When I was teaching, I observed an interesting phenomenon. Many of the parents deliberately chose Montessori for their child over “easier” options, like public school, but after the child began attending, they questioned and doubted everything that makes the Montessori method special. It was as if they wanted the results of Montessori without the “Montessori-ness” that makes us different from traditional schooling.
We, as teachers, considered parent education to be absolutely imperative. Often, as we explained the rationale of certain Montessori activities, we could almost see the light bulb go off over a parents’ head. “Ah!” they would say. “Now I get why you [pick one] let the children scrub pumpkins/don’t send home work every day/don’t use worksheets.”
Sometimes it’s really just that simple. Tell them why you’re doing something the way you are, and they become your supporters rather than challengers. Montessori instructors have a unique opportunity as educators of the parents as well as the children. The worthy goal is that the student will get so much more out of the Montessori experience if it is supported not only in the school, but also in the home.
Here are 5 smart suggestions for ensuring that Montessori parents understand what their children’s school career will be like in the Montessori classroom, and how their involvement is crucial.
1. Establish A School Lending Library for Parents
The Montessori Method, Dr. Montessori’s original text, should be required reading for all parents considering a Montessori education for their children. This simple book provides a invaluable introduction to the method and will acquaint parents with its history. Beyond this, there are dozens of wonderful books on the subject of Montessori programs, such as The Absorbent Mind, How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way and Montessori from the Start. If the school is able to order copies of Montessori Life magazine and maintain a section of Michael Olaf catalogs, there will be plenty for parents to read.
I would suggest supplementing these pro-Montessori materials with critical studies of the public school system such as John Taylor Gatto’s The Underground History of American Education and Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. Books like these will help parents to compare and contrast the options of Montessori and public schools. Interesting DVDs, such as Montessori: The Science behind the Genius would enrich the lending library. Parents should be invited to contribute books and other materials to the library that they find relevant and would like to share with others.
2. Communicate Well With A Useful School Website
A thoughtfully-prepared website can become an invaluable tool for the whole school
community. Teachers can assemble a list of frequently asked questions, culled from their years of experience, and these Q&As can be listed on the website so that parents wanting to learn more about the school’s offerings will have countless questioned answered even before their first in-person visit.
The website can outline the general curriculum and be made beautiful and appealing with illustrative photography. The website can provide pertinent contact information for setting up appointments to tour the school and can explain enrollment requirements. Beyond being a terrific resource for new prospective school families, the website can be enlarged to serve all parents.
By incorporating a website forum, the community will have a place to come to learn about important happenings at the school, broach pertinent issues and discuss plans, challenges and strategies with the teachers and other parents in an effective and simple way.
As you might imagine, I think it would be fantastic if the teachers decided to have a blog. This would be a great place to talk about the neat things that are going on in their classrooms, announce field trips or get feedback from parents on new ideas. In today’s world, the Internet is the communication tool of choice for so many people and while it can never replace face-to-face meetings, a well-structured website offers additional opportunities for school involvement 24 hours a day.
3. Give Parents a Kid’s Eye View of the Classroom
Asking grown-ups to get down on their knees so that their exploration of the classroom is from the perspective of a small child may cause some giggles, but it’s an active way for them to tap into how the environment will look and feel to their children. Suddenly, the beautiful sense of order and accessibility becomes apparent. Arrange a sample work period and allow parents to take out floor mats and choose materials that seem interesting to them. Encourage them to ask questions so that you, the instructor, can demonstrate the way in which you will be aiding their children without taking away the responsibility for exploring and accomplishing the work themselves.
4. Provide Parent Education Meetings
This is a great way to reach many parents at one time. Some schools will have the budget to be able to pay for speakers to come and give presentations. But the director, teachers, and even parents can put together short talks that will be of value and interest to parents. Topics like the Normalized Child, Educating for Peace, or Promoting Independence would be great places to start.. The structure can be formal, or as friendly as a potluck supper, depending on the preferred style of the teachers and parents.
5. Don’t Omit Discussion of Ethics in Parent-Teacher Meetings
It is clear from reading The Montessori Method that the parents living in Dr. Montessori’s original children’s houses were generally poorly-educated people, sometimes lacking in basic life skills. Dr. Montessori found it was vital for the resident instructors to provide assistance to these families so that their children would be properly fed, clothed, bathed and taught. This will seldom be the case with modern Montessori parents and, obviously, Montessori teachers no longer live amongst their students’ families.
In modern times, no one has the right to tell parents how to raise their children and this may make Montessori instructors feel hesitant about discussing the ethical
values that are the foundation of the method. While it’s only right that parents should decide how they will raise their children, if what is taught in the home opposes the important behavioral lessons learned in the classroom, conflicts will result.
For example, a child from a family where intense sibling rivalry is allowed to exist will have difficulty understanding that they are expected not to compare themselves to their classmates at school. Children who are permitted to react to disagreements by yelling, hitting or other hurtful behaviors at home will bring these actions into the classroom, too. Children who are disciplined at home with negative or shaming techniques may not be able to respond to the positive reinforcements that form the structure of discipline at school.
I remember one year, I gave a talk about Children and the Media. I came down quite conservatively for shielding kids from much of what’s on television and in the movie theaters. But more than just telling parents what I thought their children should watch or not watch, I talked about why and how violent images affect children negatively. I was nervous when giving the talk, but it was very well received and many parents thanked me later. They want to learn!
A little parent education can go a long way towards ensuring a successful school experience for each child. Hopefully there’s something new here you can implement at your own school, and I’d love it if you share any ideas that work well for you.