Photo Credit: DQmountaingirl on Flickr

The Schooling Dilemma Part 3: Where it All Leaves Us

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.


Photo Credit: DQmountaingirl on Flickr

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.

Guiding Philosophies

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.

Photo Credit: Rjabbinik and Rounien on Flickr

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.

The Dilemma

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.

In Summary

*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? 

32 thoughts on “The Schooling Dilemma Part 3: Where it All Leaves Us

  1. Amy

    Thank you for this great series! My LO is only 8 months, so we haven’t thought too much about schooling, although my husband and I have always shied from homeschooling. No matter what the schooling choice I believe that all current and former (I’m on a SAHM hiatus, myself) would agree that the educational support from home is always the most important aspect. Thankfully, this fact is coming to light more and more through recent studies, even as many parents are, unfortunately, relying on the public school system more and more to teach basic skills. Without going too far off topic, I believe that is an additional weight on the already restricted public school environment that you previously described in part 2. Given the research and thought you are putting into your decision, it is clear that Annabelle and her future sibling will be well-taken care of.

    1. melissa Post author

      I agree wholeheartedly that when parents aren’t active participants in their children’s learning, it puts undue pressure on teachers and the public school system in general. During the short time that I taught 4th grade in a traditional school setting, I found it to be almost invariably true that the children whose parents worked with them at home were more successful than those whose parents felt it was my job to pick up all of the slack when their child was having difficulty understanding. I would have loved to, but I simply didn’t have the time to follow up with every child on every concept.

      This, for me, is a sign that the system is broken, however. Far too many children find themselves struggling, and instead of asking whether it’s the material or the methods that are keeping them from feeling, and truly being successful, more pressure is placed on the teachers, the parents, and the children to make the children conform to the standards.

      I question whether work outside the classroom, on the concepts taught within it, should really be necessary. After a full, long day of school, children are exhausted. To sit down and do more assigned homework, and rehash what was taught regardless of whether it interests the child just strikes me as too much. It is important for the child’s success in school, yet I think it hinders them in many other areas of their lives: keeping them from getting adequate rest and time outdoors, and severely limiting the time that they can explore and learn on their own terms.

      A bit of a tangent from your original point, but you got me thinking! Thanks, Amy.

  2. Rach

    It is so interesting to read your thoughts on this as this is a subject which has been on my mind too. Its good to have thought this through carefully while remaining open.

    My ideal for B would be a small school with small class-size, with mixed age-groups, with an emphasis on nature and child-led learning, preferable with a Montessori approach.

    I don’t think I will get this at state schools, with 30 in the class.

    I can’t afford a private school. Homeschooling is a bit of an “out there” concept in the UK. I can really see its benefits though. A major concern about private and homeschooling options is the possibility that B would only mix with “people like us” rather than be exposed to all walks of life.

    Could write an essay here – will do my own post on it once I do some research and thinking.

    1. melissa Post author

      These are all such great points, Rach. I look forward to seeing what you decide to do when the time comes. Your ideal school sounds wonderful, but it sounds like finding it may be a challenge in the UK.

      I share your concern over exposing B to all kinds of people, rather than only your own circle, but I think that’s something that mindfulness and a little creativity can figure out regardless of the school you choose.

      I’ll keep my eye out for a post from you! I would love to read the essay! ;)

  3. Discovering Montessori

    The decisions we have to make as parents are tough! I will tell you I have change my decisions a million times about what type of education I really want for my kids a million types(in my own head.) One thing that has never changed is putting their interest first, and using that motherly intuition that God has blessed me with. When I follow my children I have never regretted any decison I have made for them. I loved reading your perspective in this matter. I hope that you will continue to blog so I secretly follow your familys’ journey, because you all are having some fun!! Thank you for sharing.

    1. melissa Post author

      Following the children’s needs and interests really is key. I’m glad to hear that is has served you well so far, especially given that you’re a far more seasoned mother than I. Changing your mind just shows that you’re open to being responsive to your family’s needs!

  4. Luscious.lea

    We are homeschooling our son along an unschooling path. This is definitely the approach which bests suits our whole family.

    I am quite happy at the moment with my job as a mother and learning facilitator and know that should I desire to seek employment outside of the home later on that I would be able to do so while still being my son’s main care giver (working part time, outside of my partner’s work hours, or becoming self employed etc)

    1. melissa Post author

      I’m glad to hear the unschooling approach is working well for your family. Sometimes just knowing that you have options for seeking outside work provides enough fulfillment in itself – I’ll be working on finding that balance myself in the years to come!

