Montessori for the Long-Term

At this point in the school year, re-enrollment month, many families take stock of how their children are progressing and decide whether to continue with a Montessori education here at KMS. Many times we find that the focus becomes, “Is my child learning ______?” (Fill in the blank with any specific skill.) What often gets forgotten or taken for granted is what your children are really learning.

The promise of a Montessori education is that your child will become a self-confident, independent, cooperative, competent, happy person. These are lofty objectives and outcomes that are long-term goals. Your children are at the beginning of this process, yet we see these traits beginning to form. We see them when numerous children stop their own work to go help another student pick up the pieces of a lesson she has dropped. We hear them when a child says to another child, “I saw a book on the shelf about that. I will get it for our research.” We read it in the response letters our students write after field trips and after special visitors come to our class. It is evident each day in the classroom as the children select lessons, work on them, and put them away neatly on the shelves.

Still, there are times when families believe that a Montessori education is not working for their children. With such incredible outcomes, why is this? David Milling, a parent at Anami Montessori in Charlotte, North Carolina, expressed it well:

 My experience as a Montessori parent has given me a better understanding of why a parent may resist sending their child to a Montessori school. The reality is, if one hasn’t been educated in a Montessori environment or otherwise exposed to children who demonstrate the beneficial outcomes of a Montessori education, the act of “buying in” is a total leap of faith. In my experience, the challenge of being a Montessori parent is that it requires a healthy dose of patience and a willingness to trust the process.

Trusting the process is challenging when we take a snapshot of where a child is at any given moment. When we freeze a moment in time and ask the children to perform a variety of skills, such as with standardized tests, we really only learn how the children could perform right then, under those conditions. We risk losing sight of the big picture, of what type of adults we want these children to grow into over time.

Of course, we do want the children to learn all those basic skills, which will help them be successful in the future. These come with practice, and the children do practice a great deal in a Montessori classroom. Often they do it in ways that don’t appear to demonstrate the specific skills. For example, students working on research projects write their information, submit it for review, and make corrections. The Montessori teachers seek to balance corrections with the joy of doing the work. If a child views corrections as punitive, he or she is unlikely to continue with research work. To keep the enthusiasm going, we will focus on a specific skill and add more over time. For example, a young student who has been introduced to writing sentences beginning with a capital letter would be expected to use this skill in a research work. Now, instead of feeling punitive, it is a reminder: “Remember when we practiced writing sentences? What goes at the beginning?”

It is difficult to trust the process when the desired outcomes are so many years away. As a Montessori teacher for over twenty years, I know it works when I see former students stop by to visit KMS. They absolutely beam with joy as they remember the green box of animal treasury cards, the long bead chains, the special field trip we took, that project they did with their friends. They confidently tell me about what they are currently doing, the challenges they’ve faced and overcome. They were given an environment in which they could lay the foundation for the adult they would become, and it made all the difference.