Stirring the pot, raising hell and rearing children in the Bay Area

A Little Montessori Goes a Long Way

Posted on Sep 20, 2010 in Featured, School |

A Little Montessori Goes a Long Way

If I could send my kids to The Waldorf of the Peninsula school, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I believe with my whole parenting self, that giving my children the freedom to find joy in their learning, the power of overcoming their fears and the strength of education is one of the greatest things I’ll do with my life. But education philosophy and budgets rarely match up. At $12,000 – $20,000 per year, per child, my hopes of my children being educated in the  Montessori philosophy are all but gone.

As the public school system in San Jose continues to decline to dangerously low funding, I find our school’s programs being cut — science, art, athletics — key cornerstones to a well-rounded childhood education. And, thanks to the not-even-remotely-helpful No Child Left Behind Act, our public school teachers are trapped by having to teach to test, not teach to learn. Even the greatest teachers around (ours included), can’t fight off an economy in peril and a broken school system. Teachers find themselves sneaking in art and music, wiggling around systems to find some creativity in their teaching and eek out moments of 1:1 time with kids.

Meanwhile, across town, for the cost of some family annual paychecks, children are learning by touch and feel and movement. Their worlds are filled with peace and balance and a basic belief that their brains are developing just as they should. It’s hard not to hate them. I want my kids to have that freedom to learn, despite our inability to pay $30,000 annually. I’ve thought about this a lot. If I cut our lifestyle down, could we afford Montessori? If I:

Gave up wine: $200/month or $2,400 a year. Nope, not even close.

Gave up organic food: $150/month or $1,800 a year. Why would I give up feeding my family organically?

Gave up both @la_gringa’s and my iPhones: $250/month or $3,000 a year. That won’t work.

If I went from full-time flexible consulting to completely full-time in-house, we’d be able to pull it off, but then, I’d need a nanny, aftercare and, most of all, wouldn’t be there to participate in the rearing of my own children’s lives. That might work for them, but what’s the trade off for having no mommy face-time?

After a year of jealousy, I’ve decided to bring a little Montessori to our home — if we can’t go to a developmental private school, the least I can do is bring a bit of it home to my kids. Although my plan is just coming into action, I’m finding Thing 1 and Thing 2 to be fully engaged in the new system. I’ve started with manipulatives: putting odd things in their art cart — a strange shaped item, a tool they don’t know how to use, a giant vacuum cleaner box. Next, I’ve planned time in their day to let them explore these things and others that they find interesting. When I take down barriers to activities, the kids seem to really respond. Answers that used to be no have turned to yes. Questions like “Can I make myself an Aztec warrior?” are answered with “Of course you can.” So far, I can’t believe how creative the kids have been, how receptive they are to failure, trial and error.

Next on the agenda is to loosen the physical restraints we put on our kids. A Montessori kid I know can climb trees all the way to the top. She has no fear. She’ll sit at the top of the tree, eat a snack and watch the world go by. I’ve seen other parents completely freak out at this kid (and her parents), but somehow I get it. This girl is in no more danger of falling out of a tree as others are from falling off a bike, or getting a concussion from a linebacker’s tackle. I want my children to reach for freedoms physically. Yesterday I told my daughter to go outside and climb a tree. She looked at me like I was nuts, and then, went and did it. A half-hour later she ran back inside, showing off her scraped hands and knees — “I was in the tree!,” she said, proudly.

Finances can keep us from attending private Montessori schools, but not from offering our kids the freedoms to explore the world the way they want and need to.  I’m working to get to the place where our home is full of  structured freedom — enough room to find their own way and enough structure to help them get there.

Three of my newbie tools:

Montessori for Everyone Blog

Children of the Universe book

Journey to Montessori Elementary video