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The Best Daycare / Preschool for Your Child

Parents sometimes ask me about daycare and preschool options for their children, and most moms and dads openly feel at a loss when searching. This story is for them:

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I recently visited a Montessori school.

When walking into this "Primary" classroom, which had a couple dozen 3- to 6-year-olds and one teacher and one assistant, the first thing I observed was a morning greeting. Each boy or girl was welcomed by a warm handshake and hello by the teacher, followed by a simple question: "What would you like to work on this morning?"

And this is where the fun began.

Work

The shelves in this room were filled with all sorts of different "work": from bright books to intriguing math activities, from a painting easel to a pink building tower, from small glass pitchers for pouring water to a child-sized broom and dustpan for cleaning up.

Each of the many items was different, and not only in appearance. For instance, one piece of work could be used for a quick task, while others might engage a child for hours.

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There is A LOT to choose from in Montessori classrooms, and everything is clearly made with a keen sense of children's natural curiosity, that familiar and excited, "What's that?"

Choice

From this purposeful selection of activities -- virtually all Montessori "materials" are the same across the globe, whether in Manhattan or Mumbai -- each child gets to choose one to work with. (The only requirement is that he or she has already received a lesson on it from the teacher.) When finished, the child just sets that work back on the shelf and chooses another. And this occurs every morning and afternoon, daily.

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If/when a child is having trouble choosing work or completing it, the teacher or her assistant is always around to offer a helpful hand.

As I sat on my little kid chair in a corner of the room, I watched individual children make their first choice of the day, each with a thoughtful look of, "Hmm, what do I want to work on?" And all of them happily chose an activity straightaway, with no trouble.

Then something unexpected occurred.

A problem

One child, a little boy probably just about four years old, found himself confronted with a problem.

After he walked away from a shelf with his chosen work in hand -- a math tray with different colored beads for counting -- I noticed a look of uncertainty come across his face. His eyes moved back and forth across the room a few times, and then he said in a low voice to himself: "There are no more tables left."

He was right. The other children had already chosen their work and sat down, taking up all the individual and small-group tables available.

(Incidentally, in Montessori classrooms there are neither huge tables for mass daycare activities nor rows of single desks for traditional blackboard-style lectures.)

As I sat watching this little boy, I could almost see the wheels turning in his head and hear an inner-voice saying, "What do I do now?"

A solution

Before I had a chance to think about what I would have done in his (or his teacher's) place, the boy already had a solution.

He pulled out a small stepping stool he had eyed, placed his work on top of it, and sat down -- the stool serving as his table and the floor as his chair. Then he started working. Just like that.

So only a few minutes after he'd first realized the dilemma, this boy had independently found a way out of it and was now enjoying the morning as if there'd never even been an obstacle in his way.

This is Montessori.

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The essence of Montessori education is the development of a child's independence.

Of course there is much more to say. For instance:

--Montessori schooling was created over a century ago by Dr. Maria Montessori, an educator idolized by such giants as Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Helen Keller -- and by children the world over.

--Montessori students consistently outperform their non-Montessori peers in reading and math: they reach reading fluency by age 5 and can do multiplication into the thousands by age 6.

--Some of the most successful individuals in the world are Montessori alumni, e.g. Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Amazon's founder Jeff Bezos. (It looks like Prince George will wind up an alum, too, just like his father.)

But ultimately, what I observed that day in the classroom is what Montessori schools essentially offer: a place for curious children to practice thinking and acting independently, so that years later as young adults they have the earned confidence to choose their own path, and a unique creativity to make new ones.

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The name "Montessori" was never trademarked, so selecting a real Montessori school can be challenging. This short video is helpful in that process: How to Choose a Montessori Preschool.

Post by Jesse McCarthy, jemslife

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