Why Montessori? Background
I’ve just finished reading “Montessori: The science behind the Genius,” by Dr Angeline Lillard, which is an amazing book which goes through the pillars of the Montessori system and examines all the research which has been done that supports the Montessori system. The research quoted is mostly research outside of the Montessori system, i.e. most of the research quoted is from traditional schools, homes, or laboratories, with conclusions that align with the conclusions that Dr Montessori came to, long before the research was done.
Quoting from the book’s preface, “Their assumption, like my original one, was that Montessori must have aspects that are supported by research and aspects that are not. Yet her major ideas…are supported by a strong body of evidence in developmental psychology.”
I want to solidify the major points and the research that backs them up in my own mind, and the best way for me to do that is to write a summary. That will help whenever someone asks the questions, “Why Montessori?”
But first some background….
Grace started at Montessori when she was 3, which as it turns out is the perfect time to start in a Montessori class. She started at Montessori @ Home in Durbanville, and this year (at 5 and a bit) she moved to Newberry House Montessori in Somerset West. We moved mainly so that she would be able to continue with her Montessori education through primary school. In South Africa we refer to pre-school (3-6) and primary school (6-12), which would be kindergarten/primary and elementary school respectively in American terminology.
But why did we start in a Montessori school?
When we started exploring schools and asking around about schools, Grace’s swimming instructor mentioned Montessori @ Home and that she thought Grace would do well there. Grace’s speech therapist also suggested Montessori @ Home, as she knew a sensitive child who was doing very well there. We decided to go and have a look at the school, and one of the things that Donné remembers very clearly from our first visit was how interested Grace was in the work materials – she wanted to explore them (and they do look inviting when all neatly packed onto the shelves, as they are at just about any point in time).
Donné then went and observed for a morning, and was impressed by the order and quietness of the class, as well as the warmth of the teachers. We decided that we were happy with the school and enrolled Grace, without too much knowledge of the Montessori way, other than what we had learnt through our visits and a small amount of reading. She started in the third term of 2012.
Grace thrived in the school once she had settled into the routine of it. She made friends, enjoyed the classroom and the work, and was very happy there. We were very happy with the school and how things were going. Unfortunately, at the end of 2013, all of her closest friends were leaving the school to move on to main stream schools. That along with a few other things that had been bothering us led us to start exploring other options for schools, with our thinking being to move her to grade R in a main stream school, and give her a path through to the end of primary school.
After looking at some schools we decided to enrol her in Curro Durbanville, and went through the entire process. She was enrolled and ready to join Curro in the new year….and then we attended the new students day.
This whole choice had been a very difficult one for us, with many different factors pulling in each direction. Grace had done very well in the Montessori class, and the materials and work tasks available are just amazing. On the other hand, we were concerned about the social aspects (for her in particular with her friends leaving) and what the long term path forward was. I remember a conversation with Donné where I said, “Which would you rather have: bored [under stimulated] and happy, or engaged and sad?” That conversation had a big impact on the choice we made at the time, even though in retrospect it wasn’t a very good approximation of the situation.
We went to the new students day, and my heart just sank. It just wasn’t right, not for us, and not for Grace. Donné remembers the way she interacted in what was to be her future classroom – there just wasn’t really much that interested her. Comparing that to her first visit to a Montessori classroom, well, it was chalk and cheese.
We cancelled her enrolment, and decided to continue with Montessori @ Home while we evaluated what the school options were. The first term of the new year was hard for her, but she made new friends and bounced back to her productive and thriving self with the help of the teachers.
We then visited 3 of the 4 Montessori schools around Cape Town which offered a primary school, namely Rainbow Montessori in Durbanville, Blue Moon in Bergvliet and Newberry in Somerset West. We didn’t visit Auburn House in Kenilworth, as they did not have space for Grace in the next two years.
We loved the passion of the teachers at Newberry, as well as the beautiful environment and opportunities that it offered, and so decided to move her there, and to move our home to Somerset West.
Grace started at Newberry in September 2014 and will continue to complete her entire primary school education there. One of the other benefits of Newberry is that they are the only Montessori school in Cape Town that has a high school. We still need to evaluate exactly how that works, but there is a very high chance that Grace will continue all the way though to the end of high school.
Through this process we have discovered things about the Montessori system, like an appreciation for the ordered environment and the highly structured (and amazingly thought out) work tasks. We’ve also had questions come up about things that we didn’t understand, like why there is no fantasy play in the preschool.
We see our daughter thriving, but coming from a traditional schooling ourselves, we don’t really understand the deeper philosophy of why and how it all works. One of the things that we committed to was to gain a better understanding of the Montessori system and how it all works, and the book, “Montessori: The science behind the genius” was recommended by Grace’s new teacher at Newberry (who also lectures Montessori teachers in training).
Reading the book has been an eye opening experience for me. It has brought me a deeper understanding of how and why Montessori works.
I would like to share what I’ve learnt with you, and give myself an opportunity to internalise the learning. To that end I’ll be writing a series of posts which will serve as my summary of the book. The posts won’t be every day, but I do hope to finish this over the next few weeks.