Montessori: Our Experience

This week a few people have sent me links to articles about little Prince George starting at Montessori school in the UK (cute!). While I haven’t written much about being a “Montessori Mum” yet, I have mentioned a few times that Heike goes to a Montessori School, and Walt will do the same when the time comes. This is always a discussion point for us as people wonder why and how we came to choose Montessori and what Montessori education actually entails.

The most common question/comment I get, is “Isn’t that chaos?” followed by “My son/daughter could never go there, they wouldn’t do anything!”. And I just have to do an inward eye roll because it so misses the mark – Montessori is actually very structured and has been a lifesaver for us in terms of taming our wild, determined girl while still fostering her independent spirit. It is also becoming quite “trendy” and modern though, so I think it’s important to choose it for the right reasons.

So, first things first, how/why did we choose Montessori? A range of reasons. J went to a Steiner school in Germany and Australia so was very open to the concept of exploring that for our kids or something else “alternative”. I studied teaching and was always drawn to the Montessori approach but had never seen it in action. We also happened to live very close to an excellent and highly competitive Montessori school that offered baby and toddler classes, so thought we’d give those a try – and thus began our journey.

And what is Montessori? The basic premise is a focus on the individual rather than group work, and allowing independent work with teacher’s present as guides. Teachers present activities to the students, which might include mathematics using counting blocks or “writing” using physical letters, and students are free to work on those of their choosing at their own pace. There is some group time and outside play but the major focus is independent learning.

Heike was and is an extremely strong willed and independent person and Montessori proved the perfect balance for her – the chance for self directed learning within a highly structured environment. If you do a tour of your local Montessori school the first thing you will notice is how incredibly quiet the classrooms are – the very furthest thing from chaos you will see. The kids are trusted to choose what they want to work on while knowing there are firm guidelines in place, and the result is generally harmony.

Montessori schools don’t issue homework which is another thing I loved about it. As a teacher I think homework is completely overrated, particularly in the primary years. It’s normally just a sheet that’s photocopied last minute by an overworked teacher and given to every student every year. And it has such a bad effect on family life in the evenings!

Lots of parents think their kids wouldn’t be suited to this environment and it is true that like any classroom there are some kids who will do better than others (that said, I always have to wonder why parents think their kids will do so much better in a traditional classroom? I think sometimes the “norm” just isn’t questioned enough). Montessori is perfect for kids at the extreme ends of the scale – the really loud, boisterous, opinionated kids who would otherwise spend half their life in the naughty corner (me, and my daughter!) and the quiet, lost kids who would otherwise get completely overlooked. Then there is the fairly big group of kids who will do well in ANY environment – the sweet, compliant kids with average to above average intelligence.

I often wonder how Montessori schools approach children with special needs and I’ve never seen this in action so can’t comment, but I do think when the focus is so heavily on the individual, and the classes are mixed age, it allows for a range of personalities and abilities. I also think Montessori would be a tough environment for the real dreamers and artistic souls (I think these kids would absolutely thrive in Steiner schools!).

At the end of the day your child’s education really comes down to you – teachers can always pick the kids whose parents are really invested, and children who have good relationships with their families are always much better equipped to deal with the complex social situations of primary and especially high school. Most kids will do well in any school if their parents care enough, and of course lots of parents don’t have the means to send their kids to private schools. Luckily, especially in Australia, there are loads of excellent public schools to choose from.

In Hong Kong there are lots of great Montessori Schools and pre-schools to choose from if you are interested in taking a look! At the moment Heike goes to the Woodlands Montessori School in the Mid-Levels, but from later this year will probably go to the International Montessori School.

Sassy Mama (my go-to website for all things Mum related in Hong Kong!) has put together a list of a few of the most popular schools here.

Our main focus is a happy and healthy little girl and I’m pleased to report she is doing great!



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