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Montessori = Zombie Kids?

In May Little Girl had an incident at school. It’s not something I am talking or writing about, but suffice it to say we needed to find a new school. I did a lot of research (natch!), and visited a lot of places. One of the places I went was a Montessori school a few towns away.

We pulled up to the long white building, and rang a bell to get in. It was a nice facility. I liked the order and variety of manipulatives and materials. It was definitely different than what we were used to at our community preschool.

During the tour Little Girl smiled and talked to the teacher who was showing us around. She sang songs. She touched everything. She asked questions. She oohed and ahhed over a set of lovebirds. She opened books, asking me to read them to her. At one point she sat down with a small tea set and cups she found, starting an impromptu tea party in the room that housed the preschool kids. The teacher, who was cleaning up the empty room, was using turpentine, so I cut the party short since I didn’t want my children breathing in the fumes.

After our tour we entered the director’s office. Little Girl, hoping to re-start her tea party, kept trying to run back to the turpentine scented room. Let her go, the director said. No, I said. The teacher is using turpentine. At that point the woman who handles the money came in, and we moved on to her desk, but not before my husband heard the director say, “I think you should find a new school. This is not the school for you.” When he told me about it in the car we assumed it was because I was afraid to let the girls breathe in turpentine fumes, but I was wrong. I found out why a few days later.

We visited on a Friday. The money chick followed up with me on Monday. We had already decided against the school. Mostly, because of the $7,025 tuition (add on another $7,575 if we wanted Big Girl to go, too), but there were other issues as well. We didn’t love the location — about 11 miles from our home — or the hours (8:30 a.m. until 2:45 p.m.), which weren’t negotiable. We also both agreed on the fact that kids should be allowed to play on a playground and push baby carriages when they are still young enough to do so. That school, which adheres strictly to the Montessori theory, does not have a playground or toys in any of the rooms.

Not wanting to offend, I nicely explained that the cost of the school was more than we wanted to spend. That’s when the woman hit me between the eyes: “Yes, it’s more than other schools, but if you paid it you would see that your daughter wouldn’t act like she does. Our kids, the parents can have conversations with them. They sit for hours quietly. They’re not running all around all over the place. Your daughter wouldn’t ACT like she does!”

I was more amused than upset, so I thanked her again and hung up. Still, I couldn’t believe it. That woman had criticized my little girl for some of the very traits that I love the most about her — her sense of humor, her inquisitiveness, her energy, her physicality. I called my husband to recount the remarks and he had a good laugh over them, too.

Before I go any further let me say I am not knocking the Montessori system or any particular school. We actually loved the Montessori near our house — one with a lovely outdoor playground, bikes to ride, and babies to cuddle along with all the more traditional Montessori equipment. No, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the system. I think there’s something wrong with an adult who would criticize my kid’s behavior after meeting her for a mere ten minutes.

Does Little Girl have a lot of energy? Yes, she does, but she wasn’t so boisterous or frenetic that it warranted that kind of chastising. Is she loud? Yes, but she can be quiet and serious and stay on task when she needs to. Is she a wiggle worm? Yes, but again, she can sit with me at a table for 30 minutes or even an hour coloring, chatting, and doing her “homework.”

The lesson for me was that I know my child best. Even if we were willing to shell out that kind of cash I would never want to see my little one’s spirit broken by people who want her to fit into a mold — and a boring, plain vanilla one at that. Keep singing, Little Girl. Maybe someday large groups of people will join you.

p.s. The headline, obviously, is a joke. She’ll be attending the local Montessori’s camp a few days a week this summer. She — and we — can’t wait!

UPDATE: After Kelly posted a comment I looked up the school on the official Montessori school finder. Interestingly, the school is *not* recognized or associated for its preschool — only for its ages 6 to 12 program. So that may explain the strange commentary and expectations.

4 Responses to “Montessori = Zombie Kids?”

  1. I’m really so sorry you had that experience. Was it an AMI-certified Montessori school? I’m not sure what to say about the turpentine or the expectation of “sitting quietly for hours” or doing homework(?!). These aren’t a part of Montessori theory at all.

    I also don’t understand the attitude of the directress! Obviously, that school has some issues of it’s own surrounding child development & behavior, unrelated to the principles of Montessori.

    It’s always upsetting to me to read articles like yours surrounding experiences of so-called Montessori schools. Associating words like zombie with Montessori pedagogy leaves me with such a sad feeling, when really it’s the specific facilities & administrators with the problems (likely uncertified as well, since unfortunately, anyone can use the name “Montessori” in their school in an attempt to boost attendance).

    Montessori is about peaceful, cooperative, child-led learning. It has absolutely nothing to do with breaking the spirit of or creating zombie-like children. And if your child is energetic and pysical then a real Montessori guide would work with those traits, not attempt to squelch them.

    Montessori learning is about following the child. Period. If a school doesn’t do that, it’s not a Montessori school.

    I hope you have a good experience in your summer program & find a better school that more closely follows Maria Montessori’s ideals!

  2. kb says:

    I just updated my post. The school is not affiliated for preschool. Only ages 6 to 12…

  3. Isn’t that interesting! I *felt* like something was up after reading the “your daughter wouldn’t act like she does” statement. Eeek.

    Good for you for trusting your instinct & finding another place for your daughter!

  4. kario says:

    Yikes! Both of my daughters attended our local Montessori school through 3rd grade and it was nothing like what you describe. Unfortunately, like yoga or just about anything else, there is a spectrum of experiences with Montessori. The trick is visiting, experiencing, and finding a fit for your family.

    I can’t imagine that turpentine is an approved cleanser by the state Dept. of Early Learning (or whatever it is called in your state). That might be an issue to tell someone about. Especially since it is potentially cancer-causing…

    Hope you find the perfect fit for your girls.

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