  5. Melissa V

    Excellent, thoughtful series; thank you so much for tackling this topic! I think it is so valuable to hear other peoples’ perspective on this one, and your perspective is rated very high for me, since we both have an affinity for Maria Montessori (though you are by far better versed than I), and since you are in fact a teacher. And since you are a thoughtful person. I appreciate that you (a) “went there” with the homeschool montessori thing~I’ve often felt that Dr Montessori built her educational theories around group education rather than home based education and therefore the two don’t necessarily fully translate/mesh. BUT I respect parents who homeschool with a montessori based philosophy, just as you do. I also appreciate that (b) you address the issue of working, mothering, and educating your children. This one really resonated with me: “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.” YES. That is exactly well articulated in a way that I just couldn’t put my finger on for years. Exactly. I love working, too. I just quit my job last week and it was a huge personal deal. Huge. Plus, my mom always worked and I felt that it was beneficial for me to see that she had a life and an intelligence beyond myself and my siblings. She always put us first, but she also worked. At a job she loved and that fulfilled her, so that was cool. Anyways, that’s a whole other post but I mainly wanted to say thanks for expressing your thoughts on this important topic! Wise words from a wise woman. xxoo
    As for your questions; yes, my kids go to public school, and in some ways it works wonderfully well, and in others it doesn’t. I think I might post about it myself sometime soon; I have always been intimidated to talk about it “in front of” my homeschooling buddies but maybe I could be braver now that you’ve done it. =)

    1. melissa Post author

      Thank you for the kind words, fellow Melissa! I would love to hear more about how the school situation has worked, and not worked, for your family if you feel compelled to write about it.

      The work/mothering balance is such a hard issue. Self-fulfillment is incredibly important, and we are the first and most lasting role model our children will have of what being a woman is. Sometimes I think it’s just a “grass is always greener” issue, and there are other times when I think I really may not be cut out for staying home. At this point, I think and hope it’s just growing pains and settling, and I’ll happen upon the right answer for me naturally.

      You seem to do such an incredible job of finding a balance in your home – working on projects that you’re passionate about like Mothers of Change, finding time to nurture your relationship with the husband, and just generally being true to the woman that you are. I hope quitting the job has only freed you up to find more fulfillment in other areas of your life.

  6. Anna

    My kids go to regular schools, but I wish we had some special schools available for them where they see them as individuals more. Homeschooling is unfortunately not an option for us, I am not so sure that I could handle the challenge there :).
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    1. melissa Post author

      That’s the beautiful thing about having options! There is no single choice that will work well for everyone, and there is so much to be said for self-awareness and an understanding of what you’re willing and able to give. I’m sure what you do provide at home gives your children a balance, and helps them to feel respected as individuals.

  7. emily

    What a wonderful thoughtful post. It is true, what the other commenters have said, you are taking such good care of your child’s education. As I read all these comments, I think, is it any wonder most teachers are women? And, that women fight for better education, urging their politicians to make education better, or becoming political themselves. I taught at a Montessori school that was wonderful in many ways, but the administration still wanted to be able to brag about test scores, and parents wanted proof that the method of teaching worked. Because of pressure from parents and administration, even Montessori teachers cannot always “follow the child”. I was pressured to have all the kindergarden children reading pretty advanced books. Parents sent their children to Montessori because they believed it was a highly academic curriculum. And, in many ways, it is. There is not free play; socialization and imagination is discouraged (the red rods are red rods, not trains, not cars, not anything but red rods). Facts and individualism are encouraged. If a child did the work in a way other than how I presented it, then I was supposed to re-present it to them, until they did it exactly as I did. Ok, so those are my complaints about Montessori. It needs some Waldorf thrown in. More outside time, more group free play, and more imaginative use of the material. I am sure Montessori schools are different, and some probably let the children be social etc. I have not found that school yet, but am working on it! I hope to create my own school someday. When I have a little more energy…

    1. melissa Post author

      Thanks so much for your feedback, Emily. I have definitely seen the type of Montessori school that you describe, but in my view, and I know many others would agree, it is far from authentic. The truth is, the Montessori curriculum can provide an amazingly strong basis in academics, but this is not the primary goal so much as nurturing a love of learning in the child. Many parents and educators get caught up in this wonderful benefit of Montessori and make it the main goal, to the detriment of the children.

