Family Profile : Andrew & Monica

Monica and Andrew were kind enough to spend a good chunk of their Saturday afternoon with me discussing all kinds of Montessori related topics;  parenting; perfection; attention to detail; and the joy of trusting the process. You can see Monica at any PAC Meeting (go!) or most Fridays at “cookies in the Library” after drop-off. Monica might be more familiar to you as one of our fabulous PAC Co-Chairs. 

A note about the interview: Monica and Andrew both participated in this discussion.  With their permission, I’ve amalgamated their thoughts into one voice for clarity and ease of understanding.

Why Montessori? What brought you to Montessori?

Complete total and happy accident, with no research at all. Well, with someone else’s research… we were checking out preschools and a very good friend was sending her kids to Vancouver Montessori School (VMS), which was the geographically closest preschool to us. She had done extensive research on Montessori philosophy and history and had a mother-in-law who had been a Montessori teacher. She had decided that Vancouver Montessori was THE place for them. So we happily followed along thinking “It’s only preschool right?”

It blew our minds going there to do the observation. It was so different to our own educational experience and it was amazing. Children were just… doing things on their own and doing them well and with purpose. And there was a sense of calm, quiet, order, and respect. We thought “wow – there is something going on here that is powerfully different.”

How did you increase your own understanding of Montessori?
We were super lucky that VMS had a rigorous parent education program. We were able to go from intrigued to fully engaged as we took part in bi-monthly sessions on different areas of the classroom: mathematics, language, reading an writing, sensorial, culture, geography, botany, and art. And then there was practical life and understanding why practical life was fundamental (that one probably had the biggest impact on us–feel free to ask Monica about it sometime!). They had sessions on the history of Maria Montessori and how she came to design the program and the AHA! moments along the way. Her vision, philosophy and respect for the whole child was thoughtful in a way we had never seen before.

How did you find your way to Maple Grove?
No. We had applied for the lottery for Maple Grove but didn’t get in initially. So we stayed at VMS for Kindergarden. Then, looking at our options we chose to enter a Francophone school for Grade one. In February of that year we got a call from Maple Grove saying “we have a spot for Grade two and because of your daughter’s previous experience with Montessori she is at the top of the list.” Then we had a nervous 24 hour wait to find out if they could offer our second daughter a sibling spot in the Kindergarten and, sure enough, that came through.

Was that a tough decision?
Not really.  We were excited, but we also wanted to take our daughter’s input into account (that’s what happens when you respect a child!) because even though she was only six, obviously this affected her in a big way. She was quick to say “yes” and the reason she gave was “because then I can do what I want to and not what the teachers say”.  now, clearly this is not the way a Montessori classroom actually operates but her sentiment seemed to reflect the control she knew she could have over her own learning. That was interesting to us – it wasn’t about the language or knowing some kids at Maple Grove or knowing the playground. It was about self-direction and the work of becoming the person that you are.

And was her transition to Maple Grove smooth?
Seamless. It was so easy. Even though she hadn’t done this style of learning for a year, she had gone far enough ahead and absorbed enough of the material. This speaks to conceptual based learning – when they learn something they learn it – it’s not memory, it’s not rote. She thrived again.

Is there any aspect of Montessori education that you struggle with?
The fact that we shouldn’t provide all the answers.  Consciously, allowing and guiding your child to find their own answers–especially when time is short and it seems to take so much longer to push them figure it out themselves.  Allowing for failure and embracing it as a learning opportunity.  For example, “Your time management skills seem a little… off. Here you are on Thursday night struggling with your homework which is due tomorrow and which you struggled with last Thursday night and the week before that? ” Should we work on it? When should we actively work on things rather than trusting it to the process? How much will self correct and how much do we need to influence? That’s a parenting piece on the academic side that we struggle with and don’t have a clear answer to. Except that everything written about this education methodology tells us it’s going to work out fine–trusting it is hard sometimes, especially when it isn’t your own educational experience.

Prior to your oldest starting at Vancouver Montessori, would you have said that your home or parenting style was Montessori?
Our level of conscious parenting was just nowhere near what it became after being involved in Montessori. Our knowledge of how a child develops was raised exponentially. We were still doing good things but not necessarily with this philosophy in mind. And definitely not with the depth of understanding of what they could do on their own.

I think there is a lot of cool things that we’ve done, because we’ve been exposed to Montessori, that we wouldn’t have expected to have done in our home.

Like what?
Like, when we were in preschool we were given a list of age-appropriate chores for kids to do and I was floored. It would never have occurred to us to give a three year old a laundry basket to fold anything. But a three year old will happily fold your wash-cloths, sort socks, help set the table, help in the garden. And clean up their own messes especially with tools their size.  And arrange our home environment with their size ability in mind.

We have a breakfast area with cereal boxes and bowls so that they can serve themselves in the morning. They still need help with it because sometimes the milk jug is too full – I have times when I think “maybe I should get a small jug that they could reach in the fridge and…” but I can’t bring myself to go that far because it doesn’t fit with our crammed-in life, and the thought of a big mess in the morning just does me in. But when the milk jug isn’t super full they can do it all themselves.

School lunches. This doesn’t always work but if there’s time they like to pack their own lunch. There has to be a certain level of health criteria around it…several food groups must be present, and warm/cold packs have to be used … Our youngest loves to make a Wow Butter and Jam sandwich and it’s funny to see. It’s not how we would make it because the ratio of Wow Butter to Jam is slightly different to what we would normally do, and she cuts a good thick crust off it. But when she makes it herself it all gets eaten and there’s something to that. And there’s the pride to go with it. They are happy to prepare things themselves but it’s rare because it’s time dependent. We’re not willing to move bedtime later so that the kids can make their lunches. There are things (like sleep) that override other things.

When it works it works beautifully.

Last year we bought them both laundry baskets… they take the basket down and put the clothes and soap in the machine. They can put their clothes in the dryer but they need help getting the clean clothes up the stairs and there’s usually help with folding. But even if we sit with them and help them fold their rooms are designed so that everything is accessible and they put it all away.

It’s not perfect but we are trying to build that habit. An interesting side-effect is that we do less laundry and they wear more of their clothes (sometimes it gets fished out of the laundry!). Sometimes we have to say “mmm… no, that can’t come out again. You have to go change.” There has to be parental oversight. But I really like the idea of freedom within limits. 

At the end of the day, it is really about respect for the child and the independent person they are working to become.  That philosophy seems to guide us well.  And laughter–we make sure to do a lot of that together!

Thank you for taking the time Monica and Andrew.  Everyone, feel free to comment about anything that resonates or that you have questions about – please be kind.  If you would like to volunteer to have your family profiled please let me know.  

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