Are Montessori kids weird?

When you write a blog and you check your statistics you can see how people ended up on your site. You can see a list of search engine terms readers put into Google to end up pecking thechookhouse floor.

Like when they have searched for Guns. Imagine their dismay when they end up reading of small boys collecting branches and bits of old wood. Of a balcony full of adults while below on the dunes children run amok searching out wood for pistols and rifles freshly washed up from the sea and dropped from the Pines. This is because I wrote a piece about small boys marauding with stick guns on our holiday isle, Rottnest Island, and called it Young Guns. No doubt people searching for guns were not meaning this innocent, old fashioned play with driftwood.

Also having written about my son leaving his Montessori school I have found people searching for; Are Montesorri children weird? My short answer is No.  And perhaps a little affronted – how dare they? They are ordinary kids given a chance to learn in a non-competitive environment. They are self-determined, love to learn for learning’s sake and think tests and bells and a scheduled morning tea are a little strange. Because Montessori schooling is not the norm in Australia it has been mystified by those who don’t know it and people get an impression it is a flaky, hippy kind of education where children simply do as they please. This is the view of people outside of Montessori.

Jasper sees the difference in his new school. He sees that kids are less attentive to learning, need to be reigned in constantly by teachers and show little self direction. Strangely, even acknowledging these inadequacies, he is happy at his new government school. He likes the bigger social engagement. He likes the soft ball at lunch time and the kicking around the playground waiting for the bell to signal the start of the day. He tells me he is one of the four in the class to get all his spelling correct, something he would have had no notion of previously.

Montessori has given him resilience to work independently, something that is well ingrained in him now and hopefully cannot be eroded.

But if there are people searching this query perhaps there is some truth in the belief. Perhaps it is weird to not be motivated by tests and gold stars. Perhaps we are so used to pushing children to strive and do better and beat their peers we don’t know how good they are at pushing themselves. My conclusion is that parents are weird. Being a parent is weird. Being weird is weird. I am weird.

So now if someone is again searching whether or not Montessori kids are weird, the first place they might end up is here. Not weird, just given a different way of looking at what it is to learn.


No More Montessori

When people who have never sent their kids to a Montessori school tell you Montesorri kids are weird, or how much they love Montessori despite never being part of a school with that system, it makes you want to…

Everyone’s an expert on what a child needs.

A child should know what’s it like in the real world, someone says, expounding the virtues of a competitive environment.

The pros and cons rattle about in my head, that feels empty of all else but the two opposing views; one suggesting kids should follow their own path, blazoning it themselves, and one saying children need their path illuminated for them.

Some mothers get my angst. Especially Montessori mothers. They too wish for the control experiment child. The I-dream-of-Jeannie style child suddenly blinked into two. One raised this way; one the other. See which turns out best. A test tube baby in the purest sense.

But short of this there is just giving the other system a go.

We walk the long hill. It is at the point of impossibility for me in my wheelchair. It is long and steep. A limestone wall, deteriorating, is on our right. Convict built. Already Graham has constructed a story how the hole chiseled in its mortar was made by the bushranger Moondyne Joe. Arm muscles are burning. I can do it. If I have to. Two crossings. Lollipop men – mid sixties – swarthy Portuguese? Dogs are tethered to the fence. Blue Heeler. Schnauzer. Chocolate Labradoodle. Murphy joins the mutts that wait.

Jasper asks me not to come into the classroom. But I want to meet the teacher. Please, I won’t embarrass you, I promise.

Just being me is enough. I have to excuse myself past a group of young boys. The corridor is not wide enough for them and me. Is Jasper hoping they think I am with someone else? Please believe she belongs to someone else. The boys are maybe 10 years old. In their huddle they are tanned, even more so because of their gleaming white shirts. February white.

At the desk sits the teacher. She has a gaggle of young girls around her. All leaning in close. Taking in the smell of her. Girls love their teacher. One girl wears her art shirt; a man’s old business shirt, oversized with sleeves rolled up, ready to get dirty. The teacher and I handshake. We smile widely, warmly at one another and I say I will catch up with her later, when she has time. I don’t want to seem demanding, strange, a Montessori mother. I notice her lines about her mouth – like she smiles a lot and I think this is a good sign.

The room is jammed with desks. I would not get around them they are so close. I imagine people squeezing their way through the maze of tables and pencils falling to the floor as one is bumped. On the uneven boards the pencils will roll and keep rolling. Excuse me. Under the desks I hunt for the pencils, but they are gone. The sound of rolling lead. Desks are upending, papers are falling to the floor. A domino effect of tipping tables. Pencils on the loose. Sliding between the boards. Gone. For it is a small, small desk. No spreading out. No room for loose pencils. Elbows almost touching. Nit city. Close enough for cheating. Close enough for note passing.


Outside again and a trip to reception to hand in a form about Jasper’s asthma plan and order more uniform and a wide brimmed hat. Magpies sitting high in ancient gums warble. Wait till we are nesting, they say. In the distance the back of another former Montessori mother can be seen crossing the grass with a child in a brand new uniform two sizes too big. I want to yell out. Here, over here. Come tell me it is okay. Parents cross the bitumen and mill about. Prams galore. A siren sounds to signal the start of the day. It is a sound bursting with urgency. Fire station-loud. Let the day Begin.


Changing Schools

Yesterday was the first day of the school year and Jasper had gone off in the car with his father to his school where he has gone since he was three years old. At three he was blonder and rounder in the face. His shorts went past his knees. His back pack was almost as big as he was. It is a Montessori school. It is by the beach. It has children speaking in hushed voices. It has teachers called by their first name. It sets no homework. He can wear his board shorts. It has no races and no tests. And yet.

The phone rings and the principle of a close (but out of area) local government school tells me she has a place for Jasper available in grade five. This morning she got an email to say someone is not returning to the school. There is a place if we want and it is okay for him to come in late. But he has gone to school.

I ring Graham and tell him. We will tell Jasper together after school.

I feel sick in the guts.

I am not good at change.

When we tell him the news he looks shocked but quickly his face changes to excitement. He is keen to be moving on. He says he has been at Montessori a long time – in fact as long as most children are in primary school – and is ready for a change. He wants to be in a team. He would like the independence of walking to and from school. He already plays cricket and football with boys that attend the school.

During the day Graham and I go to enrol in the new school and I ask to see the classroom he will be in. The school is a hundred years old. The building is limestone, no doubt quarried from the ground down the hill. In the hallway sepia toned photos of old footballers adorn the walls. The secretary leads us through the corridor, its walls covered by back packs hanging from hooks. On either side are classrooms choc-full of desks in rows. A white board up the front. Children in uniforms; blue shorts, white polo shirts. In one classroom each desk has a helium filled balloon tied to it. I see a male teacher wearing a tie.

I feel as if I am stepping back into my own childhood. This school is not dissimilar to the primary school I attended. With its jarrah boards and it large sash windows, open hoping to catch the breeze. The air is not moving today and it is still and close in the classrooms. I feel a prick of fear. A deer in the headlights kind of panic.

What if I am wrong?

This is my parenting fear. Perennial. What if I am making the wrong decision for him? Graham seems not to have all this anxiety flooding through him. I thank God we are not both the same. Some one is calm and rational. I cannot speak to anyone about Jasper leaving the school without crying. I blubber about it throughout the day.