I’ve always thought I was pretty intentional with my oldest daughter during her time at home with me before heading off to school. She learned her ABC’s with ease, can write her name, can count to 30, and loves to do crafts and coloring projects. So when it came time to send her off to Montessori preschool earlier this Fall, I was positive that she was going to excel. After all, I had taught her tons of things at home—there was really nothing new for her to learn.
But then I had the chance to observe my daughter during her orientation to her new classroom and see what she was going to be learning a few days before school started. And I found myself feeling like a loser mom. I realized that I hadn’t taught her anything that she needed to know.
The American Montessori Society defines this type of learning as having, “Components necessary for a program to be considered authentically Montessori include multiage groupings that foster peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and guided choice of work activity. In addition, a full complement of specially designed Montessori learning materials are meticulously arranged and available for use in an aesthetically pleasing environment.” And as I sat there during that orientation meeting and looked around the room, watching my daughter move from station to station, I suddenly realized that I had prepared her for none of this.
I sat there and wondered how I had been so off base in what I had been doing with my kid in preparation for Montessori preschool. Nothing we had done was a “follow the child” learning environment. Because while she could do all of the basics I had listed above, most of the things in that room she had never done before; Metal Inset Books, pouring, spooning and tonging, introduction to the decimal system, and counting with cute little green bears.
Oh my gosh, why hadn’t I bought her cute little green bears to learn how to count with?!?
And as I sat there a little bit longer, I pondered what it was that my girl was “trained” to do and what her “guided choice of work activity” was. Well, she could roll around and play outside in the dirt and make some killer mud pies. And she loved to make paper bouquets of flowers for my window sill. And she was a total pro at making up musicals and having pretend concerts in our living room. And she loved to messily dump the ingredients into the mixing bowl while we were making cookies, but we all know she was really there to lick the spatula.
Oh yeah, and we were amazing at having popcorn and Netflix days… while still wearing the same jammies we had worn the day before. How’s that for a “follow the child” learning environment?
Yes, I had failed my kid in getting her ready to go to Montessori preschool, I hadn’t taught her anything!
And then this happened…
I asked my girl what she wanted to do one day after school. “Honey, do you want to practice your counting? Or do you want to make another Metal Inset Book? Oh, or maybe we should practice pouring rice in your little cups?”
“No Mommy, I want to watch Moana. Can we just get in our jammies and cuddle on the couch together?”
So we got into our pajamas and cuddled under the blankets to watch her favorite movie. “I love being with you, Mommy,” she whispered as she snuggled in closer and we sang along to the movie.
When we were done with the movie, my girl asked me, “Mommy, can we color some cards for my friend? She was sick at school today and I want to do something that’s nice for her.” So we colored some cards for her friend.
And then after that, she asked her sister if she wanted to go outside and play together. Hand in hand they walked out to the swing set, and my daughter pushed her little sister on the swings for nearly an hour.
That day I realized I hadn’t failed my daughter—I wasn’t the loser mom I thought I was. I had been so worried that I hadn’t taught my daughter enough before she went to Montessori, but what I had taught her was just right.
I had taught her to be kind.
I had taught her to be loving.
I had taught her to be thoughtful.
And I had taught her how to be a good friend.
And if that’s all that she learned at home, then I’ll take that type of “follow the child” learning environment any day.