Which is ridiculous, since I have a LOT to say.
There was an interesting juxtaposition of activities this week--on the one hand, the spring Parents' Evening at Will's Montessori preschool, and on the other hand, a forum for parents of prospective kindergarteners at our local public elementary school.
I'll do Montessori first, because I think there are going to be some friends who are going to be unhappy with what I say about the public school, so I'll let you get your happy vibes on before that.
So you probably know by now that Montessori classrooms do not welcome parents in on a drop-in basis--the classroom is the child's space, with important work for the child to do, and parents basically just get in the way of all the happy little elf-work. But one night a semester, Will's school has a shortened session to which parents are invited.
This is the animal stamping work. You use the animal stamps to stamp the appropriate number of times under each number--this is one of the first works that the three-year-olds are taught, which is why there are boxes to show you how many goes where. Children are always welcome, however, to do any work that they've been taught whenever they want, and repetition of easier works is something that kids find comforting, and that gives them a sense of how far they've progressed, and helps them internalize certain concepts, sort of like muscle memory for the mind. Will still does this animal stamping work about once a week.
This is a work in which you scoop different objects out of the fishbowl, sort them into separate porcelain bowls, then dump them back in the bowl and sponge up the water. It's a sorting work and a motor skills work to practice the spoon grip.
One of the things that I've found really interesting this year is that in the fall semester Parents' Night, Willow was almost entirely interested in the works that practiced pretty abstract and sometimes complicated mental skills--arithmetic, literacy, a lot of handwriting practice, some geography, calendars, stuff like that. But lately she's been almost entirely interested in the motor skills works--dipping, gripping, squeezing stuff. I've actually noticed this at home, too, in that she's far less interested in thing like mazes and math worksheets and dinosaur identification and the art that she usually loves, and she's been happiest just running around and jumping and digging and messing stuff up and helping me do housework. It's a different stage of development that she's in at the moment, I guess, and I'm very pleased that her school also supports this type of development and allows her to practice satisfying works that challenge her motor skills as well as her academic skills.
In this work you use the tool to move the little balls from the bowl to the platter and then back again. It's terrific for the scissors grip, which lefties often find a lot more challenging to learn, only I've just noticed that my own little lefty is using her right hand here. Sigh.
One of my other many favorite things about the classroom environment is that there are no pictures of kittens hanging from tree limbs or motivational posters (have you seen the site where you can make your own de-motivational posters? Rawk), but there are, instead, hanging quilts on the walls and African drums and these really lovely Japanese prints:This one is a partner work. One child wears the blindfold, and the other child hands her two swatches of cloth--velvet, burlap, cotton, etc. The blindfolded child says if they're the same or different. I think that older children might do an ordering work with this, as well--Montessori young child work is very big on teaching them to order gradations of things, like sounds from highest pitch to lowest, textures from roughest to smoothest, colors from darkest tone to lightest tone. I don't remember the exact philosophy, but it's something about heightened sensory development and deep concentration, or something: This is another sorting work, and I think might be another three-year-old work, as well. It also involves categorization, since you put the insects together, and the plants together, and animals together. Everything you need for a particular work is all together on a little child-sized tray, remember, and you can get it off the shelf and put it back as you like. There are purposefully not enough tables in the room for every single child to do a table work, however, and purposefully not enough floor space for every child to do a floor work, either, because living in a community involves recognizing that the rights of other people are as important as yours and that prior involvement takes precedence. The new thing in the middle group is that you get your first work plan. It helps give the child a well-rounded experience by asking them to, at first, complete a small number of activities in various curriculum categories chosen by themselves and by the teacher. It lets a teacher unobtrusively set a child extra time with a skill with which they might be struggling, and lets children learn goal-setting and the feeling of accomplishment. Older children get increasingly more detailed work plans and are increasingly more in charge of creating and fulfilling them, until in just a couple of years a child's work plan becomes not just a goal chart, but a daily, often hourly, sometimes more frequently-updated record of exactly what that child is doing and what they are learning and have learned at any given time--this, by the way, is a far more complete and accurate record than standardized testing, although our Montessori still participates in some standardized testing, mostly so that the children are comfortable with it after they've left the program.Practical life is also big fun. The girls both have their own brooms and dustpans and spray bottles at home, but sweeping the classroom is still awesome, apparently. Although after Will swept some dirt into the dustpan, she forgot a step and just hung the dustpan up without emptying it, spilling all the dirt right back onto the floor. Oh, well--it's one way to ensure that 30 kids all have some dust to sweep up.You can pet the class gerbils whenever you want and feed them, too, if you see that they need it, but you must ask a teacher to supervise you.For the spring Parents' Night, the children do Speaker's Rug, which is something they do weekly. A small square of carpet is passed around the circle, and when it comes to you, you may stand on the carpet and say something, or you may pass it. Will is the only kid who ALWAYS passes, because she's very uncomfortable with situations in which she isn't sure exactly what the social script is, but she sits respectfully and listens to the other children speak, and she sees that all the other kids do, too, and Speaker's Rug happens every single week like clockwork so it's something that's inevitably going to become familiar and comfortable enough that one day she WILL feel the confidence to get up and speak to her schoolmates.
