Thursday, January 14, 2016

Learning: What's Important

This year Makayla started first grade. We made the decision to continue her Montessori education for several reasons. First, she loved her school, her teachers and her friends and they loved her and cared about her as well. Second, she was doing GREAT academically. Third, it seemed to us that she was in a delicate place where she could easily move to the "school is boring, school is drudgery, I hate school" camp and we really wanted her to gain a real love for LEARNING. We wanted to keep her in a happy cocoon of learning with individual attention as long as we are financially able to do so. Finally, we compared the public school curriculum for our city to the curriculum that she would have at her Montessori school and there was just no comparison. Most of the things that were expected for her to learn by the end of first grade she was already proficient in at the end of Kindergarten. I attended a Montessori school through Kindergarten. My older brother attended through the second grade but since I was just a kid then, I didn't really have any idea of what a Montessori Elementary program was like.

For the most part, Montessori Elementary is a continuation of the Montessori Pre-primary program. They don't have desks, they use specifically designed, self correcting materials called "works", and they have the freedom to design their own lesson plans. At Makayla's school, they start and finish every day with journaling to help them develop grammar, writing, spelling and paragraph construction skills. They have lessons from their teacher on every subject from science to math to a weekly cooking lesson. They have silent reading time after lunch every day and every day that's not frigid, they go outside and play in the outdoor classroom.

As a Montessori parent none of this came as a surprise to me. These are all normal parts of a Montessori classroom. What DID surprise me was that they do not receive grades. At all. At first, I thought to myself "How will we know if she's doing well? How will we know if she's on track?" We decided to trust her teacher and tried to not think about it. At the end of the first month we got a report of sorts that gave us a brief description of the things that she had been working on, the things that she had done well with and the things that she needed to work on. This included actual classroom work as well as behavioral and social issues. I thought it was really nice and it helped me to understand what some things were that we could focus on at home to help her in school. Sometime around October I realized that grades didn't matter at all! When we read together at night it was obvious how much better she was reading. When I looked at her writing I could see how much smaller and neater her penmanship had become and how much better her spelling had gotten. Her math skills were improving every week. Just being around her it was OBVIOUS how much she was learning. I realized that I didn't need a report card with a bunch of grades on it to compare with other kids, my child was learning and LOVING to learn! I came to realize that my desire to know "how she was doing" through a rigid grading system was more about ME than it was about HER. If I step back and look at her, I know she's learning.

That's what's really important.