I have been exploring my own feelings about schooling and education as our daughter nears “preschool age.” First, I looked at my own educational experience in parts 1 and 2, and here I describe my resulting thoughts on the current best system for child education. Feel free to skip down to the summary if you’re short on time.
Given the wide variety of options for schooling in the US today, the question is no longer so simple as public school, private school, or homeschooling. Thanks to charter schools and the vast resources available to homeschooling parents, it’s actually possible to have some version of “Montessori” school in any of those three settings, so the first question for me is really what my guiding philosophy of education is, and the second is where I feel that is best carried out.
What I value most in education, particularly in early childhood is freedom. As an extension of this, I deeply value a sort of education that maintains trust in and respect for the child and their process.
I firmly believe that children are born with an innate desire and ability to learn. I also believe that each child is on their own timetable, and that they learn best when they are able to follow it. Any educational system that places children in groups and expects all to learn the same concepts at the same time makes it very difficult for children to truly be guided be their natural desire to learn. All too often, I believe this type of education produces children with a diminished love for learning. For many children, self-motivation is all but lost.
Having been a Montessori teacher by profession before my daughter was born, I have a definite preference for Dr. Montessori’s methods. I feel that they honor the child’s process and innate ability for self-directed learning best. The carefully prepared environment of the Montessori classroom allows for the freedom of the individual, within reasonable limits that protect the freedom of the group. It also surrounds the child with the means necessary to follow their inner guide as they learn, and connects all areas of learning in such a way as to expose children to every subject area without force.
As I mentioned earlier in this series, I struggled with math from very early on, and my struggle continued into college. It’s rather embarrassing to admit this, but having the opportunity to work with the concrete Montessori math materials during my training, even though they were designed for 3-6 year olds, was an absolutely amazing experience for me. I truly saw concepts that I had struggled to imagine for years and years. During my time in Montessori classrooms, I actually came to enjoy math for the first time since early childhood.
Of course I firmly believe that each child is different, so I am doing my best to remain open to the possibility that another guiding philosophy may work better for one or more of my children. I truly believe that Montessori works for almost every child, but I have yet to meet the version of my children that will exist when it’s time to consider entering formal school.
Settings for Education
Traditional Public Schools: As I discussed in Part 2, my experience in public school was mostly positive, and for a long time I pictured myself walking my children down the street to their neighborhood school. The husband’s experience was less positive, and he never wanted public school for our children. The more I have seen as a teacher, and the more I have explored my own philosophy of teaching and various educational theories, the more I have changed my tune with regard to public school.
I fully support any parent who feels this is the best choice for their child, of course, but personally I would have a hard time sending my children to a traditional school, public or private. No matter how excellent the teacher, traditional schools, by necessity, limit the freedom of the child in a way that can hinder their natural learning process, and that can be avoided in other settings. The sitting still, the standardized testing, the pressure the teachers are under to teach specific bits of information over a general love of learning – none of it is conducive to the natural, passionate learning that children are capable of.
I adore nearly every public school teacher I know and am in awe of the incredible work they manage to do, but I believe the larger public school system is flawed. I believe that these amazing professionals could do so much more in a system that allowed them the freedom necessary to follow the child.
I’m aware that the term traditional is a little fuzzy, and it’s also constantly changing. My opinions may change as contemporary education changes, but I still don’t see mainstream schools changing as quickly as I need them to.
Homeschooling: Homeschooling, of course, can take so many different forms. It can be internet-based, conducted completely outdoors, textbook-based, or based on Montessori philosophy. The options are limited only by the parents’ creativity.
My personal experience with homeschooling left me absolutely certain that it was something I never wanted for my children. I felt isolated during my homeschooling years and resentful during the years that followed. It seemed that I had missed a great deal of important information that my peers were familiar with. As I have grown, however, I have come to see my experience, and homeschooling in general through different eyes.
There were negatives in my situation, but there were also wonderful things. It’s true that I missed things along the way, but I was able to follow my own interests and throw myself into whatever I was naturally curious about at any given time. I had to catch up on math and acquaint myself with history later than my peers, but nothing stopped me from spending hours with my nose in an encyclopedia. I had quiet hours in my room to write in my journals and create my own poetry, based on what was in my head and my heart rather than on a writing prompt that was imposed upon me. I believe it is the things I learned during this time that have stuck with me the most.
