Friday, August 14, 2009

Is Montessori for you?

A year and a half ago, when my husband and I decided to relocate to the Philippines, I decided to send my kids to a Montessori school. My requirements were simple- close to home and MONTESSORI. In the end, my daughter did go to the same Montessori school I went to more than 30 years ago, even if it wasn't so close to home.

For a lot of other parents, it is not quite this simple. Given the vast array of choices in schools, I often feel pity for moms and dads who have to sift through the rubble before they find the "right" school for their child. In the end, however, there is no "right" or "wrong." In the end we choose schools that have the best "fit" for our families- one that upholds the same standards of academic excelence we believe in, embodies the same values we cherish, is located at a distance that we are willing to drive, and costs as much as we can afford.

Of course there are those for whom the school searching process is not as tedious; those who want to send their kids to schools in honor of tradition- Ateneo! La Salle! St. Scho! Assumption! I guess I was one of those... "Montessori!" I used to think that it was "shallow" to be so loyal to one's school (and maybe their parents' and grandparents' schools) until it happened to me. The reason my choice was so easy (as well as for those die-hard Ateneo-LaSalle-St. Scho-Assumption parents) was because the choice had already been made for us a long time ago by our parents (or grandparents). Personally, I'm glad my parents chose Montessori because having lived it, I know that it will be the best for my kids- in terms of academic methods, standards and values.

Why, then, should you choose Montessori? Having been so involved with school operations in the last 2 months, I believe now that Montessori is not for everyone. In the end, don't even do it if you are not willing to embrace the philosophy. It is not just a school you will be entering your family into; it is also a way of thinking. NO, it is not a "cult" like skeptics will want you to believe; but in order for your child to blossom in a "real" Montessori school, you as a parent should embrace what Montessori is about.

In general, Montessori parents believe that learning should be fun (not easy, not spoon-feeding, challenging but fun). At Montessori we have a lot of "Montessori materials" that make learning concepts a treat. My husband, a product of an all-boys, Catholic and ultra-traditional school, said during our daughter's open house last year, "it's amazing how the "parts of speech" were taught... it must have been fun learning it that way!" Through the manipulation of the materials, very important concepts in various subject matters are delivered to your kids in a fun, interesting and engaging way.

Gabby using Montessori materials to demonstrate "parts of speech."

Montessori parents are tired of seeing their kids struggle with extra schoolwork after school. Nowadays, unlike during my time, this is more the norm than the exception. In a real Montessori set-up, majority of work is done in school. In the higher grades homework is given but not to the point of stripping your child of valuable play time. Many times, homework is of a more active nature like going to the museum, cooking a dish with one's parents or making a travel journal while on vacation.

It is not uncommon to see Montessori parents involved in the school activities. Often times, parents are eager to volunteer to share any of their talents or customs. In my daughter's old Montessori preschool in the US, Indian parents would come to talk about the Diwali festival or Jewish parents would feed the students latkes and talk about Hanukkah. I personally came to school in my Filipino attire and talked about our country, traditions, games, national symbols. Then I fed them polvoron from Goldilocks ("shortbread" is how the Goldilocks polvorons are labeled in the States). I even taught them to dance tinikling and pandango sa ilaw (with plastic cups, of course)!

Gabby and I in our Filipino costumes teaching a little girl how to dance "pandango." Notice the bag of Goldilocks polvoron on the table in the back.

Last but not the least, I would say that Montessori parents do not want their children to compete against each other for school- or teacher-imposed rewards. We believe that competition that develops from within children is healthier and occurs naturally in class. Therefore, we are supportive of non-numerical grades and the abandonment of the first-honor or gold medalist concept in our schools. For all of us, our children are achievers and wonders in their own right. Some may develop and absorb faster than others but those are none the more superior than those who are slow learners. In the end, we believe in our children's intelligence and that eventually they will realize their full potential, in their own time.

Parents who decide to send their kids to a Montessori school want their kids to be well-rounded- that it is not just academics that matter, but just as important are their social and emotional development. We believe that our children will have more fulfilling lives as adults if they are better equipped with the skills necessary to live in the real world. This is what a Montessori education is about- it is education for life.


  1. I have recently started teaching at a Montosoori Preschool and I really have enjoyed reading about your experiences. Thanks for the great blog!

  2. Thank you for sharing with us your Montessori experiences. I agree with you.... Montessori is a way of living and thinking. School Mom, Coastal Empire Montessori Charter School