With your child's babyhood just a few years behind you, you may feel completely unprepared when it comes to planning your child's preschool and elementary education. However, the proliferation of preschool and pre-kindergarten (pre-K) programs has led parents into this decision-making process even sooner than in past generations, and you may worry that failure to act soon could lead your child to fall behind his or her peers. For many children, the Montessori method could create a more seamless and stress-free transition from a fairly unstructured home or daycare environment into a learning environment. Read on to learn more about the Montessori pre-K curriculum to help you decide whether this is the right path for your child.
What Makes Montessori Different?
Montessori education is based on the philosophy of Italian physicist and educator Maria Montessori, who believed in (and committed to) the importance of self-directed education. The Montessori philosophy believes that empowering each child to learn at his or her own pace and gain independence can foster high self-esteem and a lifelong love of learning.
The Montessori method is viewed by many as the polar opposite of strict public school environments from the mid-20th century; rather than being directed to perform certain activities on a strict timetable, Montessori students choose their own learning activities (to a large extent) and hone their interests through play and experimentation rather than being forced to memorize letters or arithmetic problems.
Although the Montessori educational method takes place inside a prepared environment with some well-established ground rules and boundaries, it may be much more free-form than many parents are accustomed to. In fact, many teachers and administrators refer to the Montessori classroom as a "community" or "cooperative" rather than a classroom, emphasizing the focus on social interactions and respect for all others.
What Should You Consider Before Enrolling Your Child In A Montessori Pre-K Program?
Because a Montessori education can be so different in scope and implementation than more traditional types of pre-K education, it's important to consider your child's past experiences and his or her personality to determine whether this would be a good fit. Many Montessori classrooms are set up to accommodate children within an age range of several years; this can mean that your three-year-old may be sharing classroom space with children old enough to be in kindergarten or first grade. This can provide benefits to those at either end of the age spectrum; younger children will be able to enjoy having in-classroom mentors or role models who are a bit more capable, while older children can relish this role themselves.
However, if your child tends to lash out in violence when he or she throws a temper tantrum (or is large or especially strong for his or her age), a mixed-age Montessori classroom could pose potential problems. You may want to work with your child on more appropriate ways to express frustration or anger to ensure that he or she won't be dealing with interpersonal problems in the classroom. A more structured environment could therefore be beneficial until your child can better work and play with others.
The Montessori education also focuses on sensory tasks and experimentation. For this reason, it's often a program of choice for children who have autism spectrum disorders (ASDs); by focusing on the senses rather than learning through repetition, children with autism, Asperger's Syndrome, or other ASDs may be able to make social connections in a low-stress environment.
Finally, you'll want to take your child's age into account. For many children, the earlier the Montessori method can be implemented, the better; some child psychologists indicate that a child's third year provides his or her most sensitive period for language acquisition and refinement of the five senses. By enrolling your child into a Montessori pre-K program and tracking his or her progress, you'll quickly learn whether this means of education "clicks" with your unique child, though keep in mind that other pre-K 4 classes might be the best fit for your child at this time.
There are many benefits to various styles of learning, so make sure you take the time to explore all your early education options.