Families’ Montessori Experiences
Metro Atlanta has many Montessori schools for families interested in this approach. Maria Montessori opened the first Montessori school in 1907 with a focus on younger children and elementary school ages. Since then, the approach has continued to grow in popularity, and some schools continue through middle or even high school ages.
Atlanta Parent talked to families at Arbor Montessori School for ages 18 months to 14 years; Carlisle Montessori for ages 12 months to 5 years; and Stepping Stone Montessori School for ages 6 weeks to 6 years.
As a child, Michael Van Cise attended a Montessori school, and his two children, Ashton and Gabriella, ages 3 and 5, now attend Carlisle Montessori. He likes that the school drives their independence, which makes them want to learn and do more. But parents have to get used to encouraging that independence. “It’s like a mindset shift, and it’s different from how you’d normally approach it,” he says. “You think, ‘This person’s 2 years old, they can’t do this or that,’ but how are they going to learn if they don’t do it?”
Van Cise also appreciates that the approach is child-centered, teaches a love of learning, uses intrinsic rewards, is thoughtful and practical and works with multiple learning styles. “Kids want to do learning activities for the joy of being able to do it. If a kid gets into something, they can really dive into it and work on it until they master it,” he says.
Scott Deaton attended a Montessori school, and he wanted his kids to benefit from the same approach. His daughters Emma and Taylor attend Arbor Montessori School as 4th and 8th graders. He likes the connection to educational concepts the Montessori approach provides. “You learn the fundamentals by using some of the same materials that you ultimately use in older grades. It takes the abstract from something concrete you played with or learned when you were younger to understanding the abstract at the middle school age. It’s very powerful and very helpful.”
His oldest daughter didn’t have homework until 7th grade, which he liked, because the school’s progression made it where homework wasn’t busy work. “The materials, the lessons, the freedom to explore the classroom and delve into the subjects of interest to the individual student instills a true love of learning and a growth mindset, which is key to long term success,” he says. “So, when given homework in 7th grade, even though it was new, different and very difficult, she said, ‘I really do enjoy the homework. It isn’t just busy work; it’s work with purpose and meaning.’”
Aleta Hodges is an assistant teacher and a parent at Stepping Stone Montessori School. She was fascinated with how structured the classrooms were. She knew when she had children she would send them to Montessori.
Her 3-year-old son is learning to be independent and self-sufficient. He knows how to fix his own snacks and clean up after himself. The school has also had a huge impact on his speech. “When he began a year ago, he was hardly talking. Now, he comes home each day and cannot wait to tell me all about his friends and what they did that day. I have also been told from his teacher that he was known to lead the class in the circle time songs,” she says.
Hodges also likes that learning activities start small in the primary class and build to teach children language and math, and she appreciates the focus on culture, which creates a balancing education.
Krystal Schmeelk, a parent at Stepping Stone Montessori School, saw the benefits of Montessori when she toured. “They believe children are capable of so much, and they give them the tools to exceed, grow and thrive. They believe in children and their potential, giving them the tools to learn and have confidence, as opposed to a curriculum set by standards. They allow the child to lead, which oftentimes means they are far more advanced.”
By age 2, one of her daughters was helping with dinner, setting the table and doing chores. “Our daughters are so confident and independent,” Schmeelk says. “I think that is what truly sets Montessori apart from traditional schooling, especially in the early years, is that the children are completely independent. They are so confident in themselves, and they feel they are contributing to your home.”
Miranda Knowles attended Arbor Montessori School and had an excellent experience, so she knew she wanted to send her child there. From her time at Arbor, she remembers being able to explore what she cared about and learning at her own pace, and she loved the outdoor education.
“I like the way that Montessori sneaks progressive lessons into everyday activities, like how polishing things is actually handwriting practice. I love the balance of rules and independent choice, even for little kids,” she says. Her daughter, Madeira, age 4, loves sewing work, collaging, golden beads, her teachers, her friends and the playground.
– Emily Webb