      Montessori went into great detail to describe the type of outdoor space she believed should be available to children, and she felt children should be free to work outdoors or indoors at will – in her view time in nature should not be limited. Unfortunately, rules and regulations governing early childhood programs make it incredibly difficult to have this sort of outdoor classroom, but an authentic school will seek to provide as much outside as possible in any kind of weather.

      The idea that “the red rods are not anything but red rods” and that socialization and imagination are discouraged just is not true in my view. There are a number of variations and extension possibilities for the red rods, and most Montessori materials, and children should be encouraged if they wish to develop their own. This idea is common, and it is one I directly addressed in a post titled Waldorf and Montessori on Play, Fantasy, and the Social Life of the Classroom here: (I have played with the code a thousand times and can’t figure out why the darn thing is so narrow, but hopefully it’s worth all the scrolling down.)

      I have taught in three different Montessori and observed in many others. 2 of the 3 absolutely honored the social side and the imagination of the child, allowing as much outside time as possible, and encouraging creativity. Most of the schools I have observed have done the same. It is unfortunate that schools do exist where child-life is stifled under the name Montessori, and that’s why it’s important to look closely into a school before enrolling a child.

      1. emily

        Thank you Melissa, I am glad to hear of your different experiences, and I do realize each school is different. I have to remember what Maria said, as opposed to one school interpretation of what she said. Fortunately at the school I was at, there were many great teachers who did follow what Maria suggested.

  8. teresa

    I am just in awe of your ability to sort out and express your thoughts, this information and even the things you’re still unsure of. I need to know that your blog will always be here because I suspect I’ll come back to this whole series and send others as well.
    I feel like I could say to someone who wonders about why we do what we do with Melody… go read these three posts and then let’s talk…
    I’m still unsure of the whole picture myself. But, I’m so grateful for the choices we have.
    If we couldn’t afford our Waldorf school(which we really can’t.. luckily the kid has her own money already…thanks grandparents!), I think I’d have to seriously consider home schooling and do a whole lot of extra work getting her the social part. She really wants and craves that and as an only child I feel it’s even more important.
    Thank you for sharing all this and for sharing your brain. It’s a relief for me to see it written out.

    1. melissa Post author

      Thanks so much for the encouragement, Teresa! I honestly didn’t expect my thought process to be interesting to more than two or three people, and I certainly didn’t expect it to spark so much discussion. I’m so glad you have found value in it! It makes me all the happier to keep on writing :)

      I love hearing how happy you are with the school you’ve chosen for Melody, and how very aware you are of her needs. It sounds like you’ve found a perfect balance. I know many of the students I had in my career were in Montessori school thanks to the support of grandparents – what a wonderful thing to have their backing, not just financially, but for the way you’re choosing to parent. Those relationships are so valuable!

  9. Jess

    I love reading your posts! They always make me think :) My oldest is in kindergarten at public school (we do not have access to a Montessori or Waldorf school)and he would be devastated if I home schooled him. He needs the interaction with other kids but more importantly he needs instruction from someone other than myself. I think my job with him will be to be extra sensitive to what is going on with him and his feelings. Does he feel pushed? Is he intimidated? So far he is doing well. I know this is not the case for all children.
    I have much respect and admiration for those parents who take on the enormous task in home schooling their children. I personally do not think I could do it, at least not right now. Every child picks their parent for a reason. Annabelle knows you will make the right choice.

    Hope you are feeling well!

  10. Lucy @ dreamingaloudnet

    As you probably know I have debated this long and hard with myself. My end decision was the local village school just a few metres from our house. I have wavered and wavered. Until my 2 days writing time became a reality about 6 weeks ago. And now there isn’t a waver left in me. I thought I needed to write and that, unfortunately perhaps, trumped my need to home educate. I feel so right in that (selfish?) decision now. The school is a very long way from perfect. But what they get from me at home, is, this way, the best I can give. I wish I were the perfect, all loving, patient, relaxed, creative educational home educating mother I am in my dreams – but I am not. When I was a good professional teacher, it was because I could go home at night. With my own kids I cannot. And that there is my reality.

  11. Jessica Newell

    Hey Ms. Melissa,
    You know there is a very easy solution to this dilemma…We would be so happy to have you and Annabelle at GTM. And then Buena Vista Montessori is a great success, and adding a grade every year. We just need the Air Force to cooperate.
    Love you, and love reading the blog.
    -Ms. Jessica

    1. melissa Post author

      Ms. Jessica!

