I remember the first time I got picked up by a new mom. My eldest child was about 5 months old and I was in BabyGap during my maternity leave and got the “how old is she?” opener. After exchanging some polite questions and feigning interest about each other’s babies, the conversation took a turn for the competitive. First came the comparative questions masked as interest in my child: she’s so good – is she sitting up by herself yet? Has she started solids? How much tummy time does she do? Oh, mine does… Then what followed was some unsolicited advice: she must be too hot in that snowsuit, she’s going to sweat and be uncomfortable. Wrong. I was the one who was uncomfortable; uncomfortable with the competition that my 5 month old and I found ourselves in! I still think about that experience every time I pass that particular BabyGap.
The comparison of our children’s skills never seems to stop. I have had similar experiences waiting in the check-out line of the grocery store, at friends’ houses and even with family members. I try not to be interested in how my child fares comparatively – but sometimes I just cannot help it. Maybe it is because I’m surrounded by this psyche, or maybe I have been influenced to think in a competitive way based on my own upbringing and conventional schooling.
I’m finding that for me, important physical and developmental infant skills such as sitting up, tummy time and eating solid foods seem to now pale in comparison to how my child is doing in relation to others when it comes to concrete academic skills, such as reading. Through each physiologic developmental stage, I felt that she would hit the milestone when she was ready – based on early signs that she was on track for this expectation. Within the model provided by the Montessori Jewish Day School, I find that I can adhere to a similar approach.
Recently I have found that I’m more sensitive to what my daughter is able to do academically, and how she is advancing in relation to her friends from outside of MJDS. This doesn’t support the “cooperation instead of competition” philosophy at the school but I can’t help it. One of her friends can read paragraphs and comprehend everything; another has a limited vocabulary and struggles to communicate effectively with adults; someone else’s child can do cartwheels, and mine can do some math in her head.
I have heard that Montessori is for every child, but it is not for every parent. I have been skeptical about this, because as an educator (albeit, in a traditional school) I have seen many different types of students and learners, and no one institution or educational model can effectively meet the needs of every kind of student and help them each reach their maximum growth potential.
That being said, I have learned over the past three years as an MJDS parent, that the school is as much for me as it is for my children, who seem to be thriving there. I’ve written in the past about how deeply I personally connect with the school’s philosophy and approach. And since I have started helping with parent tours, I have become more sensitive to the lens in which the school is evaluated by prospective parents. Within the walls of MJDS, students are not often confronted with comparison of skills – except maybe on the monkey bars in the playground. However, outside of the building, I think these questions arise more from the parents.
In a presentation by students in grade 3 this year, I observed a respectful interaction between two students in the midst of a presentation of their work. One was correcting the other, filling in her blanks when she hesitated, and helping her read or correct certain words when the presenter struggled with them. In many other contexts, the interruptions could have been perceived as rude, embarrassing or showing off. But you could immediately tell that both students were extremely comfortable with what was happening – that being wrong was just a matter of fact, something that happens, or that being corrected is a part of the teamwork dynamic at play. That is when this idea that Montessori is for every child, but not for every parent clicked with me.
How we as parents perceive the approach being taught at the school has a direct impact on how our children respond to the approach. Parents who buy into the philosophy (literally and figuratively) can support their child in this cooperative and supportive learning environment. The classroom represents a microcosm of the real world. In what workplace can you find everyone with the same skill set at the exact same level of proficiency? In what workplace would you want a boss that encourages you to base your success on keeping up with the guy on your right and the girl on your left? Isn’t individuality, team work and complimentary skills the desired result of group work – which dominates the modern workplace?
I believe so, which is why when I think about it, my daughter does not have to be at the exact same point of proficiency as her peers in order for me to be sure that she is getting a good education. But it has taken me time to find comfort and patience in trusting this system. So yes, Montessori is for my children, and for this parent too. .