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Archive for the tag “Montessori”

Finding Our Scholastic Balance

It’s fall, and for kids Owlet’s age, that means starting school. Or, more precisely, it means endless questions from both strangers and the near’n dear about whether/where you are attending kindergarten.

We have only been able to offer lengthy, rambling answers to this question… Because we really didn’t know yet. This makes us sound terribly unprepared, but the truth is, I’ve been actively investigating local education options in our town since I was pregnant with Owlet, and in a more general capacity have been considering the question on and off since I switched from a Montessori school to a public school in third grade.

I know what I want: I want Montessori. I want Reggio Emilia. I want unschooling. I want Teacher Tom. I want challenging, engaging curriculum that meets my kid wherever they are, be it ahead of or behind their grade level. Above all, I want part-time school, because with Thor’s and my flexible daytime schedule and the majority of our working hours being afternoons (me) and evenings (him), that would really make the most sense for us.

The difficulty is when you get to the front of the line and attempt to order such an education, well, the gal behind the counter looks at you funny and says “we don’t do special orders, ma’am.” And let’s not even talk about the black hole of despair that is the charter school waiting list experience… Even when you are not positively certain you would want to send your child there anyway.

I’ve become resigned to the fact that doing the right thing as a parent is way trickier than doing the right thing as an individual. As a parent, I don’t generally feel 100% doubt free… So I’m learning to look for what I’ve come to think of as “balanced doubts” — minor doubts that sort of cancel one another out, because one tries to pull you a little north while the other tugs south. With school, I simultaneously worry about not enough free play and not enough academic stimulation. The right situation would leave me not hugely concerned about either one.

Here were our various experiences up till last week:

  • accepted at new charter Montessori school about to open this fall whose lowest grade level would be first grade but who would let kindergarteners apply a year early to enable parents to better compare them with other schools… super promising, except they didn’t manage to start this year after all due to issues with last-minute town requirements, and may or may not manage to ever open. Le sigh.
  • marooned on waiting lists at two local charters that had enough Montessori in their blood to be worth considering.
  • marooned on waiting lists at expensive private Montessori schools that looked awesome aside from the tuition thing.
  • had our application mysteriously never arrive at or get lost by a semi-homeschool charter with an optional classroom day (for kids K-6 in a modern taken on the one-room schoolhouse) — major bummer when we decided this was what we wanted to do and were told they had no record of us and had just filled up a couple weeks ago but we would be first on their waiting list. (The form Owlet filled out back in January as part of our ill-fated application is below, for your amusement.)

    

   

Needless to say, we were rather discouraged. Not that we were even sure of what would be best for Owlet, but finding ourselves without any options to choose from other than full homeschooling or regular public school (neither of which felt right)… It was a tad unsettling. And full of doubt, none of it properly balanced.

But then I thought of this one preschool, a place three different people whose judgement I trust had recommended in the past. I called. I fell a little in love with the head teacher right there over the phone. We visited. There is a small, pleasant indoor space with books and toys but more importantly there are a zillion outdoor places for a child to get lost in play: huge outdoor kitchen, sand pits, art, dolls, cars of all sizes, a zip line, swings, tree houses, hay bales, a tightrope, an adorable little playhouse, fields and bushes and trees. The kids roam freely and the head teacher’s philosophy is (1) play is most important for this age range (2-5yrs), (2) kids get dirty when they play, so please dress them with that assumption, (3) kids should be allowed to eat whenever hungry, and (4) if she wishes to have a group activity or circle time it is her job to make it interesting enough to attract them — and the kids are always welcome to decline to join the group. There are cats and a dog and chickens. Plus dozens of fruit trees. It was kind of like our home on steroids. I had to drag Owlet away with promises to return.

So we were feeling pretty positive, and the tuition was reasonable enough that we felt able to send both kids twice a week (saving us from a myriad of terrible mornings with a disgruntled left-behind Platypup). We were a teeny tiny bit hesitant to have no formal Kindergarten experience for our precocious Owlet, but knew she would be ok without it. She reads at an upper elementary school level and in true unschooling fashion learns a heckuva lot just by talking to the people around her. In other words, we had an unbalanced doubt, but only a mini one. Totally manageable.

And then, just today, the semi-homeschool charter dropped us a line and said we were off the waiting list and into school right away if we’d like. And that wee little nagging shouldn’t-she-be-in-Kindergarten piece of us parents roared with joy. We visited. We liked the teacher. We came home with a boxload of materials. In the first couple hours, Owlet read all the books they sent home and finished the first week and a half’s worth of math, decided on her own when she was done, and then after dinner chose to do a couple pages of the letter-writing workbook.

Yes please, waiter, we’ll have both, and thank you so much for finding the second page of the menu. We will take one day of academics where Owlet will be the youngest (and, of course, bring the leftovers home to enjoy throughout the week, at times that suit our wacky schedules) AND we’ll take two days of free, rambunctious, outdoor play where Owlet will be the oldest.

Boom. Doubts balanced.

Question #17: My Ideal School?