      It’s so fun to hear from you! :) The timing is excellent, too, because Andrew just got the list of job openings for our next move, which is coming up in May. There are multiple Colorado Springs listings on it and much to my surprise (and delight!), he put them down on his list of preferences without any prodding or begging from me. The likelihood of getting one certainly isn’t great, but it is possible and I’m pretty excited! Last night, I spent more time than I’d care to admit daydreaming about a return to GTM and about enrolling Annabelle. How awesome would that be!?

      How is life for you? Still in Manitou?

      Miss you! So much love to you and all the GTM ladies. Whether we move there or not, I’ll definitely be popping in for a visit this spring!

      “Ms.” Melissa

  12. MJ

    I loved how well thought out and thorough this series is. My kids both started out in montessori, and I know it helped them. I did pull M. out at an earlier age than E. He had a good three years. She had barely 2, and I see a difference, especially with the math. I’ve missed having that part for my daughter and did try to recreate it a bit, but I didn’t have the beads or the cubes, which were huge for E (and I did try to make those too–nightmare!). This being our 3rd year homeschooling, having scaled the spectrum of traditional homeschooling to unschooling, I can tell you that I have no regrets or complaints, save one. I miss having some time for just me. I guess that’s why blogging has helped so much. But in some ways, that just added some more craziness in trying to get it *all* done.
    Interesting things happening lately that has only solidified my resolve with homeschooling. My son has started to get picked on, by regularly schooled kids in his tennis classes, and by regularly schooled kids at the parks. This is a first for him, and he is hurt and confused. He asks me why kids would say such mean things? We have never had this happen, ever, with homeschooled kids anywhere. But, we are trying to explain to him that this does happen and we sometimes can’t explain why, but that maybe those kids just aren’t happy. It slaps me in the face sometimes Melissa, the difference I see between schooled kids and homeschooled kids. The kindness, the generosity, the lack of cliquey ness has become normal to us, but when compared to what we see out and about, I realize that maybe we are the abnormal ones… And I am not saying all schooled kids are lacking in these qualities, but it is obvious the children who have conscious parents and those that don’t. What makes me the saddest is when I hear the school moms complain about their kids, how they dread winter break and having the kids home all day… Anyway, I could go on as I have been thinking of writing something about this…
    Thanks for your insights, you are such an amazing mama. Annabelle and baby #2 are very very fortunate babes :).

  13. stefanie

    I’ve been really wishing for the opportunity to sit down with a friend over coffee or something and talk schooling.This is about the closest I’ve gotten to that, so thanks! We’re in a sort of stressful gotta-get-on-a-waiting-list-NOW place, and with no time to really devote to tours/meetings/interviews. I’m conflicted — George is so, so social and really seems to get bored with me, no matter how engaging I think I’m being, or how many cool activities I plan. He does them, and likes them, but talks about his friends being there, too. I planned to homeschool, at least for awhile, but it’s looking like that may not be his path. We have to figure out how to afford sending him somewhere I could stomach, which, like you said, is a huge investment. Blerg.

  14. Terri

    Hey Melissa, I’m a little late to read this but so glad I did. I’m weighing up our options too. We chose homeschooling and I love having my children close to me but it is sometimes very stressful with my daily workload and the close spacing of my two. I also have so many yearnings to get other work done too which means I stay up way too late when they go to bed and then get cranky the next day. This cycle is coming to a temporary halt as my partner is on a couple of months leave so we are trying to swap roles a bit although it is a challenge for everyone. I’m hoping that I can get some projects completed that will fulfill the working and creative need in me and also set me on a course that I can continue these projects with less time when our lives go back to ‘normal’.

    My main concern about our homeschooling is that we are very isolated, don’t meet many people, have few places to go and no vehicle to go to the few places there are. Just last week I considered enrolling my daughter (aged 3) in a local preschool for just 2 days a week which is FAR from ideal…I worry that she will be coerced into doing things on the schedule of 30 other children and also pick up a whole lot of other things that I’d rather she did not! I also don’t want to get her on the school conveyor belt as I don’t feel comfortable at all with any of the choices available to us after the early years. On the plus side I think I may be less stressed, have a little more time to spend with my son and she would benefit from having a group of friends outside the few we know. My partner is against the idea but maybe after 2 months of being home with them and seeing our daily situation he’ll be open to giving it more thought. There is a Montessori school on the island – it’s a homeschool but a fully equipped classroom with a professional teacher – but it’s heartbreakingly too far away. I need to work on getting a ride there more regularly. Also I’ve heard that it may be closing soon.

