Great question. And it was pretty much all I could ask myself when I first walked into a Montessori classroom.
So how did I find myself there?
Early last year, I was told by a intuitive medium that I was going back to teaching and I needed to work in a Montessori School. I pretty much wrote him off and thought I was on the right path already. Months later, when I came across a job listing on Craigslist, something inside of me knew that this was what he was referring to.
So let’s just say I was completely in the dark when I took the job. Even though I taught for 9 years and have an EdM from Harvard (an extremely progressive institution), no one ever talks about Montessori. People, including teachers, have no idea what this “fad” is.I certainly didn’t. (Prince George made headlines when it was announced he was going to a Montessori School. Then all of a sudden, Montessori was everywhere. Tres chic.)
So what did I know, then? Let’s start there.
I knew it was a hands-on method of education and children worked on things of their choosing. That’s about it, folks. Since I had experience teaching that way when I was a public school teacher, I knew it was possible to have a classroom full of learning without it being a free for all but still….How do the children learn to read if there is no teacher standing up in the middle of a classroom making sure everyone’s doing it? I just couldn’t understand how that was even possible. And wasn’t it absolute chaos? I mean, all these preschoolers, running around like Kindergarten Cop? “Emma get back to the carpet” and all….?
So the 2015 school year began and I settled into my new work as a Primary Assistant. I wasn’t really sure what was expected of me and what I would actually be doing all day. I was told that there was always stuff that needed to be done. I never had an assistant when I was teaching, so I really couldn’t imagine what that would be. Soon enough, I found myself extremely busy doing things. The teacher would give individual or small group lessons and I would be responsible for maintaining the classroom. I figured it out as I went along, but it was a lot and I began to understand why she needed an assistant.
I would sit on my side of the classroom and considering the rows and rows of shelves full of materials. I admit, though, I hadn’t the foggiest idea what you would do with any of it. Especially what looked like math materials. ESPECIALLY the elusive “Golden Beads.” While I am an out-of-the-box thinker, this classroom completely stumped me. In looking at some of them, I scratched my head as to why these things would even be in a preschool.
(It might be worth pointing out that none of these materials came with instructions.)
Day after day, I was amazed at how the children would come in, select something to work on, and just get to work. The new children needed some (a lot of) assistance, but the older children just did it. It appeared, somehow by magic, they just do stuff. There’s no one telling them what to do; they just do whatever they want.
Montessori Myth: The children just do whatever they want.
As the school year progressed, I logged many hours in my Assistant’s Chair making Large Buttons, Sewing Cards and other things for the children’s work. I tied yarn and thread to needles and helped children sound out words. I played lots of I Spy. I would listen to stories (sometimes the same ones over and over!) about swimming lessons, what they ate for breakfast, favorite colors, playdates, so-and-so is taking too long in the bathroom, fairies, princesses, sharks and snakes. After a while, I started asking the children about things too. I became really curious as to who they were and what they were doing. I also started to realize that there was a lot more going on in this classroom than met the eye.
I watched, I listened, and I learned. In doing so, I realized that I, too, was receiving a priceless education.