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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Another Private School Option by Erika F.

Growing up I attended public school where I had a wonderful school experience and received an excellent education. I always assumed that my children would have the same experience. Then I moved to another state for my husband’s job, had my older daughter, and started paying attention to the school news in the small city we live in. I quickly became disgusted by the fighting among the school board, the failing test scores, and the violence and drugs in the schools.

As we started exploring our other options I quickly ruled out homeschool for our family. I know my own limitations and I am not organized enough and too much of a procrastinator to make it successful for our family. Like Kristi, I originally thought that meant our only other option was private, religious school. After a not-so-encouraging visit to the Catholic school closest to our house I began researching other alternatives. I discovered that within our set driving limits we had 3 Montessori schools, a Waldorf school, and a couple of private, non-religious based schools that had their own combination of different styles of education.

We eventually chose a Montessori school for our girls. The founder of the Montessori method, Maria Montessori based her method on the theory that, “Children teach themselves.” The Montessori method is a very hands-on, child-led method of education that mixes age groups and mental and physical ability levels. There is very little group instruction in Montessori education, instead the child chooses the work that he or she is interested in and works alone, with assistance from the teacher, or with one other child to complete it.

“Montessori is a revolutionary method of observing and supporting the natural development of children. Montessori educational practice helps children develop creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and time-management skills, to contribute to society and the environment, and to become fulfilled persons in their particular time and place on Earth. The basis of Montessori practice in the classroom is mixed age group (3 ages - 6 ages in one class), individual choice of research and work, and uninterrupted concentration. Group lessons are seldom found in a Montessori classroom, but learning abounds. “

I have been able to observe my daughter’s class throughout the year and continue to be amazed by the children. In a classroom of 20 (late) 2, 3 and 4 year olds there was such a sense of community, calm, and determination. After a short circle time where the kids discuss the day of the week, the weather, and the schedule for the day, they head off to choose their own work. The classroom is divided into sections for life skills, math, reading, handwriting, science, and geography. The children choose whatever interests them that day and begin to work on their own. If they would like to try a new work, a teacher will demonstrate and any child that is interested is welcome to watch. The children work at their own pace, putting away a completed work and choosing another without any time limit. I could not believe how low the noise level remained with such a large group of preschoolers all doing whatever they wanted and how focused most of the children remained. If a child did lose focus and begin to disturb other students with his wandering, a teacher would gently steer him back towards an open area and encourage him to choose a work that would interest him. The teachers do keep track of what the children have worked on and mastered to ensure that they are working in all areas and will help direct a child towards a certain area if they are not choosing it on their own. The mix of ages and the child-driven pace develops independence, self-discipline, and the ability to work with concentration on solving problems while ensuring that no child is left behind or held back and bored like can happen in a traditional school setting.

The particular Montessori school that we chose is located in the directors' century-old family homestead on eighty-five acres of fields, woods, marshes, ponds, and streams. Science lessons are conducted outside during hikes taking advantage of their surroundings. The children can help take care of the chickens, goats, and sheep and receive fiber arts lessons using the wool from the animals to learn to knit and weave. Besides the hikes during class time, they get to just be kids outside 3 times a day on the large playground, in the sandbox, on the soccer field, and sledding in the winter.

By the end of her first year in preschool (4 years old) my daughter was able to read using phonics, add, recognize certain pieces of art and artists, identify continents and tell you about some of the animals and culture from each one. But the most important thing to me was her excitement, throughout the year she was disappointed on non-school mornings and all summer has been asking when she gets to go back to school. The love of learning that has been fostered this year is worth the price of tuition (less than any of the other private schools we looked at) and will hopefully remain with her for the rest of her life. We firmly believe that we made the best choice for our family and more importantly, for our daughter. It may not be the best choice, or available, for every family, but I wanted to let anyone considering alternatives to public school know that there is another option available that they may want to look into.

Lilies and Sunflowers

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