The Three Huge Mistakes Almost Every Montessori Parent Makes
Written by a Montessori Parent
It’s Friday afternoon and Sarah is a few minutes late to pick up her children from the local Montessori school. It’s been a long week. When she finally drives out of the school car park, she’s feeling tired and stressed and is thinking about all the things she needs to do this weekend.
“How was your day?” she asks her two children in the backseat.
“Good” they answer in unison.
“So, what did you do today,” she then asks, but only half-listening to the answer.
“The thousand chain,” answers her youngest son, Brock. Brock is in his second year of the 3-6 environment at school and by all accounts, seems to be doing okay.
“Great,” she answers, not sure where to go next. She doesn’t really know what the thousand chain is, or what her son is supposed to learn by using it, so she doesn’t ask any more questions. She is a little bit glad though that his answer wasn’t ‘washing tables’ again. She’s really not sure why he seems to be washing so many tables five days a week!
Pulling in to the driveway, she resolves to spend some time this weekend researching Montessori. She knows she really should know a lot more about it. Not only does she have two children going there, but her parents and in-laws are constantly questioning the decision made by Sarah and her husband Greg to send the children there in the first place. It would be good to have some convincing answers for them for a change, and they are all coming over for Greg’s birthday on Sunday. Last time they came over, her mother-in-law had expressed her surprise that Connor, 7, couldn’t read yet. Apparently both of her children and all of the other grandchildren were reading well before the age of 7. It did make Sarah wonder for a moment if Montessori was really working out for Connor. Maybe he does need a school with more structure.
Thinking of Greg’s birthday, she really should get the children to make the cake tomorrow. Then she thinks of the time, mess and her children’s inability to read the recipe for themselves which means she would be in the kitchen for hours herself anyway, and decides not to worry about it – she can do it herself much faster. Maybe next year the children can do it.
Walking inside, she steps over school bags and lunchboxes dumped in the doorway. With a sigh, she bends over to pick them up. She knows she should get the children to come and move them, but it’s just quicker to do it herself. Then she quickly feels frustrated that she seems to be doing it all.
Where do you think Sarah went wrong? She’s really no different from the rest of us Montessori parents. She simply made the Three Huge Mistakes that almost all Montessori parents make.
I learned about those mistakes in recent years and it has changed my life. With a passion for learning myself, and inspired by the Montessori philosophy, I’ve spent hundreds of hours researching this teaching method. Since then, I’ve been able to have amazing, insightful conversations with my children about their activities in the classroom, I’ve gained confidence in my decision to choose a Montessori school for my children and I can articulate this to anyone who will listen! And I’ve spent hours talking to other Montessori parents, giving them some of the critical information I’ve learned along the way. I was a keen student and was open to change. It has changed the way we parent and it has changed my husband and I as human beings.
Since then, I’ve been committed to providing other Montessori parents with the information I always wanted as a Montessori parent, drilled down into succinct, bite-size chunks that us time-poor parents can quickly absorb and start using straight away.
I am lucky that my background is perfectly suited to the task. Not only am I a Montessori parent just like you – but I’ve taught at three universities and written entire university courses in the area of communication and public relations. I’ve spent more than 20 years working in a range of industries where I have had to quickly understand large amounts of material, determine what the target audience really needs to know and then distil that information down into concise messages that can be easily understood. I’ve worked in sectors ranging from mining to construction, not-for-profit, health and wellness, film, property development, information technology, finance, government and education. You name it. I’m not an expert in any of these fields. But I am passionate about research and about providing the right information to the right audience via the right medium.
It is in this spirit that this free report is offered. So without further ado, there they are. The Three Huge Mistakes Almost Every Montessori Parent Makes (And How To Fix Them).
Mistake #1 – Operating on Blind Faith
The first mistake that almost every Montessori parent makes – is to operate on blind faith. Most Montessori parents probably know about 10 to 15 per cent of what they COULD know about Montessori, and most Montessori parents know they should know a whole lot more.
If you’re anything like me, you love Montessori and the beautiful classrooms and the child-centred philosophy and of course, the wonderful and dedicated teaching staff. But do you really understand the science behind the philosophy? EVERYTHING our children do – from the infant community right through to senior school – serves a purpose. But often, we don’t know what that purpose is. And the danger of operating on BLIND faith – is that it’s just that – it’s blind. It’s not really based on anything. And that means, seeds of doubt are not far away. It’s just such a different way of learning than most of us were used to when we were at school. If you’re not informed and educated yourself on the science and the reasons why your children are doing specific activities – they can seem, well, a little strange.
For example, let’s talk about washing tables.
