Erin Craig had a few worries when she first enrolled her son, Fraser, into the Montessori program at Wheatley School in St. Catharines, Ontario. While she liked Montessori’s individually focused, child-directed approach, she wondered how it could work. If her son were directing his own learning, would he fall behind in the subjects that didn’t hold his interest?
It’s a common concern for parents new to Montessori and one that Craig has since tossed as she’s seen Fraser—now joined by his 4-year-old sister Charlotte—thrive in the program. “Most of my issues have been due to a lack of understanding,” Craig says. “Montessori seems to be able to individualize the focus so it pulls out of them what it needs to.”
The key to Montessori is that it focuses on the child’s learning rather than on the teacher’s teaching, explains Katherine Poyntz, executive director of the Canadian Council of Montessori Administrators (CCMA).
The result is that kids learn to think independently, within an “atmosphere of respect.”
“What most people find going into Montessori schools is the children seem so confident and competent,” she says. “It’s their environment and they operate extremely well in it.”
But what happens when Montessori children are taken out of that environment—when they graduate to a more traditional elementary, junior high or high school? For many parents, this is “the eternal question,” says Mary Ellen Norland, who was once a Montessori student who transitioned easily to high school. Norland, who has three children in Montessori, had no worries when she first enrolled her oldest daughter, now 15, into Ottawa Montessori School in Ottawa, Ontario.
“The transition is interesting, especially for my daughter going into Grade 9. She was ready, she was geared up for it,” says Norland. “They’re fine. They adapt very well.”
— Lisa Van de Ven