If you follow along on Instagram, you know that Lila just started Kindergarten this fall! I’ve had a lot of questions about it all, so I’m sharing the whole experience here.
Before I had children, I was a Montessori Infant/Toddler teacher. When Lila was born, I continued to teach for the first year of her life, and she was enrolled in the Montessori school I worked at. At the time, I lived almost an hour away from that school (the closest Montessori school to my house), and spending two hours in the car each day with an infant got to be too much. I decided to leave the school so I could stay home with my baby full-time. Shortly after I made that decision, we discovered that I was pregnant with Nora — and we certainly couldn’t afford to have two children enrolled in a Montessori program, anyway. It made more sense for me to stay home than to spend almost my entire salary on childcare for two babies.
We have always lived a Montessori lifestyle at home, and once Lila got to toddler age, we began doing Montessori homeschool preschool at home as well. When it was time to look at preschools, I wasn’t happy with any of the options close to our house. Since I do have teaching experience, I decided that instead of paying other people to teach my children in the preschool years, I would just do it myself! So I set up a learning space for us and we spent 3-5 mornings there every week, depending on our other commitments.
Because we were homeschooling, I knew that the girls were missing out on some things that they would experience if they were enrolled in a preschool outside of our home — so I supplemented their home learning time with other activities for socialization with other children as well as taking advantage of the expertise of other adults. Lila took swim classes every week for a year, we did Kindermusik classes one evening a week as a family for almost 3 years, and Lila also took a science class at the science center near our home once a week for a year. We occasionally signed up for children’s classes at our local botanical garden and sometimes made it to the library for story time. It worked really well for us. And then it was time to figure out the future.
To be perfectly honest, I had a lot of anxiety about this for YEARS. As Lila grew older, I would lay awake at night unable to sleep as I pondered what to do about her elementary years. I am not trained for the elementary level, so if I continued homeschooling her, I would need to learn a lot more and invest in Montessori elementary albums and/or training. I tried to figure out how we could afford to send her to a Montessori elementary school — with tuitions ranging from $8,000 to $12,000 a year in our area, and still so much of our own student loans left to pay from college and graduate school. I wondered if I could possibly send her to a public school, as the news continued to report school shooting after school shooting, with politicians not doing anything to make a difference.
In the end, Montessori elementary school was simply out of reach for us financially. I asked Lila if she wanted to continue doing homeschool with me or if she wanted to go to public school for Kindergarten. She didn’t even hesitate — she wanted to go to Kindergarten so she could “make best friends.” And part of me breathed a huge sigh of relief.
There are still so many fears there — what if she has a hard time making friends? What if someone leaves her out? What if her teacher doesn’t see her strengths? What if she starts to hate school? And always — what if there’s a school shooting???
But there’s so much that I can’t control in this life, and also so much that I could but I just shouldn’t. Sure, I could keep her home with me (against her wishes) just so I can make sure she hangs out with nice kids and so I can keep her engaged with learning materials and so I can keep her completely safe forever. But what kind of person would she grow up to be if I kept her suffocatingly close just so I could control it all?
So we enrolled her in Kindergarten. The summer before school began, I made sure to find plenty of camps and experiences for Lila that would help her get used to being away from me for part of the day. And when that first day of school arrived, Lila was so ready.
The first two weeks were pretty rough at home. Lila was having a great time at school — but being perfectly well-behaved and always surrounded by people for an entire day meant that she came home from school and went on the attack. Nothing the rest of us did was right, and she exploded daily with all of the emotions she had kept in check during the day.
I’m not sure if this was just a phase that passed or if it made a difference that I started picking her up from school instead of waiting an extra hour for the school bus to bring her home — but after those first two weeks, she went back to her normal self. She is absolutely loving school, and tells me long stories of all the friends she’s meeting.
I think that our Montessori homeschool preschool helped to prepare Lila very well for public school Kindergarten. She is ahead academically, and she loves being able to help the other children and being the only one who can answer her teacher’s question each day of “What day will it be tomorrow?” The grace and courtesy parts of Montessori education have helped her to glide with ease into new social situations and the rules that must be followed at school. Rather than losing her love of learning, she arrives home each day invigorated by what she has learned at school and continues her own experiments on those subjects in the evenings and weekends. For example, when they learned about the life cycle of an apple tree, Lila came home and ate as many apples as she could, harvested their seeds, and planted them all over our backyard. She informed me that in the spring we may have 15 apple trees and they will grow white apple blossoms!
I’ve had a lot of people on social media question my parenting choices when it comes to this whole thing. I have lots of thoughts on that, but I’ll spare you most of them. Instead, I’ll just say that whether I’m teaching her in Montessori homeschool or sending her out to Kindergarten each day, I’m still her mom and the way I interact with her won’t change. We will still live by Montessori principles at home, and I will always be here to support her learning journey in whatever way she invites me to.
One thing I’ve been doing since she began public school is learning about the second plane of development (ages 6 to 12) as described by Maria Montessori through Jasmine of Three Minute Montessori’s The Montessori Elementary Child (6-12yo) Online Course. Her course includes weekly video lectures in a private Facebook group and a PDF workbook with lecture details and suggested family activities, and I am learning so much and making so many connections through this course! I especially love that it is intended for the home and works whether your child is in a Montessori program or a mainstream school. The next enrollment for the course will open in Fall 2020, but I also see that you can email Jasmine about a self-paced version of the course if you just can’t wait. You can read other testimonials about the course HERE. Jasmine also provides tons of great insights on Facebook and Instagram. (This isn’t a sponsored post — just sharing an amazing resource.)
Every child is different, so I can’t tell you how transitioning from Montessori to public school will work for your own child. This has been our experience. At this point, I believe we will most likely do the same thing when Nora reaches Kindergarten age. Luckily for me, that is still two years in the future.