Monday, February 6, 2012

How do the decisions from your past, predetermine the decisions of your future?

When I was nineteen and a Fine Arts student at U of M, I needed a job.  I found the most charming little Montessori School located in an old train station known as the Ashley St. Depot, just blocks from my apartment.  I was hired as the extended day teacher and subbed in the Montessori class.  A year later, my boss and mentor, Lyn, sent me to do my Montessori training.  I fell in love with the philosophy, the teaching and the students I worked with.  Montessori became a part of me.  I studied art at the University and taught at the Montessori school and set the foundation for the rest of my life.

Thirteen years later, I became a wife and mother.  When I first held my precious daughter in my arms, I saw her future.  I stared into her beautiful brown eyes and envisioned her, in pigtails, on her first day of Montessori school, Catholic school, as a Mercy Girl and then walking across the stage in Maize and Blue at the University of Michigan. Seconds had passed, and her Academic Career was planned.

Days later, we left the hospital and I began raising her in true Montessori fashion, talking to her, singing to her, surrounding her with toys that I knew would inspire her.  Next thing I knew, my Grace was ready for preschool.  It felt like only seconds ago I was staring into her gorgeous brown eyes for the first time, but in reality 2 ½ years had passed and the time had come.  I already knew that she was going to a Montessori School, so this should be easy.  I started touring open houses and quizzing directors of education.  I was a Montessorian, I knew what I wanted, what my sweet child needed, yet, for all of my knowledge and confidence in the Montessori Method, I could not decide which school would suit her best.

Montessori is Montessori, isn’t it?  Unfortunately, no, not all Montessori schools were created equal.  In 1967, the US Patent Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled that "the term 'Montessori' has a generic and/or descriptive significance", therefore, the term can be used freely without giving any guarantee of how closely, if at all, a program applies Maria Montessori's work.  I realized the decision to select a Montessori was going to be a challenge.  And if it was this difficult for me, what were other Moms struggling with.  Well, the truth is, it was probably exactly the same, because as much as I knew, as a Montessorian, I was simply a Mom, a Montessori Mom who wanted the best for her beautifully, blossoming genius.

I finally chose a school.  One that I felt was as close to the standards, I, myself, adhered to, as a teacher.  I made a classic rookie Mom mistake.  I told the director what I expected out of a Montessori school.  And she sold me, exactly what she knew I wanted to buy.  The product we received was vastly different.  Yes, they were a Montessori school.  It was beautiful, full of Montessori materials and certified teachers.  However, the director was adapting the Montessori Method to meet the academic demands of parents.  She was manipulating the materials in the classroom for the highest academic output and forgetting the core of the philosophy:  Developing within the children a love of learning.  The learning itself is an exceptional bonus, a fabulous, awe-inspiring bonus!

This was not the first, last or only Montessori school to do this.  In a society looking to raise geniuses, schools nationwide are developing stricter academic goals.  It can be done, by extracting only the academic portions of the program. Maria Montessori scientifically created an entire curriculum of hands on manipulative works that promote children’s natural abilities to write, read, do arithmetic and geometry, geography and science at advanced levels. So, yes it can be done.  But, more importantly, it can be done to PERFECTION, when using the Montessori Method in its entirety.  Through her understanding of the nature of children, Maria Montessori also designed the work to be self-motivating and self-correcting.  Because of this, the children learn and explore independent of the teacher.  The teacher’s role should be observer and silent conductor.  The kids thirst for knowledge is unquenchable and the classroom is an open palate for them to explore.  They love what they are doing and learning without conscious thought; Spontaneously.  Learning is a joy, rather than a chore.

The most common catch phrase in Montessori is “Follow the Child,” but in a teacher controlled environment, the catch phrase turns into the traditional, “Follow the Teacher.”  Therefore, the freedom of the child is taken away, and if our children aren’t free to explore, where does the desire for exploration develop?  It doesn’t.  Our budding geniuses will have to complete another dozen years of schooling, more at University, without the intrinsic desire for learning that a Montessori school should naturally instill with-in them.  Don’t you want your children to love learning? Not dread it? I know I do.

I am now a mother of three.  My daughter, Grace, is five, my son, Zaia, is four and my baby, Sevi, is eighteen months and they are Montessori kids.  Every other time I step out of the shower, the bath rug is missing, because one of them is practicing “the rug rolling” work.  My daughter reads to her brothers every night before bed.  My family and friends tell me that they love the conversations they have with my four year old, and not just because he is super cute.  They tell me he talks intently, animatedly and informatively, and he looks them straight in the eye, with confidence.  They may not know or care about Stegosaurus, but they know, they care to talk to Zaia!

So, this takes me back.  If the day I decided to become a Montessori teacher predetermined the course of my children’s education.  How will my decision on the specific Montessori they attend predetermine their academic potential?  The weight of it lay heavy on my shoulders.  I changed schools. Twice.  One was too focused on what they thought they knew academically, the other just didn't know enough.  I now drive nearly 25 minutes for my children to attend Montessori Children's Academy, a real, true Montessori school.  It is worth every minute, every gallon of gas, and every dollar in tuition.  If I don’t invest in their education now, when they are young and eager for learning, then how can I be certain that there will be a college to invest in later?

Joanne Shango is a certified Montessori Teacher and Mom with 20 years experience.


  1. It's good to know I'm not the only one out there driving a half hour to get my children to a great school!! Not only do I drive my children a distance, but I was one of those kids who were driven that same distance. Cheers to the moms who sacrifice their time, gas and sleep for their children's education!!

  2. So what kind of questions should I ask? I am not sure how to even start figuring out what school would be best for my children.