufficiency with your young kids?
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