Now, this is a regular activity in the 3-6 environment and at our school, you can’t go past those classrooms without seeing lots of children out on the deck in their little aprons with their buckets and sponges, washing tables. I’ve even heard parents comment on how much table washing their children are doing – often with more than a slight sense of alarm. Why are they washing tables so much?
Now, you’d think this is a practical life activity, right? I guess children need to learn how to wash tables, wash dishes, peel carrots and sew on buttons. They’re all really important life skills and our children are taught them at Montessori. Fantastic! You can picture them in a few years’ time, cooking meals, cleaning the house, actively contributing to family life.
But guess what?
It’s not just about practical life. It’s about READING and WRITING!
That’s right. Washing tables is indirect preparation for reading and writing in western cultures.
All activities in those early years environments are taught in a VERY specific way – left to right, top to bottom. Whether it’s cleaning tables, sorting cylinder blocks by size, or moving objects from one container to another – they all teach a left to right progression.
It really does help when you understand the science behind the activity. Otherwise before you know it, a mild concern can turn into a real worry and that’s when our confidence starts to wane.
For me, that was particularly true when I started helping with reading in my son’s 6-9 environment. Now, granted, he was only 5 (he had transitioned a little early) – but I was shocked to discover that his reading ability was way, way below his peers.
I started to think, “uh oh, here I am telling all of my friends and family how amazing Montessori is – and my child can’t read!”.
So, I went back to my Montessori research and one thing I came to understand is that children’s learning is not linear. They actually don’t learn one little bit 365 days a year. It’s more like fits and starts. One day, something just clicks, and off they go. I also spoke to dozens of Montessori parents and was told the same thing. One parent said her son couldn’t read at all at 7 years old, then one day, something just clicked for him and almost overnight he was reading chapter books!
And do you know what? That’s exactly what happened! In a matter of weeks, something clicked with my son and all of a sudden he was reading chapter books. To this day, he is rarely without a book in his hand. A regular family outing for us is to head off to the local library with a big stack of books to take back and another big stack to bring home. He has a pile of books on his bedside table and has been known to read a whole book in an afternoon.
And I was worried about his reading!
He often spouts some random piece of information about something and when I ask how he knew that – he’ll say “I read it in that book last week.”
And a fantastic post script to that story is that his younger brother is also developing a love of reading. I no longer wonder what my children are doing in school all day – and I’m quite happy to see my youngest son washing tables!
So educate yourself! It really is one of the best things you can do for your child’s future. Read Montessori books, watch YouTube clips, follow our blogs. The more you know about Montessori, the more confident you will be, and in particular, the more confident you will be to bring the philosophy home and make it work in your household. Which brings us to the Second Huge Mistake.
Huge Mistake #2 – Not Bringing It Home
The second mistake we make – and it’s a biggie – is to not bring Montessori home.
Our children are immersed in the wonderful Montessori environment 35 hours a week, week in, week out. Year in, year out. What a wonderful opportunity they have. They are encouraged to think for themselves, do for themselves. They learn about control of error and the hand and mind. They learn about natural consequences. They learn how to concentrate for long periods of time without interruption and to teach others the same way they have been taught.
And then they come home!
If you’re anything like me, you often catch yourself doing for your child what they could do for themselves. We’re busy. We’re in a hurry. They have to get to school and we have to get to work. Everyone’s hungry and it will just take TOO LONG to let them cook dinner. We interrupt them while they’re in the middle of a Lego construction because we just need to get them to do something RIGHT NOW. We encourage. We direct. We ‘suggest’ what they should do next. We impose consequences when a natural consequence would have done the job.
Does any of this sound familiar?
I am a ‘Going Out’ Chaperone at our Montessori school. I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re not a going out chaperone – put your name down and do it! I have to say, as a new millennium mum, at first I was pretty surprised at how a going out activity is undertaken. I did the going out training that is offered at our school. No guides come along. It’s just me and the children – and THEY are in charge! It’s totally their outing – I am purely the driver and I only intervene in any way if their safety is compromised.
I remember my first going out experience. I was taking my son (who was 6 at the time) and two other children from his class to the local library. They had organised the whole thing themselves. I reminded myself what I had been taught at my training – OBSERVATION is the key. Whatever they do, whatever they say, wherever they go. Just observe. And then later on, write down notes for the guide. That’s it. No talking. No directing the children to go this way or that. No reminding them to introduce themselves, or to listen while the librarian is speaking, or to keep up on the tour, or to use their manners, or to wash their hands after going to the toilet. Or even to put their rubbish in the bin after snack time. Just observe. Don’t interfere and don’t interrupt.
