My kids love school!
From what I hear from my friends who have children similar ages to my own, at the young age of preschool/kindergarten, most kids are happy at school. The general consensus seems to be that these kids are at a stage where they’re eager to socialize and interact with many other kids, they’re happy to work on activities requiring some focus and attention to detail, and of course they want to play with things that are different from what they have at home.
I have fond memories of kindergarten. I spent the morning in a public school, and the afternoon in a Hebrew Day school. I remember that free play at the dress-up chest in JK was a highlight, I remember circle-time, and I fondly remember Kabbalat Shabbat. I also remember that how I felt about school when I finished grade 1 was different – and not in a positive way – from when I had started the year. Moving into desks, homework and report cards with grades did not seem to resonate with me and my learning style (whatever that is). Sadly, those less than positive feelings were the ones that stuck with me throughout the rest of my schooling experience, right through university. What I remember after grade 1 were countless days of feeling like I didn’t want to go to school – for a variety of reasons. Strangely, that sentiment of hating school, not wanting to go to school, etc. seemed to be considered common, even a rite of passage.
Well, that was then, and most will agree that many attitudes towards the value of a child’s happiness have changed. My parents made choices for me based on what they felt were best for me. Parents do the same today, but I think parents also value different criteria. Studies have shown that the value of a child’s happiness has jumped to the top of parents’ priorities. In some cases, the pendulum has swung too far the other way – I see cases of misguided entitlement by teens who expect their happiness to trump everything else.
At the Montessori Jewish Day School, I see happiness everywhere. One of Dr. Montessori’s well-known ideas was that a child’s happiness is a good measure of the quality of their education. I see that at MJDS the goal is pursued through mastery and accomplishment, which results in happiness. Rather than placating, catering to or delicately managing children, the students are taught skills that lead to independence, achievement, enrichment, gratification and pride in their own capabilities. One can see this in the classrooms, in the hallways and in the playground. This focus on self-direction and achievement can have a positive impact on the development of a strong sense of self. Without the standard convention and competition that is often found in most schools, a regular school day experience at MJDS can look quite inviting to a student who has developed a comfort in learning. Note I did not say a love for learning because learning can be hard at times, challenging and even discouraging. Maybe some children cannot or will not love learning – yes, even at MJDS – but in a comfortable arena, and with the appropriate support mechanisms and materials in place, a student can feel safe to venture into vulnerability.
Don’t get me wrong, if my daughter knows I’m not at work during a school day, she’ll protest going to school, because she’d rather be at home with me. However, that’s not a reflection on how she feels about school. Both of my kids are eager to go to MJDS, enter the building with ease and often with a smile, and they are just as happy when I pick them up at the end of the day. Fine, so this is a good fit for us – so what?
I’ve been volunteering at the school, conducting parent tours, and I’ve had the special opportunity to see the school in action – at every grade level. The behaviour I just described about my own kids seems to be pretty consistent across the board. I am regularly amazed by the serenity in the classes. From the Toddler room, where these little children are so pleasantly engaged in learning, to the CASA rooms where there is always action and hard work going on. In the Lower Elementary class, I’m so impressed with the many students all genuinely engaged in different lessons, and a more focused, mature version of that is taking place in the Upper Elementary class and Middle School as well.
When I toured MJDS as a prospective parent 4 years ago, I arrived skeptical and with a closed mind. My perspective was tainted by my own negative school experiences. By the end of our tour, I turned to my husband and wondered out loud about how different my own school experiences and attitude towards learning could have been, had I had the opportunity to go to a place like this.
My kids love school – and things seem promising for future years!