Magazine article Montessori Life

Reaping the Benefits of Parent Education

Magazine article Montessori Life

Reaping the Benefits of Parent Education

Article excerpt

I used to be a skeptic when it came to Montessori. I admit it. I could not fully understand how a classroom of students spanning three grade levels could learn effectively, master skills, and be prepared for their next educational steps. My educational background, both as a student and as a teacher, had been more traditional, so the Montessori Method sounded like an experiment to me- something that seemed idealistic and fashionable, but that I thought was probably flawed.

However, having served as a trustee at Brooklyn Heights Montessori School (BHMS), having spent this past year and a half in serious investigative mode as BHMS's new head of school, and having immersed myself in formal Montessori training this past summer, I now know better. I want to say to parents in our community, loudly and proudly, and without ill will, "Stop being doubters! Get in there and ask your questions, get answers, and learn how to speak to others about why Montessori is the best choice for parents who want their children to have excellent preparation for a changing work/life landscape." I believe that communication about what Montessori is, and in particular how our program at BHMS works, is key to our partnership with parents and to the success of our school.

In some ways, I understand why parents might have a harder time understanding why Montessori is education at its best, especially as their children progress past preschool. Most of us grew up in traditional schools, where the trajectory was predictable. Report cards had simple rating systems where numbers or letters neatly summed up progress. Homework was a constant reminder of exactly what was covered in the curriculum; there was a daily march of facts that needed to be memorized. Tests and quizzes were routine, and parent/teacher conferences were brief but steady check-ins on test scores and commentaries on behavior. Parents were not expected to be partners but rather supervisors at home.

The learning path at Montessori schools is more proactive. We ask that parents partner with us-to understand the Montessori philosophy, to educate themselves, and even to practice the methods at home when possible. At BHMS, we have carefully crafted ways to help parents in this work. We've designed ongoing support, and are constantly improving it, in an effort to best communicate with parents about larger, more global learning goals, as well as about children's specific progress. We need parents to lead with their own curiosity and to commit to attending as many of our parent education offerings as possible.

What follows are descriptions of seven parent education programs that we continue to adapt and build upon each year:

1. Back-to-School Night

This is an evening for all parents, held before the first day of school. It is a grand kickoff to the year, a chance for parents to meet and greet one another, and an opportunity for teachers to talk about the program. This event is our opportunity to dynamically capture parents' hearts and minds by offering a taste of what their children will experience and by outlining our community goals. One important difference between our Back-to-School Night and those at traditional schools is our focus on the parent-school partnership; we offer parents ways they can reinforce Montessori principles, such as critical thinking and independence, at home. In addition, there is a presentation of Montessori materials. Parents are encouraged to explore the materials, and through this work, they begin to understand how concepts are introduced, reinforced, and mastered in our program.

2. Curricular Open House Events

These events, held in the fall during the school day, are opportunities for parents of children at all levels to hear from master teachers representing the two schools (Lower and Middle) and to see students in the various programs at work. This idea was piloted in the 2013-2014 school year and contributed to decreasing the attrition between our Upper Elementary and Middle School programs. …

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