    I have even considered moving from our small island so we could access more homeschooling groups to connect with to give us more of a social life and also have more access to other activities such as playgrounds, museums, storytime and other child-centred activities.

    I’m drawn to unschooling and have read a lot about it but at the ages my children are I feel it leaves me a little unanchored. I can see us working together when they are a little older on projects they are really into but in these early years I feel it’s important to have a little more guidance, structure and exposure to a wide variety of information in various ways. (which many unschoolers do aswell) I feel much more excited when I look at Montessori activities and styles of learning and try to incorporate what we can into our home environment. But I worry that we do not ‘do’ enough and that it’s not balanced enough.

    I really don’t know what the answer is yet and every day I contemplate it more. I wish there was a simple answer. Your post gave me even more reason to think about it more deeply.

    1. melissa Post author

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Terri! It’s interesting, especially because I think you and I have similar priorities when it comes to our children and education. I hope you can come to a decision that feels right for you – or a series of them, as I’m sure your family’s needs with change over time.

      I share your love of unschooling, and also the concern over covering a wide spectrum in the early years. That’s why I really love Montessori, as I know you do, too, for the 3-6 age. It seems like the perfect foundation, and I don’t feel that the philosophies behind either unschooling or Montessori are really in conflict. Both are about following the child, honoring their ability to learn naturally, giving them space to follow their interests. I’m really hoping that we’re able to live near a quality Montessori school until our children are six or so that we can give them that foundation, and that we can swing it financially. It must be so frustrating to have that great resource on the island – so close, but yet so far. I remember your post after your first visit, and being so impressed by how well equipped it was! I’ll be interested to follow along with you as your children grow.

  15. mj

    I am in the exact same boat as you. My daughter is 16 months and almost every day, I have an internal battle of what to do about her attending school especially now since our family keep making comments about our daughter attending public school. During my primary(private) school years, I was a model student, perfect in everything and perfect in following every direction and passing every test(My problem was socially, I was bullied a lot, from the day I started school to the day I graduated high school). School always left me feeling so dull. Well s*** hit the fan when I moved to the states for secondary and started attending public high school, I dropped out of normal classes because I HATED THE ROUTINE with a passion and started independent study, it was almost like the entire deprivation of natural learning through childhood overtook me and all I wanted to focus on was MY INTERESTS and MY GOALS and not pleasing everyone else, which became a huge whirlwind of rebelling, failing, finding my REAL PASSION and lots of disappointment to other people and myself. Well, I graduated high school early and from then on, I decided that my kids would not be placed in traditional education.

    Now that I have a youngling of my own and am very passionate about Montessori education/philosophy and also unschooling/homeschooling for my daughter, it collides with what I want to do for myself and my own separate life as an individual. I want my daughter to see me pursue my own independent passions and dreams so she has an example and she can feel strongly about her own dreams and passions and take that leap of faith of following them. BUT I also have a very strong passion for being present in my daughters life as the primary caregiver and staying home with her to help her grow and live life fully. I want to stay home and unschool but then that means, the time I would have to go back to school and create a career is almost diminished or very little is left, so we can opt for Montessori schooling but that is EXPENSIVE. My husband is a chef, which makes good enough decent money but not to afford an extra $1000 a month. I know how important education is and really helping your children to foster their love for it and building the best foundation for them so their lives reach their happiest and fullest potential but as much as I love being a mother and how much peace and happiness it has brought me, it is not the only title I want to carry.

    My husband can easily leave his current career now and make a lot more money (and we would be able to afford montessori schooling) making a career out of his other skills/trades but cooking and being a chef is what he LOVES and to both of us, it is really important to be happy doing what we love and are passionate about even if we make a lot less money doing other things.

    1. melissa Post author

      Gosh, it is so hard to find the right balance with these things, isn’t it? It’s so much more than just deciding on what we want for our children in terms of schooling – the decisions surrounding money, meaningful work for ourselves, and just the whole family dynamic are incredibly tough. It doesn’t seem like there’s really a right answer, at least for us, just a best choice at the moment.

      It is incredibly frustrating that Montessori schools are so expensive, too. That is not how it was meant to be! I can only hope that public Montessori schools will continue to open.

