My Experience With Montessori as a Mom of a Child With Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Many parents are trying to select preschools for their children at this time of year. There are many considerations: proximity to your home; schedule; and quality of program. Most importantly, the school and its philosophy have to fit your child’s personality, especially if your child is on the spectrum, has developmental delays or other special needs.

My children happily attend a Catholic kindergarten and preschool that instills strict discipline and curriculum. Before finding my current school, I had my kids in a Montessori school. After three years there, I learned that it wasn’t the best place for my family. My son attended their two-year-old program, which I loved mainly for the teacher. He wasn’t even 2 years old when he started, and it was challenging just getting him to separate from me at the beginning of the year. The teacher and school were more than patient with us during that transition and for many other things that year. Both he and my daughter loved that classroom and teacher (who taught a letter and number each month). But once my son graduated to the 3- to 6-year-old classroom, my expectations rose.

He’d learned to go to school at that point. For that age group, the Montessori way was to greet students directly from a carline. My son had no problem exiting my car and finding his classroom. The other nice thing they taught him was how to hang his coat up on a hanger. And put it on himself at the end of the day. This classroom was three hours each day, five days a week. I sure loved that schedule. I could run my errands without my son and attend Gymboree classes with my daughter. But for 15 hours a week, there was hardly any instruction. The children were allowed to go around the room and select any work they wanted. All the time. There was no group lesson on the letter A; there was no common seasonal craft that they cut and pasted together; there were no math worksheets that all the 3-year-olds completed.

After two years in that classroom, my son hadn’t learned to recognize his letters. I had to teach him. After two years in that classroom, he never brought home a bear puppet because it was letter B week or a worksheet with the numbers 1 through 10 traced on it. “What was he doing in there for fifteen hours a week?” I would ask. This is the response I got (more than once). “He’s not showing an interest in the alphabet works, so he’s not ready to learn letters yet.”“Have you asked him to do those works?” I asked.“Yes. But he said that he’ll do them tomorrow.” “Did you tell him that he had to do them now, since you’re the adult and you’re asking him to do them now?” “No, but I told my assistant that he’ll do the work tomorrow and she’ll help me remember.” You’re going to let a 4-year-old tell you he doesn’t want to do it now and that he’ll do it tomorrow? As an educator for some number of years, haven’t you ever encountered this common stall tactic before? It’s not a new, creative one. Can’t you think of a better way to handle that attitude than to reinforce it with actually letting him away with it? But that was their method, and that’s why it didn’t work for me or my son.

It’s a shame because I think my son could have learned something more in those two years if the teacher had said, “It’s time for everyone to learn about the letter C and color a cat.” He’s quite capable of that. But I don’t think he was going to learn that in that classroom.

My daughter did not attend the 3- to 6-year-old classroom at the Montessori school. That’s how we made our way to our beloved traditional Catholic school. Good luck as you make your preschool choice.

Follow this journey on My Misadventures in Mothering.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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