Where your child goes to school is one of the most important decisions you will ever make.
But probably not the school you’re used to imagining.
And not for the reasons you suspect.
When it comes to “the big life choices,” many parents assume that where their child goes to college, or perhaps high school, will be the critical determining factor in her lifelong happiness and success.
Actually, where she goes to preschool is more likely to make all the difference.
Surprised? Skeptical, even?
Putting that much weight on where someone spends her time at the age of two, three or four may seem extraordinary. And it’s certainly not the norm.
But then again, you don’t have a normal child, do you?
Your child is extraordinary in some way. Every child is. The right preschool environment will awaken your little one’s unique abilities and personality traits and give them a place to bloom. By the time he goes off to college, or even elementary school, he has already laid the foundation for who he will become.
It is much harder for a child, or an adult, to rediscover special talents she has learned to hide in order to conform to a rigid system, than it is for a person to draw upon abilities that have been nourished throughout her early school career.
When you choose your child’s preschool, you are actually making several critical choices for him or her:
- Brain-Based vs. Traditional Curriculum. Your child’s brain is most absorbent prior to elementary school. In the first several years of life, the human brain develops at an astonishing rate. Neurological pathways and networks are created that lay the groundwork for the way a person relates to the world throughout life. In fact, 85% of human brain development is complete by the age of five. Accordingly, Educational Researcher Rima Shore, Ph.D. states that “a child’s environment during the first five years of life can greatly impact the brain’s ability to develop.”
A brain-based preschool environment capitalizes upon your child’s rapid neurological development to ensure that he reaches his cognitive potential, while also modeling respect for self, others and the world. In contrast, traditional preschool classrooms are more focused on teaching socialization and adherence to norms.
- Hands-on, Engaged Learning vs. Passive Learning. Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Steven Hughes argues that because the brain’s surface area is disproportionately devoted to the hands, early childhood education should involve hands-on activity, physical manipulation and full engagement. Unfortunately, most preschools are designed with little or no consideration of the relationship between fine motor development, kinesthetic engagement and cognitive awareness. Instead, children are expected to learn passively, while sitting still in a group.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Hughes suggests the hands-on, engaged learning offered at an AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) Certified preschool as the ideal environment for a child’s cognitive development. Study after study conducted on children from all socio-economic backgrounds and learning abilities demonstrates that an authentic Montessori school produces more peaceful, happy children with an unparalleled ability to sustain concentration and focus.
For example, upper elementary students at a St. Louis area AMI Montessori school, Chesterfield Montessori School, performed 2.2 years above grade level on standardized tests as a whole. Interestingly, the students who had started at CMS in early preschool—at age three—scored 3.9 years above grade level on the same test. Brain-based, hands-on education at the preschool level has a profound, measurable impact into upper elementary school and beyond.
- Curiosity and Depth vs. Memorization. Preschool is an introduction to educational learning for most children and it forms the basis for their curiosity about life. Will your child associate learning with rote memorization of facts? Or with having a spark of discovery nurtured into a passion that can be explored and developed for the rest of her life?
Children at AMI Montessori schools explore intriguing questions: Why is a leaf green? How do I show respect? How does my body feel when I walk on a straight line, or in a circle? How long is a year? Why do the seasons change? How are colors related? What is rhythm? Texture? Sound? How often does a plant need water? How do shapes fit together? Where are shapes found in nature?
Some of these questions are explored unconsciously at first, through the use of sensorial materials. Others are discussed overtly in the course of lessons. In all cases, any question that intrigues a child can continue to be explored in various ways.
For instance, one Chesterfield Montessori preschooler returned from recess with a leaf from the playground. Noticing an unusual spot on the leaf, she asked her teacher “What is it?” Instead of redirecting the child to a pre-planned group activity, or offering an answer (which might have ended the inquiry), the teacher asked the child to make some guesses about what the spot could be. She then proposed that the child look for other leaves, with and without spots. The child returned to the playground with some friends, where they collected several leaves and excitedly showed them to the teacher. The teacher suggested some books that had information about leaves. The child worked on the project for several days, finally creating an illustrated booklet about what she discovered, entitled “the book of leaf dazeez!” That four-year-old child, incidentally, did eventually learn to spell “disease.” She became a gifted honors student whose avid interest in science continued through her college studies. She is now an Associate Chemist at Dow/Corteva.
