While I still vividly remember learning to tie laces and fasten buttons in a Montessori (nursery) casa class, choosing a Montessori school for my child was not a foregone conclusion – far from it. In fact, when it came time to look for a full-day program for my soon-to-be 3 year old daughter, I walked into the parent tour at MJDS with great skepticism and admittedly, a closed mind. It’s truly amazing what effect an MJDS parent tour had on me!
My husband & I weren’t sure if a full-day school program or a larger daycare centre would be the right fit for our daughter, who was coming from a loving and play-based home daycare. We figured that if we were looking at many different models, we might as well look at a Montessori school as well. Many of the other schools and centres we were considering were Jewish, and since MJDS is the only Jewish Montessori school in the area, it was a logical consideration.
Before arriving at MJDS, we first toured a traditional Hebrew day school. I had attended a similar school as a child, while my husband had been a product of the public school system. I was surprised by the very mixed emotions that overcame me, as I stood in a JK classroom in the traditional Hebrew day school. Uneasy memories and feelings surfaced, taking me back to my days in kindergarten. “Weird,” I thought. Perhaps I was just overwhelmed by the idea that my little girl was going to be moving into the next stage. For many reasons, we decided that this place felt too “schooly” for our little 3 year old. We then toured a few daycare centres, which were the opposite of the big, conventional school we had started with – they were warm, and a bit chaotic, but not nearly as challenging or enriching as a school environment. Lastly, we arrived at MJDS.
I was skeptical of the depth of the Jewish studies program, I was critical of the independence given to the child within the learning model, and I was uneasy about the size of the school (too big, too small, or too in-between?). However, the warmth of the faculty and staff that greeted us and guided us through every part of the school melted away my reservations. One by one my questions were answered – by the principal, the head of Judaic Studies, by the teachers and by the students. Without exaggerating, my jaw dropped open as I observed a classroom of almost 20 children, ages 3-6 moving calmly and respectfully around their classroom. Some were working together on the floor, others were huddled around a table watching intently as their teacher showed them something. Zen is how I refer to the atmosphere in the school, and that feeling of peace in a school won me over almost instantly.
After an hour of being shown the theory and practice behind the Montessori method of teaching, I left wondering how my own learning experience might have been different (for the better) had I attended a Montessori school for an extended period of time. I was amazed by the philosophies that rang so true and obvious to me, and my husband & I left the school filled with a sense of satisfaction that we had found a perfect combination of enrichment and nurturing for our daughter.
As an experiential educator by profession with a specialty in youth leadership, I found the Montessori way of learning exciting and enriching. We discovered that our personal child-raising philosophy – following our child’s lead as she showed us she was ready to master different skills and stages – was directly in sync with the Montessori philosophy. Follow the child. That’s the Montessori way, and our way, so it seems. Who knew?!