Who would have thought that Montessori would be a life journey for me? Where I grew up, we didn’t go to preschool, much less a Montessori school. Not that I’m complaining. I only have happy memories of my preschool years growing up on a farm 40 miles from DeSmet, South Dakota, of Little House on the Prairie fame.
Even after my freshman year of college when I began my first job at age 18 as a day care teacher in Vermillion, South Dakota, I still hadn’t heard of Montessori.
Only when I continually had doubts about traditional preschool education after almost a year and a half at the day-care center did an Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) certified teacher enter my life as the parent of one of my day-care students. I couldn’t ignore the fact that she had the most delightful child, one who directed her life in ways unlike any of the other children in the day-care center. The parent took me under her wing, talked with me about Montessori, and even let me photocopy her handmade AMI albums.
I was hooked. I ingested every Montessori book available, finding Maria Montessori’s writing inspiring and fitting with a spiritual approach toward life. I internalized Montessori’s belief that the purpose of education is to help the child develop into the adult he or she has the potential to become.
With the permission of the day-care center’s director, I set up a Montessori-oriented classroom. What was amazing was that my makeshift Montessori classroom had positive results! The children were calmer and more self-disciplined. And I was much happier. So began my Montessori life journey.
Developing My Own Style
My Montessori diploma for teaching ages 2½-5 is through the St. Nicholas Training Centre in London, England (now called Montessori Centre International), but I have found myself embracing techniques from not just one training program.
After working with American Montessori Society (AMS) trained teachers at Montessori schools in Iowa and Arizona, I naturally adopted many AMS techniques. Before I started my own Montessori School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, I observed numerous Montessori schools. And while operating my school, attending many AMI- and AMS conventions kept my Montessori orientation eclectic.
My college work also reflected a number of different approaches as I completed a bachelor’s degree through Antioch University in Liberal Studies with my concentration in Montessori Early-Childhood and Elementary Education.
During the first two years of my school, which I opened in 1980, I was the teacher and director. Then I was the director only for five years (along with bi-weekly teaching at group time), with the final year as teacher and director again.
At that time, there was a Montessori teacher shortage, my school’s teacher had moved to a different part of the country, and I had a 2½-year-old child, my son, Will. As much as I loved both my school and my son, I had to choose my son when there simply weren’t enough hours in the day. Thus began . . .
I was a very lucky Montessori homeschooler to have access to the materials from a Montessori preschool. The Montessori school was converted into my husband’s business, but Will had his own Montessori classroom where he and I spent many happy hours while my husband worked in his office nearby. That continued when my daughter, Christina, born 5 years and 2 days after Will, was a preschooler.
My children and I also enjoyed a Montessori-oriented Sunday School program that I trained in and brought to the Episcopal church we attended. The program was the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and used individualized learning, hands-on materials, and contemplative lessons in a specially prepared room called the atrium.
Montessori was the only method I used when my children were preschoolers, but I didn’t have access to many Montessori materials during their elementary years. I still made some materials at that time, but we were happy with an eclectic mixture of materials and focused especially on unit studies with lots of reading together and hands-on projects. Always, though, our teaching was individualized. And we didn’t use grades or tests except for the standardized testing required by law.
The Latent Years
Will completed homeschool high school, graduated at 17, and began college part-time. I fell into what I would call my latent years where I still followed and encouraged my children’s interests but really didn’t focus specifically on Montessori education, except for recurring nighttime dreams in which I would find myself teaching in a Montessori school.
Both my children were competitive figure skaters, and we were busy with many activities. At age 15, Christina began taking college courses as well as completing her regular high school courses. Then she graduated from homeschool high school at age 16 to create the biggest change in our lives.
After 31 years of marriage and never having been away from my husband for longer than a two-week Montessori workshop (and never being away from my son), Christina and I moved to England.
The move was with my husband’s support and because of Christina’s life path leading her to represent Great Britain in ice dance with her Scottish ice-dance partner, Mark Hanretty. As Christina was only 16, I moved with her. I took advantage of the need for a visa (student visa being the easiest to obtain) to get something I’d always wanted – a master’s degree. I ended up returning to my area of Early Childhood Studies.
In addition to getting my MA degree at Sheffield Hallam University, I came to the realization of just how much Montessori was a part of me, how much I loved the methods as well as the philosophy. I found myself focusing almost every assignment on Montessori in one way or another. My professors all said something to the effect of, “You really believe in Montessori education, don’t you?”
I found I couldn’t get interested in teaching in a traditional way at the day nursery to which I was assigned. So my school placement became an experiment in applying Montessori methods in a traditional nursery setting. I even wrote my dissertation about Montessori. It was called A Study of the Effectiveness of Using Montessori Methods to Teach Courtesy to Children in a Traditional Nursery Setting.
Living Montessori Now
After 1½ years in England and when Christina was old enough to live on her own, I moved back home. I wrote a book—Montessori Education: How to Teach Grace and Courtesy at Home or School. I’m editing that book now.
My children are a happy product of Montessori and homeschooling. They both graduated with bachelor’s degrees and straight As. Because my son went to college part-time in the beginning, Will and Christina graduated the same year—Will at age 24 and Christina at age 19. Best of all, they both enjoyed their university degree programs and they both love learning.
I realize now that Montessori is a permanent part of my life, not just something I taught to preschoolers or my own children. Montessori is a philosophy, a belief, a lifestyle. I used Montessori principles with my children throughout their homeschooling, and I use Montessori principles to encourage them to follow their interests as adults. I think I’m still developing into the adult I have the potential to become. And I plan to use Montessori goals and ideals to do it.