Perhaps the most extraordinary part of that child’s story is that it isn’t extraordinary at all. It is a typical experience for a preschooler at an AMI Montessori school.
- Responsible Choice-Making vs. Regimentation. How does an adult become an independent thinker? Where does he learn to refer to his own inner guidance, rather than the dictates of a peer group, or the media, or some other external authority?
It all begins in early childhood, with such seemingly small matters as deciding for himself when to use the bathroom, whether his body needs a snack or what sort of work intrigues him at the moment. Many preschools have set times for all of these activities. Children learn to ignore the promptings of their bodies and their minds, to fit into the system.
Happily, there are some preschools, including AMI Montessori schools, that teach responsible choice making by offering children freedom within a safe, consciously designed environment. When you give your child the benefit of developing a sense of self, in a place where uniqueness and inner freedom are celebrated, by adolescence he will be confident enough to seek out friends with similar values. That child will also be much less susceptible to peer pressure, because he is used to making choices from an inner point of reference rather than an expectation to conform.
5. Innovation vs. Norm-Seeking. Ideally, preschool is a place where children learn to become creative problem-solvers. In an environment where mistakes are acceptable, and even encouraged as part of the learning process, children feel free to try new things, think outside the box and ask, “Why?”
Unfortunately, many traditional school settings teach students to avoid mistakes (which will be punished with a low grade), and to norm themselves to the group.
John Taylor Gatto, an award-winning former public school teacher and the author of Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, explains that traditional educational models came out of the industrial revolution, when factory owners needed interchangeable and easily replaceable workers who were taught to follow rules and conform to standards. Such an environment leads not only to an outer-directed level of consciousness, as discussed in the previous point, but also a lack of critical and creative thinking.
Today’s children are growing up in a rapidly changing world. Many of the “facts” kids memorize will be obsolete by the time they graduate from high school (weren’t you taught that Pluto was a planet?) Innovation, critical thinking and a willingness to be different will be instrumental to their success and happiness.
It makes sense that so many of today’s innovative thinkers experienced brain-based, holistic educations at Montessori schools. People like Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon), Katherine Graham (Washington Post Founder/Editor), Management Guru Peter Druker and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Prize Winner in Literature, to name a few. In fact, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin directly attribute their success to their Montessori education. When Barbara Walters asked the two whether having parents who were college professors was a factor behind their achievements, they said no. Instead, they pointed to attendance at a Montessori school, where they learned to be self-directed self-starters. Page and Brin felt that Montessori education gave them the freedom to think for themselves and pursue their own interests.
To review, we’ve covered five critical decisions that are determined by your choice of preschool:
- Brain Based Curriculum vs. Traditional Curriculum
- Hands-on, Engaged Learning vs. Passive Learning
- Curiosity and Depth vs. Memorization
- Responsible Choice-Making vs. Regimentation
- Innovation vs. Norm-Seeking
These are just a few of the many choices you will be making for your child when you select a preschool. If she begins her academic career by attending a preschool that fosters wonder, intellectual curiosity, flexibility, self-motivation and respect for self and others, she will be equipped to succeed in high school, college and throughout her life.
If you are curious about how an AMI Montessori education might nurture your child’s extraordinary potential, please call 314-469-7150 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a no-pressure, individual tour of Chesterfield Montessori School in session. You can see our curriculum in action and discover the difference for yourself.
Kimberly V. Schneider, M.Ed., JD, LPC is the Head of School at Chesterfield Montessori School, an AMI-Certified School with brain-based, hands-on and research-supported education for children from toddlerhood through 8thgrade. Please visit the website for more information: http://www.chesterfieldmontessori.org