Nearly two years ago, at just 13 months of age, my son Nico began his journey in Montessori education in The Glen Montessori‘s Birth to Three program. The school is located just to the north of Pittsburgh, PA, and is one of the only Montessori Birth to Three programs that I’ve ever run into (and I’ve looked a lot!).
What is Montessori?
If you’re new to my blog or otherwise unfamiliar with Montessori, the Montessori Method is a child-centered approach to education based on the scientific observations of children’s learning processes. Dr. Montessori discovered that children desire to and are capable of teaching themselves if the environment is carefully prepared to meet their learning needs. She designed a reality-oriented, orderly, child-sized environment in which specifically created Montessori materials are displayed on low open shelves so readily accessible to the children. The materials are designed to encourage thought, exploration, experimentation, and creativity.
Under a Montessori teacher’s guide ace, children are free to work at their own pace with materials they have chosen. The aim is to encourage active, self-directed learning and to aid individual mastery within the whole group community.
School for infants?
I received a lot of questions about why I may choose to send my just-turned-toddler to a Montessori program instead of a traditional daycare. I’ll first say (not that this is the most important thing) but cost really wasn’t a factor. The cost of the full time daycare that we sent Nico to from 6-13 months (also Montessori inspired, but not an official program) was almost identical to the Montessori program. So that wasn’t a consideration (fortunately).
Why we Montessori from Birth
I personally believe that the first three years of life are the most important three years. And as such, I wanted my child to experience care as close to the way I was choosing to parent him as possible. And Dr. Montessori‘s teachings and principles for guiding young children aligned perfectly with that. Of utmost importance, respect for the child as an individual. The Glen Montessori‘s Birth to Three program isn’t just one of the only Birth to Three Montessori programs that I’ve ever encountered, but the best. And Nico has thrived in that environment over the last two years. It is a nurturing educational environment that supports the development of Independence and self-care skills and encourages trusting relationships between children and their teachers. Four major areas of development remain the focus: movement, Independence, language and self-regulation.
However, Nico’s time in Birth to Three is nearing an end. It’s really hitting me as a mom that this is the first educational milestone that we will encounter, and that’s an emotional thing! Or, maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones.
While we have elected to do the summer extension program (Birth to Three continues all year round, while the rest of the school sessions are August – May), Nico has mostly mastered the Birth to Three materials in his classroom. I’ve been working with him to explain that he will be going to a new classroom next year, and while I don’t think he totally gets it, I am sure he will embrace it when the time comes.
This is a slightly bigger deal in a Montessori environment because you do not change classrooms every year (or even every few months, as you may in a daycare!). Because of the mixed aged classrooms, the cycles are 3 years long, allowing the student and teacher to gather the most from the experience working together. So moving up is quite a big deal in Montessori, because it happens so much less frequently!
Montessori Children’s House Program
So what will Children’s House look like for Nico? I had the chance to observe several of the Children’s House classrooms over the last month, and I have to tell you, I am SO excited for all the new works and experiences that Nico will soon have.
At The Glen, Children’s House is a specially designed, three year individualized program. The curriculum includes work in math, language, science, geography, sensorial and practical life/daily living. The goal of the program is to develop the child’s self-esteem, Independence, order, and to pave the road to literacy and cultivate a love of learning.
Outdoor play, art, nature, cooking, foreign language and science activities are hallmarks of Children’s House supplemental curriculum, again focusing on the child’s desire for independence.
What will Children’s House look like?
On a visit to a Montessori Children’s House, you may see a child handling beads, pouring rice or building a tower and think it’s just play. However, it’s actually something quite more purposeful. The beads, rice and tower are all examples of materials to complete work that the child has chosen. Work is any academic endeavor undertaken by the child. Montessori methods and materials engage the child’s senses because Dr. Montessori observed that all learning from within the child comes through his or her senses.
Sometimes people refer to Montessori work in quotations. I’ll often hear, “Oh, looks like Nico had a good time doing his ‘work’ at school” from well meaning family or friends. It’s actually not “work,” but simply work! It’s purposeful and intended to accomplish something of meaning, importance and value! This definition lends a positive connotation to the concept of work: work is a privilege, a positive experience.
Dr. Montessori believed young children are driven by an internal growth process to seek out experiences that meet their constantly evolving developmental needs. The classroom is intentionally prepared with only one of each work. Students are free to choose the activity they wish to work with, so they learn to make choices based on what they are interested in and what is available. Allowing children to make their own choices based on internal motivation rather than adult direction sets a strong foundation for developing capable children.
Nico will also become fully submersed in the Montessori work period, known as the work cycle. While the Birth to Three environment included work cycles, starting at just 15 or 20 minutes for the youngest friends and increasing up to approximately 1 hour for the older friends, Children’s House embraces the full Montessori work cycle of 2-3 hour uninterrupted blocks of time. The uninterrupted work cycle helps children become more independent, strengthen their ability to focus, find joy with the materials, and find deep satisfaction in their work.
No, this is not a “play” period where children can do whatever they want. Nor is there any chaos. In fact, I am constantly blown away in my observations of Montessori classrooms with just how quiet and orderly the rooms are for extended lengths of time. This period of time is always some combination of most students working independently while teachers give individual or small group lessons. Great care is taken to not interrupt children while they are working, showing them the respect that this time and their exploration deserves. I must admit, not interrupting my child at work has been among the hardest principles for me to adapt! As parents, particularly American parents, we tend to constantly interrupt our concentrating children!
Farewell Birth to Three-
I am so profoundly grateful to Nico’s teachers over the last two years- Ms. Shannon and Ms. Angela, for helping shape him into the little man that he is today. These ladies have loved Nico from the inside out- recognizing the unique qualities of his personality and helping him to mature in ways that have simply been amazing to witness. It is difficult for me to express in words, although I’m sure many of you understand, the gratitude that you have for those that love your children. It is a very difficult thing to entrust your child to someone else. It’s scary. There are feelings of guilt. There is so much uneasiness and questions.
I remember sitting in the tiny little classroom chairs during meet and greet in August 2017 and being anxious. Not first-time-away-from-my-kid or just-back-to-work-from-maternity-leave anxious, but still anxious. What would my child think of this new environment where he’d spend 8-10 hours a day? Would someone comfort him if he was sad or offer to hug him when he skinned a knee? Would he approach school with joy each day or trepidation? Would he make friends? Will he learn and grow into a good human being? Would he be inquisitive and would that be fostered in him?
Every question that I had wondered had an answer I was beyond satisfied with. Ms. Shannon and Ms. Angela- thank you. You have coached Nico and encouraged him. You have been an advocate for him, a true counselor and guide. You gave him your full attention- a truly priceless gift in today’s day and age. You wiped away his tears and guided him through some of the fundamental milestones of the early years. Thank you for building his self-esteem not through praise or cheerleading, but through instilling in him the inherent confidence that he is capable. Thank you for everything that isn’t part of your “job” but that makes you the truly incredible people you are. Thank you for answering my emails at random hours and your detailed responses. Thank you for caring so much about the person my son turns into.
Your influence on Nico can never be measured, but the impact you have made on his life will be something that we can witness every day for the rest of his life. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I know that Nico is truly ready to move on up to Children’s House because you have prepared him (and me) so well. I am forever grateful.