Children seem to grow so quickly that at times it can feel difficult to just keep up. Then, just when you feel like you’ve gained ground, it turns out that you actually need to get out ahead of them to prepare for an unpredictable future. Which Kindergarten environment is best for your child? Out of context, the question doesn’t sound all that daunting, but in reality this is a very personal and complex decision.
As it turns out, Montessori Kindergarten is a topic on which we at MAB spend a significant amount of time discussing. So while we would never presume to attempt to make this decision for you, we can certainly provide you with useful information that will help you to confidently make the choice that will work best for your child. There are several options for kindergarten from public, religious to traditional private and Montessori. In this post, rather than point out where other programs may be lacking, we’ll focus on the benefits of the Montessori Kindergarten program. Our hope is that you will use this information for comparative purposes to make an informed decision on a choice that will have significant impact on your child’s future.
1. The longer your child spends in a Montessori environment, the better prepared they are to leave it:
It is no secret that Montessori is different from all the other programs in very fundamental ways. So how is it that more time spent learning in this different environment will actually make it easier to adapt elsewhere? It comes down to the our philosophy of child development and our view of the child. In the Montessori classroom, the focus for all children should be social and emotional growth. As my good friend and fellow Montessori Madman, Bobby George of Baan Dek Montessori says, we share the belief that “social success will lead to academic success.” So every day, with every lesson, every self-directed activity, every social interaction, from the moment they enter the building and beyond the point that they leave it, children are developing important life skills like: self-confidence, patience, independence, concentration, empathy and responsibility. They are solidifying crucial character traits such as generosity, perseverance, problem solving skills and the ability to choose between wants and needs. They learn to seek out challenges with the knowledge that mistakes are really the best opportunity to learn. Above all, their innate desire to learn is being nurtured with the goal of creating life-long learners, regardless of the environment or method.
2. The three-year-cycle
The child’s work is to build the adult she will one day become. Her work starts now and while this endeavor will span her entire life, she will cover more grown and experience more growth in the first six years than in all of the rest combined. Such a massive undertaking requires many things, but the most essential element is time. The very nature of Montessori is to slow things down and take advantage of each moment to isolate skills and hone in on the minute details of the child’s unique needs. We follow each child’s natural learning curve while ensuring a broad exposure to the skills of life. However, as all parents know, many aspects of child development simply cannot be forced.
Over the course of three years in a Montessori classroom, children’s development doesn’t simply follow a regular pattern with 1/3 of the learning happening in each of the three years. Because each child is unique, their skills will develop according to unique needs. The process is cumulative as each new skill or concept builds on those previously mastered and creates a bridge to what lies ahead. As the child grows over time, learning builds toward the end of the three year cycle to the point that the third or final year is almost always the period of the child’s greatest growth. In short, everything that the child has learned in the previous years will be intentionally utilized in the third/kindergarten year.
One hallmark of leadership is the ability to understand, relate and connect to others and the environment. The three-year age span within the Montessori classroom provides a broad range of abilities and personalities. It ensures that each day spent as the oldest in a Montessori environment offers opportunities for leadership. There is always someone younger or less experienced, who needs help or guidance. By the third year and as the oldest of the group, the child has found her place and understands her responsibilities. She has developed a greater ability to see, understand and anticipate the needs of others and has the confidence to take action. The repeated experience of being mentored by the older students and the myriad opportunities to help and collaborate with friends, have refined these skills. Now, instead of waiting for the teacher, Kindergarteners pay close attention to the room and their peers, ready to step in if the moment presents itself. If someone needs help tying a shoe, zipping a coat or cleaning a spill, a Kindergartener is there without being asked. A new visitor in the room, be it adult or child, will always be greeted by Kindergarteners who are proud of their own abilities and want to show what they can do. They are leaders and they know it. When a child has reached the point where she is so confident in her own work and her own abilities that she instinctively attunes herself to the needs of others and her environment, she is ready for any program. She is ready for the world.
4. Love of learning
Maybe the thought of your child as an adult doesn’t really enter into the picture right now. Indeed, many of us don’t think 20 or 30 years down the road when it comes to four-year-olds, but Montessori teachers do. We are trained that way and we never lose sight of this idea. Our legacy with each child should be that when they leave, the love of learning they brought with them is still firmly intact and has blossomed to its full potential. In an educational system which devalues effort, penalizes mistakes and makes work an arbitrary thing, a child needs this love of learning to be as strong as possible.
All of this points to the fact that Montessori is education and development of the whole child. It is a complex and cumulative process which requires the right environment, the right materials, the right teacher and it takes the right amount of time. In the end, this time spent in Montessori Kindergarten can mean the difference between progressing in another program and thriving in it.