How is it possible that back to school season is already here? This year will be different- it will be my son's first year attending a local Montessori school in the Early Childhood class, and I will be the Mom who has the smile and positive words then pulls out of carline to cry for a few moments. Those tears will be tears of joy and gratitude for this amazing human who has the sweetest heart, the best laugh, the *loudest* screech of excitement (hoping that doesn't come out while working in the classroom!!), a strong will and streak of independence, and so much love and enthusiasm. Tears of joy and gratitude for his teachers and his new school, tears of acknowledgement for all that this little dude has experienced in his less than 3 years on this planet.
I will let you in on a little secret. Your child's teacher is just as excited and nervous and everything in between at the beginning of the school year. They have hopes and goals also, for themselves, for their classroom and for their school. They love children and they will love yours. They will cry at the end of the day when your child has had a rough day, they will marvel when your child learns to tie their shoes, they will celebrate with your child when they complete the hundred board, or the 1000 chain, or compose their first word with the moveable alphabet. They will try their best to communicate with you and share pictures of your precious child at work. They will make every attempt to stick to the 24 hour response rule when replying to your email messages. They will stay late and go in on weekends to create new exercises for the classroom, thinking of how much your child loves insects or construction vehicles. They will move the classroom around, trying to create the optimal learning environment for all of those personalities and learning needs. They will bring in books and special objects from their own home to share with the children. They will spend their own money because they found the sweetest pitcher for pouring, or the best vase, and they will remain calm and help your child clean up that same broken vase or pitcher when it breaks. Things will break, and that is okay. You will hear your child talk about a certain child in the class "So and so was really mean to me today" "So and so broke a chain today" "So and so threw the rice in the toilet". Here is the thing- your child's teacher loves "So and so" just as much as your child and may often work twice as hard to give "So and so" what they need- it could be hugs, it could be a little extra cuddle time, it could be a calm voice and consistency and order. Your child could be "So and so". My child could be "So and so". One of the many things that I love about Montessori classrooms is that we try our best to make them as close to real life as possible. We try our best to model Grace and Courtesy (I will dedicate an entire post to that!!), we try our best to give the children the language that they need to solve their problems. We try our best to step back and get out of the way so that your child can figure things out for themselves. We are constantly observing and watching and are there to offer support.
A few helpful tips that I have experienced---
* Stay upbeat and collected on that first day of school. Your child may be scared and may cry- do your best to acknowledge their feelings and reassure them that you will pick them up at the end of their day and that you can't wait to hear about their new classroom. Have a routine and stick to it. 5 kisses or high-fives or whatever it is that you agree upon. Stay positive and follow the teacher's lead- they have worked with many teary children before and will offer hugs and reassurance to your child, and usually before you are out of the parking lot, your child has stopped crying. I promise.
* Your child may or may not share information about their day-- so many parents would report the same thing over and over during conferences-- your child may tell you that they didn't do anything, or that they forgot, or that they are tired. Trust your child- they will share when they are ready. Trust your child's teacher-- they will share as they are able. I always tried to touch base with all my new parents during that first week of school, but it is kinda crazy busy!!!
* Believe 50% of what your child says happens at school actually truly happens at school, and your teacher will believe 50% of what your child says happens at home actually happens at home. Children have imaginations and they LOVE to tell stories. Be gracious about it and don't call them out, but ask some other questions, then if it is something you are concerned about, contact your child's teacher.
* Your child's teacher should be your first point of contact for any concerns- not your best friend who also has a child at the same school, not another teacher, not the Head of School. Your first contact is with the person who spends their time observing and guiding your child and knows that classroom inside out. Absolutely communicate with the Head of School if you feel like you are not being heard, but I can't tell you how many times there were misunderstandings because parents assumed something.
* Trust. We know this is a hard one. This is not like traditional school with grades, or with lots of papers coming home with comments. Maybe (hopefully!) no paper coming home during that first year in Children's House. The children are working on hands on material that can't be taken home, they can't describe it easily. They are working on exercises in Practical Life and Sensorial- they are building up their concentration, coordination, sense of order and internalizing everything. Their brains are making so many new connections. That is big work!
* Keep at least one complete change of clothes in your car, and if possible an extra pair of shoes. Big work is messy and they will get wet! Don't send them in clothes that can't get messy. If it is a special shirt that Uncle JR bought, it might be better to save that for "home time" not "school time". Everything is washable, including children!
* Clothes-- please, please, please-- label your child's clothing and shoes! There are at least 20 little people using the same bathroom and when your child is changing their clothes they might get mixed up and put their clothes in someone else's space. Have patience with the teachers. During that first year, velcro shoes should be your best friend. Seriously.
* Keep a few snacks and water in your car when you pick your child up- they may or may not have eaten snack, or their lunch, so they will likely be hungry and tired.
* Start those bedtime routines now and get into the habit of creating time for your child to help you pack their lunch the night before.
* Thank you for giving your child this amazing gift of Montessori education.
ps- teachers love/appreciate those hand written notes and $5 Starbucks gift cards, especially during that second or third week of school!
Beth is a mom first and foremost. She is also a trained Montessori teacher who is passionate about making the lofty ideals of the Montessori philosophy more real and manageable for families.