What a revelation!
Until that day, I had no idea how much I direct my son in his day-to-day – actually probably more like minute-by minute – activities. It was SO hard to just watch and not get involved. At one stage my son was gazing out the window when the librarian was talking to the little group. Dozens of times I had to stop myself from telling him what to do.
And you know what? He was fine! They were all fine. And they were very proud of themselves.
And this is just one of the things we need to do more of at home. Hang back. Observe. Don’t constantly direct your children. Put your Montessori hat on as much as you can and let them do for themselves. They’re doing it at school. They can do it at home, too. When you start to really see how much your children can do for themselves, you’ll understand the lifelong benefits of this wonderful teaching method. You’ll feel more confident and less likely to listen to others who don’t understand it. Which leads us into the prickly patch of the Third Huge Mistake.
Big Mistake #3: Getting Scared
And finally, the third mistake many Montessori parents make.
We get scared.
Those seeds of doubt start to take over, and our little worries, little fears lead to action. We take our kids out of the wonderful Montessori environment and enrol them in a traditional school. Like we went to. Like our friends’ kids go to. Like OUR parents went to.
The statistics speak for themselves. Generally, it takes three early years classes to feed one starting junior primary class, and that pyramid structure keeps going right through to the senior years. By the final years of school, only about 20 per cent of the original early years students are still attending Montessori.
It’s such a shame. Not only is it disrupting for the rest of the class when it happens on a regular basis – Montessori environments are put together with a careful balance based on a number of factors including age and gender – but it is also a huge burden on the school. And, of course, it can be quite a loss for the child who misses out on their continuing Montessori education.
Don’t let your seeds of doubt grow into a tree of indecision. You have absolutely made the right decision to choose Montessori for your child.
Where Does This Leave Us?
So there they are. The Three Huge Mistakes that almost all Montessori parents make. We operate on blind faith, we don’t bring it home, and we get scared. What’s the root cause of these mistakes? Misinformation and lack of information plays a role. Perhaps a more fundamental problem is that most Montessori parents underestimate how much THEIR understanding of Montessori will help their child. This is such a common pitfall, but it can be rectified – even for busy, time poor parents like us. Keep in mind, though, that there is a lot to take in. Are you willing to spend a few minutes each week to learn about Montessori? That’s the genius of it.
But first, I want to leave you with a visual image of how understanding Montessori works in everyday life as a Montessori parent.
It’s Friday afternoon and Sarah is a few minutes late to pick up her children from the local Montessori school. It’s been a long week. When she finally drives out of the school car park, she’s feeling tired and is thinking about the weekend ahead.
“How was your day?” she asks her two children in the backseat.
“Good” they answer in unison.
“So, what did you do today,” she then asks.
“The thousand chain,” answers her youngest son, Brock.
“What number did you get up to?” asks Sarah, knowing how the thousand chain works.
“480. We had to do it on the verandah because it was too long for the classroom! Then we had to pull it inside for the weekend, but it’s still there with our names on it, ready for Monday,” says Brock.
“Who did you do it with?” asks Sarah, knowing this activity is almost always done with a partner.
“Gabe,” he answers. “He’s my new best friend.”
“Really? He’s your new best friend is he? Maybe we should ask Gabe over for a playdate then? I’ve got his mum’s number here somewhere.”
“Yay, that would be awesome, Mum” says Brock.
Pulling into the driveway, Sarah remembers it’s her husband’s birthday this weekend. She’s looking forward to spending time with his family and doesn’t feel so defensive since the last time they came over and she was able to cite some pretty compelling research about the effectiveness of Montessori, not to mention name some well-known alumni that even her father-in-law couldn’t help but be impressed with.
Stepping into the hallway, she was happy to see the children had already put their bags away and were unpacking lunchboxes in the kitchen. Asking who wanted to make Dad’s birthday cake tomorrow, her eldest son was already reaching for the recipe folder where all of their favourite family recipes had been adapted for ease-of-use for the children.
“I’ll write a list of what we need and walk to the shop in the morning to get the ingredients while Dad’s out at golf,” he said. “I’m going to make the triple choc cake that we made last time. Dad loves that one.”
Putting the kettle on, Sarah decides to relax and have a cuppa before dinner, just what she needs after a long week. It’s Friday night, no need to rush and no lunchboxes to unpack or school bags to put away before everyone trips over them. And now no birthday cake to worry about either. Feeling happy and relaxed and looking forward to the weekend, she sends a text to Gabe’s mum.
“Hi Julie. I hear Brock and Gabe are new best friends! Do you want to come over for a playdate/coffee tomorrow?”.