I love Willow's school. And I hope that will help you see why, exactly, I hated hated HATED the forum at our local elementary school. Mind you, it's supposed to be a good school, and I've thought about that forum, and I'm thinking that (hoping that) perhaps it was just the presentation that went really wrong. Perhaps the teachers and principal COULD have said some things that I would have really liked.
Only they didn't.
What they did do...they went on and on and on about the bus schedule, randomly, in my opinion, since I'm only a PROSPECTIVE parent, and I don't yet give a flip about the bus except to know that there is one and they haven't lost a kid yet. They briefly went over the daily schedule, but it was like "We walk the circle at 8:45, then at 9:00 we have open choice, then we meet in the circle, then we go to an activity, then recess, then lunch, then nap, then reading, then science, then home." Okay...
My friend Noel asked if the kindergarteners ever interacted with the older children (hoping that they DID, you know), and all the kindergarten teachers fell all over each other reassuring all the parents that they watched their kids so closely and they only had recess and lunch with older children but there were assigned seats at lunch and five teachers at recess, etc. etc.
I asked what the teaching philosophy was regarding media exposure, particularly computer and videos, and how did that translate into classroom practice, and one (older) teacher apologized before she said that she didn't approve of five-year-olds using the computer, and then when I assured her that I perfectly agreed, some other teacher jumped in to say that every teacher's classroom was different and that SHE taught her children to properly utilize the computer right from the beginning.
One teacher made a joke that a five-year-old's attention span is about five minutes long.
Another teacher made a joke that when a parent complained to her about all-day kindergarten, she said to that parent, "Well, you can see your kid at night."
You see what I'm getting at here? A lot of this stuff is just normal for teachers to think--hell, the things I think about my students quite often is not printable in a family blog--but very little of this is what, as a prospective parent, I needed to here about the program. I needed to hear what their teaching philosophies are, what their views are on student learning styles and ranges of development, how they handle discipline and teach the kids to handle conflict, how the children are encouraged to socialize and form a community, etc.
Except that then they cut off the presentation portion so that people could fill out forms. I did manage to commandeer one last teacher to ask one last question (No, there's no foreign language curriculum, but sometimes they have a club), but then I admit that I ditched before the school tour. I used to go there a lot for a preschool playgroup, so I've seen the place.
But seriously, it could have just been a bad presentation for a good school. For instance, one of the teachers talked about how at first, the kindergarteners would spend most of their time learning that they had to wait their turn and let 20 kids go ahead of them and that they had to sit quietly and not touch each other. I was telling Matt that this pissed me off, that I did NOT think it necessary that a five-year-old have to learn these particular lessons, but Matt was all, "Of course you do. They do that same stuff at Montessori, only they tell you that it teaches community-building and respect for all people and manners. It just sounds like junk here because they're doing that stuff just to keep order, but it's still the same stuff."
And there was also this really long speech in which this one teacher talked on and on and ON about how we were all going to be so mad at her for the first couple of weeks because she would not let "her kids" leave her from the front of the school at the end of the day until they'd given her a high five and she'd made eye contact with us, because they were "her kids" and she needed to say goodbye to them and we'd just have to wait. I actually replayed this speech in my head for her, something like, "I take my role in loco parentis very seriously. My students must learn that they cannot leave my side without my permission, even to go to another trusted adult. I teach them that they must high-five me before they go to you because this keeps them from running off without supervision and because it gives me time to see you and know that they are going to an appropriate caregiver." See? That sounds way better. And if you could refer to her as your "student" and not your "kid," I'd like that, too, thanks.
I wasn't disappointed in the school, though, really, because I clearly remember the time I've spent in public schools as a student and as a teacher, and so it was never my intent to enroll my girls--when we can no longer afford Montessori, I will joyfully transition the girls to homeschooling--but I was happy that Matt, who's more ambivalent about homeschooling and who has pleasant memories of public school, got to go to this meeting. It's not quite what he remembers, I think, and he knows that we can do better without it.
I'm lying, though, because really I am disappointed. Most people can't afford the money for a fancy-pants private school or the time for full-on homeschooling, and I don't like to think about how it would have felt to have gone to that meeting and come away thinking as negatively about it as I do now, but know that my kids were going to go there, anyway.