The isolation can be avoided by consistent involvement in a community. The missing information can be avoided by a home setting that exposes children to every subject area, and parents who are skillful at weaving different subjects together.
The more I think about it, the more this is what I want for my children – if it works for them, of course. I want them to have the freedom to explore, to do, and to be in exactly the way that feels right to them, without having to conform to the same schedule as 30 of their peers.
At this point, the guiding philosophy that I believe in most is Montessori, and yet I feel a pull toward homeschooling as well. There are some major issues with each one, however.
Montessori is expensive. Unless we’re lucky enough to live near a charter Montessori school, we are likely to find ourselves with tuition bills that are nearly as high as, or perhaps even higher than our rent or mortgage. We may or may not find that this is feasible for us, depending on how the next few years go. Even if it’s feasible, we will have to ask ourselves whether it makes sense.
Homeschooling requires me to stay home. I have stayed home with Annabelle for the past 21 months, and it has been a wonderful thing. I am so grateful for the opportunity to enjoy her during this time. I sometimes question, however, whether I can be the mother I want to be with the education of my own children as my main focus. I have always been a worker, and I have a drive to work on many projects. Will I be satisfied without work outside the home? This question has been on my mind for months and months, and at this point I believe that I can balance life at home as a homeschooling mom with part time work from home that fulfills me as a person. I’m still not sure, however, and I don’t think I will be until I’m actually creating this balance for myself, or admitting that it’s not for me, and that’s okay.
I also firmly believe in the importance of the years from 3-6 and the foundation that is laid during this time for future learning. My current thought is that I will send both of our children to a Montessori Children’s House from age three until age six, and I will homeschool from that point on, but of course that will depend on a number of factors such as proximity to a Montessori school, availability of funds, and goodness of fit for each of my children.
But What About Montessori Homeschooling?
I’m hesitant to open my big mouth on this one, because there are many bloggers I love who consider themselves Montessori homeschoolers and are doing amazing things with their children. I’m going to go there anyway, but let me first say that I greatly admire the work done by these homeschoolers and would never want to discredit it. It is amazing, and it is obviously working for their children.
I believe in the value of implementing the Montessori philosophy at home, but the methods lend themselves best, in my opinion, to a larger group setting than is usually found in the home. I could try to describe the reasons why I believe this, but I would probably put my foot in my mouth, and why should I when it has already been done so perfectly at Wide Open on the Mommybahn? If you are interested in this topic, I strongly suggest that you read the article “Montessori Home-schooling and You.”
How to Marry Montessori Philosophy with Homeschooling, then?
In my mind, the best way to follow Montessori philosophy in the home while providing opportunities for the education of ones own children, is to make natural learning a lifestyle. The idea of “unschooling,” honors the child in much the same way that Montessori does. Unschoolers and Montessorians both value child-led learning. Both value learning that takes place in a logical context, rather than simply in isolated lessons. Both believe that children don’t need teachers so much as respectful and observant adults willing to guide and offer help as desired by the child. I could write at great length about these two ways of looking at education, but I will save that for another post.
*I believe that my children are individuals, and what seems ideal to me may not work out to be the best thing for them, so I will strive to be both observant and flexible, and to adapt my plans according to their needs.
*I believe that an important foundation is laid in the years from 3-6, and the Montessori method lends itself beautifully to the nurturing of the child’s love of learning during this time. If circumstances permit, I would like to find an authentic Montessori school for both of my children to attend from ages three to six.
*After age six, I still believe in Montessori as the ideal system for group education. I also believe, however, that with the support of parents who love learning themselves, children can learn beautifully through rich experiences in the home, in nature, and in their communities. If I feel compelled to work outside the home, I hope to be able to send my children to a Montessori school. If I can organize my life in such a way as to balance fulfilling work with days spent at home, learning alongside my children, I would like to “unschool.”
So that’s where the schooling dilemma leaves us – still very much uncertain, but open to a range of possibilities. Above all, our goal is to nurture our children’s love of learning while honoring our own needs in the process. It’s hard to say from where I sit what that will look like, but we have a few ideas.
What about you? Are you biased toward one particular educational method or school setting? Do your children attend school now, and is the system they are in working for them?