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February 11, 2020

Public Montessori is a Thing!

Yesterday, Henry's school invited parents to come spend the day at school with their kids. I got to spend a few hours at the school working with Henry and talking with other parents. It's a rare opportunity for me to get inside his classroom and I love every opportunity I can get. While I was there Henry was able to plan his morning by freely choosing work from his work plan. I got to see the exciting buzz of his lower elementary classroom. I watched children answer the classroom phone, choose work, problem solve issues, chat and laugh, clean, and learn all within a busy little community. It is such an amazing sight to see children learning in this way, to see Montessori in action in a PUBLIC school. 

Our experience with public Montessori schools

Sometimes Montessori education is often associated with expensive and exclusive private schools. But, public Montessori schools are a thing! We are fortunate and privileged to live in an area that has several public Montessori options. According to the National Center for Montessori in the public sector there are more than 500 public Montessori schools in the United States. These are a combination of neighborhood schools (districts), charters, and magnet schools at every grade through high school. 

For the past four years, public Montessori has been our daily reality. And, to be very honest, the public school option is the only reason why we can continue to send our children to a public school beyond Children's House. Elementary programs are very expensive and just not an option for us to send all of our children to a private school. So, cost is obviously a benefit, but there are several other reasons why we love having a public Montessori option. These reasons include:
  • Diversity: Henry (and eventually Nora) get to be a part of a beautiful and diverse community. Public schools serve children from our community without exception, so his classroom includes children from a range of races, religions, socio-economic backgrounds, and neurodiversity. I think this is a very different experience than he would have gotten in a private school.
  • Access to Services: Public schools have access to so many services that smaller private schools can't often offer. Henry is neurodiverse and can receive additional supports, where necessary, inside his school community. Plus a range of after school and during school programing is offered to enrich his school experience.
  • Part of the Neighborhood: By sticking to our district school we have become more connected to our neighborhood. We've learned about community partners and businesses, met new families and made friends.  
Now, there have been compromises that we have had to make by choosing a public Montessori. They have included:
  • Fewer Montessori Families: The community at the school is not necessarily invested in Montessori as an educational or parenting model. Practically this has meant that some of the things other children are allowed to do or watch at home are not inline with what we allow our children to do at this age. Violent video games for example.
  • State Testing/Curriculum: Children are still required to learn certain topics at certain times, and will be included in state testing (despite testing going against the Montessori method.) This can mean a bit less flexibility in the classroom. I think this does change the original focus and pace of Montessori at the elementary level. This is one of my biggest concerns of Montessori in the public sector, and an ongoing debate across the country.
  • Technology: Now, I'm not anti-technology, but I do believe that children benefit from less screen time and more time with concrete materials and moving their bodies. Especially in the first plane of development, I do not see technology as having a role in Montessori classrooms. But, the district doesn't agree with me. Even in Montessori schools, children are given 1-1 iPads and have the ability to use them. While I have the option of excluding my children from this practice by refusing to give consent to technology use, it still exposes my children to screens far more than I would like at this age.
  • Staff Training: Similar to families not being into Montessori, sadly I have found some of the staff aren't into Montessori. Everyone has their own reasons for working in any particular place, and being in love with Montessori isn't a requirement for working in a public Montessori school. I've found some support staff and even teachers are neutral or uninterested in Montessori while working within a Montessori school. Training for both teachers and staff is varied and expensive making it a barrier for further education. Sadly, a couple of the main classroom guides (not Henry's) even admitted to me in conversation that they had never read a Montessori book from cover to cover during their training! It's a challenge, and one that worries me when it comes to spreading Montessori effectively through public schools.  

Overall, I'm so grateful to have access to public Montessori. I highly encourage families to get involved with their school districts and push for these resources to be available in your area as well!

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