(This post is part of a series for July 2013 entitled “Question Month.” Read the intro to the series here.)

My Facebook post earlier today:

“Question No. 17: What exactly am I looking for in a school for my kids and why is it so hard to find?”

What exactly am I looking for? I have had a rolling, roiling pile of mental lists for quite some time and it is a relief to finally jot down whatever I can remember.

LOCATION: proximate. Ideally walking/biking distance, with inviting classrooms containing comfortable child-sized furniture, free child access to wide variety of materials, a good outdoor play area containing both playground equipment and as many natural elements as possible, and student-maintained vegetable gardens. As non-toxic an environment as possible.
COST: little or none.
CURRICULUM: alternative. Arts and foreign language are essential. Ideally Montessori or similar philosophy or at least a lot of hands-on learning. Very little time spent all at desks doing the same thing at the same time unless subject is naturally appealing to most/all children (for example: science experiments, open-ended art projects). Lots of outdoor time and unstructured and/or student-led learning opportunities.
ADMINISTRATION: community-oriented. Non-punitive disciplinary system. Up on latest research regarding all aspects of education. Ideally both highly intelligent and moderately idealistic.
TEACHERS: well-trained, creative, devoted to kids, in line with administration’s philosophy but both willing and able to put own stamp on classroom experience. Diverse in all possible ways (race, age, sexual orientation, background, etc). Ideally all kinds of brilliant, kind, and humorous. Paid appropriately and valued highly by administration and parents alike.
STUDENT BODY: diverse in race, ethnicity, economic status, primary language, and learning style. This is not optional. Ideally interaction between ages is facilitated (multi-age classrooms, mentoring of younger students by older students, and/or whole-school activities).

That’s what I’m looking for.

Why is it so hard to find?

See above list.

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(Hands-on learning with Thor.)

Unequivocally Schooled by School

Owlet is nearly three. This means nearly everyone we know is asking us about school.

Gah!

I am decidedly undecided about school. Whether to even send her, and if so, where and when.

It is borderline financially viable for us to do a minor amount of preschool, probably the Montessori school a few blocks away. I think Owlet would love it. my mom was a Montessori teacher and I was a Montessori student, first in my mom’s toddler program at home and then in a real school from age three till third grade. Definitely better than regular school.

Owlet is surely well-suited to Montessori, but maybe she needs something a little less like what we already do at home? In that case, maybe somewhere with rough-and-tumble outdoor activities and lots of opportunities to get really messy, like the Waldorf-inspired preschool our friend’s child attends. But does it need to be in school form? Or would a few hours a week with the right babysitter be a better match? (Is Finland’s success proof that waiting to start school till age seven is the way to go?)

The thing is, Owlet is really happy at home. She loves being with us, puttering around the house. Should we homeschool? I have a good basis in most subjects. My skills in music, humanities, science, and math are up to snuff up to (and in some cases, beyond) the A. P. high school level with a minor amount of brushing up toward the end. Thor’s are, too, and he has audio engineering (it’s his job, after all) and carpentry as well. We both cook and I can sew and do other crafties. Plus, now Ivy League colleges offer online courses free of charge.

Anyway, I have been maintaining a mental list of those things I don’t feel qualified to teach that I would like her to gain some exposure to during childhood:

– self defense
– foreign language (ideally Spanish)
– visual art in all its diverse forms
– computer programming
– theater and dance
– engineering and mechanics

Spread out over the next decade and a half, these (plus many others of her choosing) could all easily be achieved through ad-hoc private lessons and classes, and for substantially less than Montessori tuition.

Although… there is a local Spanish immersion charter school opening up this coming fall. If it does well, that’s a nearly failsafe way to achieve true fluency, or close to it. (There is also a French immersion school that started recently that we’re keeping in mind in case the teaching/administration makes it a more attractive option than the clearly more useful Spanish.

But then I wonder whether a school that prioritizes language acquisition so highly might be too vigilantly uniform in their approach to all other subjects, maybe even less accepting of deviating interests than a standard public school.

Of course we are not alone in this decision. Owlet and Platypup will certainly be weighing in on the direction their education will take. I will not send my children somewhere they don’t want to be. Thor and I have the luxury of both being home a good portion of the time. They can always be here with us, busy brains whirring away just as they do now.

Of course, all this dithering might be for nothing — our choice might be much easier by the time Owlet hits kindergarten. The world of education is changing rapidly these days, and in and amongst soul-crushing standardized testing and draconian disciplinary systems, more and more revolutionary ideas are being championed by parents and educators alike. More and more are taking root and inevitably transforming the landscape of public education.

Perhaps my favorite new suggestion is this one. It has cropped up in articles a few times over the past few years, and just sounds ideal. Finally something that allows for the coexistence and intermingling of a myriad individuals, all with equal access, all with the power of choice.

Too good to be true? Or maybe in a generation or two our own desk-bound school days will be looked back on with incredulity and pity?

Somehow, my worry dissipates in the face of this

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And this

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And this.

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We’ll find our way.

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