I had the spring parent-teacher conference this morning with Amy’s teacher at the Montessori school. It’s Amy’s second year here in the 3-6 classroom, with one more year ahead of us. The school is an hour away… a hefty commute, but worth it so far. We have been doing the three-day half-day program, which allows us to be home or doing errands or out playing on Mondays and Fridays, and allows for the occasional afternoon play date as well.
Before the conference, we were all set to do the same program next year. Technically, they can’t call it kindergarten, because there aren’t enough hours in the three-day half-day program. However, Indiana does not require children to attend kindergarten at all, so this technicality doesn’t bother us. But in the conference, Amy’s teacher urged me to reconsider our choice of program for next year.
First, we mainly talked about two aspects of Amy’s classroom experience.
For one thing, like most kids at this age, she’s not exactly an expert in social competence. She often works by herself — reading a lot, painting, and so on — doesn’t always interact with friends skillfully, sometimes seems withdrawn.
I’ve noticed in other contexts that Amy prefers to be with one other child rather than a group, and she is especially challenged by large groups. In the past, I’ve seen her sort of barge in without taking the time to observe what’s going on and to think about how she could most smoothly join in. Lately I’ve noticed that she might stand close and observe, showing enthusiasm, maybe even saying something, but it’s not obvious to the others that she wants to join in, or they don’t hear her, or they don’t think it’s necessary to invite her in.
I would dearly like her to have more opportunities to play freely with a friend or a group of friends, to develop more skill in negotiating play and friendship. It has not been easy to arrange this playtime. Her teacher agrees that this sort of thing would be very useful to her; she also says that more structured activities can help somewhat, too, like dance.
The other thing is that Amy tends to choose work that she can do easily. She fits the description of what the authors of Strong-Willed Child or Dreamer call “internal perfectionism.” External perfectionists are the ones who keep trying over and over until they get it right. Internal perfectionists are the ones who, if they can’t visualize easy and immediate success, they won’t bother even trying.
Amy is still progressing very well academically — in reading and math especially. She loves one-on-one with a teacher, and gets it more with Montessori than she would in traditional school. Sometimes a teacher will start a work with her, and once it gets going, leave to help another student with something else — only to look back a bit later and find Amy has put the work away instead of finishing it on her own. That’s acceptable — no one has to finish any particular work. But it would be nice if Amy’s attachment to her teachers didn’t hinder her from pursuing challenging work on her own.
(She has often played variations on a theme of getting all the teacher’s (or another beloved adult’s) attention — in special time, she might have all the students home sick, except herself — she is the new girl, a little nervous, and a hug from the teacher sets her all right again. It’s convenient for the play, since neither of us has to act the parts of the other children, but I think it’s also getting at her desire to not have to share her teacher’s (or other adult’s) attention and love.)
Amy’s teacher said that if she could run the world, every 3-6 student would be in a five-day full-day classroom. She says that with more days together and more time in each day, the kids have less social catching-up to do, and have time to pursue larger, longer works, even things that get set aside in the morning and continued in the afternoon. In the afternoon, while the youngest ones nap or rest, the older ones often have a more focused, more challenging, more sophisticated work cycle.
I had thought of full-day as more of a necessity for working parents than a valuable experience for children. One of the things that has most appealed to me about homeschooling is not having to be at school all day. Kids really need a lot of free, unstructured time to play and explore — it’s essential for developing executive function and self-control, learning to negotiate, and so on. It’s also good for them to have time to pursue their own interests, time and opportunity to interact with other age groups, to be out and about in the real world, and so on.
I’m still not sure if I am persuaded that the benefits of the afternoon class time are worth the various costs — in time, in gas, in money, in being away from home. But it does sound like the benefits are real and worth considering.
We could enroll in five-day full-day and, in practice, actually do two half days and three full days. That would allow us at least two weekday afternoons to be at home — for housework, for special time, for stuff like bread-baking and gardening, for play dates, errands, and so on. I don’t think we could do all five days as full days — remember that we have an extra hour added at both ends for the commute, so a full day would mean leaving our house at 7:30 am and returning by 4:30pm. That’s super long.
I could apply to be an assistant in one of the half-day classrooms. That would offset the increase in tuition, and would mean I wouldn’t have to make the commute twice each full day. I’ve often had some interest in Montessori training and just been uncertain how much I would want to work — I’ve never had a full-time job, and it’s been years since I’ve had a non-self-employed job, and quite frankly I’m not sure I am ready to give up all that autonomy. On the other hand, it may well feel good to work in a Montessori school and contribute to the lives of these children.
I suppose there’s also the possibility that I would enjoy it enough to go on and get the training, and perhaps then get a teaching job at this school, if there’s an opening — and that would mean Amy would continue at the school as well. I admit that there is some relief at the thought of not having to homeschool. But there is also some sadness and concern about not homeschooling — I feel I have a lot of strong reasons for wanting to homeschool, despite also having some concerns about how well it would work for us, particularly in terms of relationship and social opportunities. I don’t believe the myth that homeschoolers are poorly socialized in general, but in our case it has been very hard to arrange play dates and the like.