No sooner had we brought our baby back to Sydney than the questions began, “where will he go to high school?” Second to the property market, high schools are a hot topic of conversation in Sydney. While friends expressed the urgency of putting his name down for the “right” high school, Simon and I had our focus elsewhere: we shared the belief that early childhood and primary school were the foundations that would most help our son in his journey through life.
I’m intrigued by the varied ways people discover Montessori. As it happened, the same workplace that introduced me to Simon, also led us to Montessori. The three daughters of the managing director attended a Montessori school and often visited the office. During those times, we heard their stories of school life and the seeds for the education of our own children was born.
When we met the girls again in their late teens, I was struck by their strong sense of who they were. Each volunteered that their Montessori primary school years had given them the chance to find out what they liked and how to delve into that, without being labelled or categorised or limited in their learning. Intriguingly, their mother was also working on bringing some of the tenets of Montessori into the post-graduate business classes she taught.
We read, we visited, we researched and we attended graduate panels to meet children and adults who had graduated from Montessori primary schools. Our decision was made and our boys have been in Montessori environments from the outset.
I’m going to be honest. There are ups and downs. There are bumps in the road. Aren’t there always? Perfection doesn’t exist in any experience. When we hit one of these bumps, I go back to two questions:
- Why did we originally choose Montessori?
- Given the options available for primary schools, is the weight still in favour of Montessori?
With Joseph now in 9-12 and Isaac in 6-9, the strength of our choice is becoming more evident. Seeing them grow deeper into their experience and understanding of learning, seeing them develop their abilities to learn independently within a supportive environment, seeing the way they are growing through freedom within boundaries, and seeing time and again the benefits of mixed age groups reinforces our choice. Yes, they are covering their academic work and the curriculum. It is the more subtle aspects that make my heart sing.
One of the most attractive elements of Montessori is, for me, the chance for children to become fully immersed in their work, to get into the flow or be “in the zone”. It’s the zone of magic where you’re completely absorbed in the activity and everything else falls away. Learning is heightened and the foundation is set for children to want to return to that sense of energised focus that encourages them to pursue another piece of work. If you’re curious, Laura Flores Shaw offers some engaging talks online that look at how Montessori classrooms are designed to facilitate and encourage flow.
There is so much more to a Montessori primary class. As a parent, it’s an ongoing process of discovery as you listen to your children and see their actions, join information evenings (top tip: don’t limit yourself to your child’s current age group, join in the presentation nights for the older years too), and as they grow older the real benefits of laying that foundation start to be revealed.
“An interesting piece of work, freely chosen, which has the virtue of inducing concentration rather than fatigue, adds to the child's energies and mental capacities, and leads him to self-mastery." - Dr Maria Montessori