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Montessori vs. Waldorf Preschools April 27, 2009

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 6:44 pm
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If you decide to send your little one to “traditional” preschool, how do you choose the right school?  Browse under “preschools” in your phonebook and you’re sure to find lots of options.  Here is some information to help familiarize yourself with Montessori and Waldorf, two of the most popular teaching styles for little ones:

Montessori

Countless preschools dub themselves “Montessori” to associate themselves with Maria Montessori’s educational approach.  However, beware that anyone can call their school “Montessori” with no certifications at all.  As such, the quality of Montessori preschools vary greatly.  A “true” Montessori school will often by certified by Association Montessori Internationale or a similar organization.  Classes are often 25-30 children with a 2-3 year age span.

Hallmarks of the Montessori approach include: 

  1. Prepared Environment:  the classroom should be full of manipulatives that invite children to engage in learning activities.  These materials will have a step-by-step correct procedure for being used and will be focused toward a specific skill or concept.  They are self-correcting so that teachers should not have to intervene.   
  2. Child Led:  the child chooses and initiates his or her use of the environment.  In this calm, ordered classroom, the child is free to move from station to station.  She works at her own pace, and almost always alone.  A teacher is at hand to help with any troubles or redirect destructive or aimless behavior.  There are no prescribed times for this or that kind of activity, rest, eating, etc.  
  3. Reality Based:  Maria Montessori believed that children have a hard time distinguishing between fantasy/pretend and reality.  Montessori education seeks to ground children in reality by directing them towards real-life skills (math, cleaning, writing, reading).  Toys as a source of amusement have no value.  All toys must be overtly educational. 
  4. Academics Now:  Montessori recognizes that the young child of 3-6 years is able to soak up new experiences and concepts like a sponge.  In response, this approach seeks to give the child unlimited opportunities to learn and grow academically and with real-life skills.  Most will learn to read and compute math at younger ages than conventionally schooled children.

A healthy, well-developed young child will have, “a love of order, love of work, spontaneous concentration, attachment to reality, love of silence and of working alone, sublimation of the possessive instinct, power to act from real choice, obedience, independence and initiative, spontaneous self-discipline, and joy.” (from The North American Montessori Teachers’ Association)

Waldorf

There are fewer Waldorf schools because a school must be certified to use this term legally.  This does help ensure some sort of genuinely “Waldorf” presence in any given Waldorf school.  Still, the schools do vary largely based on how the teachers interpret the work of Rudolf Steiner, who founded Waldorf education.  Waldorf is informed by a spiritualistic worldview or “religion” called anthroposophy, also founded by Rudolf Steiner.  Again, classes are likely to be of mixed ages, but not as large in size as in Montessori. 

Hallmarks of the Waldorf approach include: 

  1. Natural, Home-like Environment:  The classroom should have simple decor, furnishings and toys made of natural materials like wood and cloth.  The environment should be beautiful and as open-ended as possible so that the child is both nourished and free to make his or her own fantasy play. 
  2. Teacher Led:  The teacher is to gently direct the children’s day by helping them transition through a rhythmatic day, including arts, oral storytelling, singing, eating, resting and lots of free play.  The children do many activites as a group.  Discipline and transitions are not direct, so as to jar the child out of play.  For example, a teacher might sign a “snack-time” song when it is time to come to the table.  Because the children are familiar with the rhythm of the day and week, transitions seem effortless. 
  3. Fantasy Based:  The young child is believed to be in a dreamy, make-believe developmental state that should not be disturbed by encouraging academics (adding, writing, reading, etc).  Instead, children are told nourishing stories that echo their emotional development.  They may use free-play to explore and develop these ideas.  Practical skill building such as cleaning and cooking are encouraged through imitation.  The teacher sweeps while singing a cleaning song and the children may (or may not) choose to pick up a child-sized broom too. 
  4. Physical Skills and Imagination Now:  Waldorf believes that the child under 7 is naturally in motion.  This is the time to allow them to hone their bodily skills (skipping, balancing, molding beeswax, fingerplays).  While Waldorf agrees that young children are able to soak up information like a sponge, they feel that concepts and facts are not the information we should feed them.  Rather they should absorb a beautiful, natural environment with regular time outdoors and plenty of time for creative, imaginative play. 

“Waldorf teachers strive to transform education in to an art that educates the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as the head… The goal of the kindergarten is to develop a sense of wonder in the young child and reverence for all living things. This creates an eagerness for the academics that follow in the grades.” (from the Association of Waldorf Schools North America)

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Preschool: What and How does a Parent Choose? April 23, 2009

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 6:39 pm
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The Responsible Parent’s To Do List:

  1. Shop for Life Insurance
  2. Learn Infant CPR
  3. Choose a Preschool and get on that waiting list NOW!

New or expecting parent’s may identify with this list…  Yep!  Before my firstborn was even 6 months old, I’d started feeling the pressure to think about preschool.  After all, the “best” schools had waiting lists a mile long.  I’ve been told that in bustling urban areas, it’s often necessary to register a child at one year old, in hopes of joining the program at 3 years!  Talk about pressure.

But, wait a minute, slow down… are you sure preschool is a good idea at all?  The cultural assumption in the United States that a 3 or 4 year old “should” be in a school environment is not shared by many countries that lead the US in academics, nor is it shared by childhood development experts, in general.  For scientific evidence, check out any of the books listed in my post Better Late than Early, or see Why Rush our Babies for a summary of some concerns.

But, even if you’ve heard all this, you may still leaning towards preschool.  For some parents, it’s just necessary since no one is able to be home with the young child.  For others that do stay at home, you honestly can’t wait for a few child-free hours a week.  And, then, there’s the parents who are simply questioning this whole “Better Late than Early” concept.  Afterall, EVERYONE sends their children to preschool.  And, since your 2-year-old can already recite the alphabet and count to 20, you just know he’s going to be ready for more than staying home next year.  This reaction is probably a mixture of excitement and fear.  Excitement because you love what you see developing in the child and will be thrilled when he or she learns to add, subtract, read and write.  Fear because you don’t want to withhold any resource or opportunity that may enhance the child’s learning.  This matters.  You want to do your best to nourish the child.

But, interest does not equal appropriateness.  Being able does not equal being best served.  Here’s a quote from the Enki Homeschool Teaching Guide “Early Childhood Education” that brings a helpful perspective:

In all areas of learning the child needs what John Holt calls, “a period of messing about.”  We need to allow this period in the world of academics, just as we naturally do in other areas of life.  When the child plays in the mud, we do not rush her off to pottery class or to learn to be a brick layer; when the child first bangs on pots and pans we don’t turn on the stove and start her cooking – we don’t even start drumming lessons; when the child plays “Mommy and Daddy,” we don’t begin sex education!  This child’s interest in the academics is like Braxton-Hicks contractions during gestation – practice for what lies ahead; jumping the gun would be equally destructive in this case!”  (pg 16)

Over and over again child experts agree that young children are best served by staying at home with a loving caregiver.  The child learns so much in the natural flow of the day, being involved as desired in cooking, cleaning, eating, rest and play.  We work to make our homes safe, beautiful and nourishing, with a rhythm that supports the needs of the caregiver and the children. 

But what if home is not possible? What if you feel you just MUST have a break!  Within your confines of distance and cost, you’ll need to evaluate your options.  And, that’s when the choices begin to overwhelm.  If you are able to put the child in another home (a healthy, life-giving home), that’s usually going to be healthier and more developmentally appropriate than any fancy program.  But, there are a LOT of fancy programs… and they are alluring. More on weeding through options next!