      I wish you lots of peace with whatever path you decide to take. I think it’s wonderful that you prioritize passion over a larger paycheck – as long as you all continue to follow your passions, I suspect you’ll find your own best choices fairly naturally.

  16. Amber

    Ahhh… I want to cry and I haven’t even finished reading.

    “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 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”

    “The idea of “unschooling,” honors the child in much the same way that Montessori does”.

    My eldest son attended a Montessori preschool. My youngest did his 3-6 Montessori years at home with me. And now… now we homeschool full-time. The reality I see is VERY MUCH what you describe > you can homeschool with the Montessori *philosophy* but not really with the method. Having said that, there are some beautiful Montessori homeschool rooms out there, but I have come to realise that unless you can provide a FULL classroom of materials and unless you can gather at least a small group of other children to join you occasionally > it really isn’t the method.

    I would have loved my kids to go to a Montessori school. Fullstop. But it just wasn’t an option for us geographically or financially. My attempts to embrace the symmetry I saw in Waldorf Steiner education (of course, I saw the oppositional aspects too!) played out with mixed results. Embracing the hat of “eclectic” homeschooler has been good for us but I was still looking for the *one* even if I didn’t know it. I’ve spent the last year or so trying to wrap my head around the world of Charlotte Mason and there’s so much I love about her techniques but it still isn’t the fit I am looking for. Things are fraying at the edges at the moment and I think a lot of that has to do with schedules and expectations. Sigh.

    I think overtime my searching has led to a watering down of my grasp on the Montessori philosophy I truly identify with. There are so many ideas floating in my head. And don’t get me started on actual realities ;) – how can we ever live up to our own expectations as both Mother and Teacher – But at the back of my mind Montessori is always there. It is the one shining light that I can honestly say I do want and so the question is: but HOW?

    Your post connects with a lot of the daydreaming that I have had; that maybe unschooling is the closest fit for the homeschooling Montessorian.

    This is a long journey. I know the road is full of twists and turns. But thank you for showing me the way that our next turn might be heading…


    1. melissa Post author

      Thanks for sharing your own dilemma, Amber. I’m glad this post struck a chord with you – I can relate so much to your thoughts on the topic, too. This can be such a challenging and emotional question. Right now, I’m organizing a Montessori community program, which is essentially a homeschool classroom that seven other neighborhood children join us in. It solves a lot of the problems mentioned here: it’s nearby, less expensive than private Montessori school, and it means my daughter has both the materials and a group of children to work and learn among. Of course it comes with its own dilemmas: do I put my infant son in someone else’s care during classroom hours so I can focus on the (unpaid) work of community Montessori guide? How do I make time for my non-parenting and non-Montessori related pursuits? I’m thrilled with what we’ve created and will be continuing with it next year, too. I think these dilemmas will always be there, however, because, as you point out, “how can we ever live up to our own expectations as both Mother and Teacher?” Both of these are huge roles, and so long as we’re fulfilling both – really so long as we’re fulfilling either, I’d imagine – there will likely always be dilemmas. From what I see when I visit your site, though, it looks like you’re doing a brilliant job, and I like to think we’re doing pretty okay here, too.

  17. Amber

    Hi Melissa,

    Thanks for your reply & your kind words :)

    I’m excited to hear that you’ve set up a Montessori co-op! Huge congratulations. I spent a year trying to start a Montessori school in our area (unsuccessfully) and I take my hat off to anyone who can do it. Bravo.

    I think some parents are comfortable embracing the road well traveled (traditional schooling) and some just HAVE to take the other path. The road less/rarely/never traveled. Because they think about it so much. Because they aspire to a different kind of life for their kids and their family. Because it just IS the way it is. I have tried traditional schooling and I think about it often (always as a knee-jerk reaction) BUT the truth is that we are always going to take a different road to most and I need to learn to be happy in my own skin. Just as my kids do. Just as we all do.

    I am happy to have re-discovered your blog (I remember stumbling over it before – your post about visiting the first Casa!) & look forward to hanging around this time & reading more :)


    1. melissa Post author

      Thank you, Amber. I am definitely one who has to take the other path, too. It’s so hard to trust that drive and trust ourselves sometimes, but doing so always seems to work out. I will definitely be reading more closely on your blog, too, now (was already subscribed to your feed :) It sounds like we’re kindred spirits!


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