Signs from the Past: A Montessori Education

download (43).jpgBy Noel Hincha – I went to a Montessori school – Milwaukee Montessori – until high school. Some consider it a liberal or “out there” and progressive, educational system. It is a place of no homework, minimal tests, independence, and varied structures; however, to me it was a place of freedom and responsibility, community and memories. My mother insists I would have imploded at any other school and continues to insist that I am the way I am because of my Montessori education – I take it or leave it to my independent streak and liberal attitude. Nonetheless, I must admit that a Montessori education, if nothing else, is unique and quite wonderful.

Tactile: Everything was hands on – literally, everything. How did you learn math? With beads and abacuses. How did you learn to write? With sandpaper letters and wooden shapes. One’s fine motor skills were refined to the nth degree, and then some – remember the pink towers. I learned to crochet and knit by the third grade. I could write in cursive and read in kindergarten.

Community: Until high school – senior year, in fact – I did not know that class grades were divided individually: one class for each grade. Since first grade, I was stuck in a classroom with three other grade levels. Class structure was divided into groups: first to third grade, fourth to sixth grade, and seventh and eighth grade. To what extent did this help? I understand and value community, respect age differences, learn to guide and be guided, and become comfortable with diversity. I would venture to say that these are values others learn at later points in life, not in the first grade.

No homework: Again, it was not until high school that I was harshly awoken to “the real world.” Not to be mistaken, I did have homework every now and then. Maybe a daily writing assignment, a reading assignment, some extra research and refinement; but, my time after school was spent playing outside, watching TV, making snacks, hanging out with friends, doing chores, and having an actual childhood – not one with my ten-year-old-nose dug in between the pages of a math book. Admittedly, I took this for granted.

No tests: It probably would have been nice to know what a scantron was before my high school entrance examination, but have no fear, my hand endurance was exemplary due to cursive writing. Although, my first high school test –English literature for freshman – had so many wrong answers, I thought red meant it was right. Never again did I fail a test to that extent. I still have not figured out if this is a pro or con of a Montessori education.

One room: Yes. I stayed in one room for each “class division” – one room from first to third grade, one room from fourth to sixth grade, one room from seventh to eighth grade. There were three grade levels in one room with maybe two teachers. Interesting architecture, no backpacks, no textbooks. In other words, I think I lost ten pounds when I entered high school from maneuvering around three flights of stairs and gained some serious back muscle from lugging around backpacks half my weight.

Time management: Whether alumnae of Montessori schools wish to admit it or not, we all possess the ability of time management and – maybe – ambition to work hard, play hard. Since a young age, the rules were merely guidelines and it was our own hearts and minds that pushed us forward. I remember having all the free time in the world to discover my ambitions and interests because I had sufficiently allocated my time and learned to work hard independently of an outside source’s commands – and hey, I still have some free time because I maintain this characteristic.

If nothing else, a Montessori education allowed me the freedom of expression and work ethic. I follow my own path at my own time, responsibly. No one pressured me to strive for A’s – because we did not have them – and I experienced holistic learning for the sake of knowledge and being a decent human being. Because of a Montessori education, I am in love with learning, for I fell in love with it at a young age; or maybe it was the pink towers – they were pretty cool.

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