Julie Baker, the parent of a student at the in Natick, shares her experiences with the school:
The assignment was “Mystery Mystery.” Each student had to choose something – anything – and come up with 5 clues about it, ranging from hardest to easiest, and see if their classmates could guess what it was.
My daughter and I talked about a few possibilities, and she settled on one – the Eiffel Tower. She sat down at the computer, looked up “Eiffel Tower” on Wikipedia, read through the information, and printed out 4-5 pages of interesting facts. She went through the printout and underlined potential facts that could be “clues” – the height of the tower, the weight of the metal used to build it, the year it was built. Then, she took a piece of paper and listed out the most promising clues; asked me my opinion on a few of the them (too hard? too boring?); numbered the clues in backwards order from hardest to easiest; and chose the best 5. Those, she copied onto a separate piece of paper, titled it “Mystery Mystery,” and put it in her backpack to take to school the next day.
She was 8 years old, a second-grader at the Riverbend (then Eliot Montessori) School in South Natick.
I am a law professor, a professional educator. I watched her complete this assignment in awe – and not just because she is my child, which puts me in awe of everything that she does. I watched in awe because I have seen so many (too many) adults, professionals, college graduates, who cannot organize themselves and see an assignment through from start to finish, and who have no particular motivation to try. And here was my 8-year-old, already there.
The number one quality that every person needs to survive and succeed in life (in my humble opinion) is the ability and willingness to think for himself or herself . The number one reason that our society is struggling the way that it is today (again, IMHO), is the lack of personal responsibility – the idea that whatever happens, it’s someone else’s fault, someone else’s job to do the thinking and do the work necessary to achieve the result. But Maria Montessori knew, almost 100 years ago, that each person – each child – can and must learn these skills, and that giving children these lifelong lessons would set them on an unwavering path to success. And I am so grateful that my daughter has had the opportunity to take that path.
Please believe me when I say that I mean no disrespect to the public school systems. I am a proud graduate of the Norwood Public Schools; my husband, the Springfield Public Schools, where his father was an elementary school teacher for 41 years. I believe that most of the teachers and administrators – and students – in the public schools are doing the very best that they can with the resources that they have. But the resources are not what they were when we were children. Materials are old and scarce; facilities are outdated; classrooms are overcrowded; and teachers are stretched far, far too thin. Setting aside the reasons for this crisis in public education (that’s a whole separate article, or 12!), the effects are that too many of our children are not getting the tools that they need to grow into the responsible, successful adults that they all have the potential to be. The hallmarks of Montessori education are respect, personal responsibility, and hands-on learning – to give each child his or her own skills and confidence in what s/he can accomplish and achieve, in a supportive community carefully structured to encourage academic, social, and emotional growth.
Two more important qualifiers. First, I am not in any way, shape or form a “Tiger” or “Helicopter” mom. Someday, my child will be on a psychiatrist’s couch explaining, justifiably, that she could have been a musical prodigy, but since I never got around to signing her up for music lessons, we’ll never know. She’ll probably also mention that she finally got some religious education only after telling my mom, who was trying to explain to her why her Catholic and Protestant cousins were making their first communions and confirmations, “hmm, maybe I should be something, too,” i.e., Catholic, Jewish, Protestant … anything! But at least, when it comes to her education, I’ve managed to get that right.
Second, Montessori education is private education – we have to pay a yearly tuition. Believe me when I tell you that I had no intention of paying tuition for my child to attend elementary school. The money that we are paying each month is what would have gone into her college fund (which does not exist). We rent our home, we take modest vacations, we don’t have a lot of fancy toys – but we have enough, and more than most, and this is just more important. What good is a college fund if your child finishes high school with no motivation or ability to take advantage of higher education?
We made the move away from public education when our daughter was in kindergarten because the program was not meeting her educational needs. Others have come to our school community to escape overcrowding, lack of academic rigor, cuts in “specials” (music, art, computers, phys ed) or, sadly, bullying. All of us have found an environment that benefits not only our kids, but our whole families – from all-school assemblies to volunteering in the classrooms to community service projects for parents and kids together.
Our family moved to Natick so that we could become a part of the Riverbend community; and we all know how much fun moving is. But since the moment we arrived, we have never questioned our choice. And it’s hard to say who was more excited about the start of school this year, us or her. As I watched my fifth-grade daughter, now almost 11, sit down with her Homework Binder – that she set up and she will maintain all year long – and attack her fractions homework last night – Friday night, without being asked or told to do so – I was reminded yet again why I am so grateful to the Riverbend School for giving my child the tools and the motivation for lifelong success.