For as long as Elena has been going to school, all we have known is Montessori. For those of you who are counting, that's six years. It's hard to believe, considering we almost didn't make it through the first year.
Elena spent one year in a very nice, very expensive and very strict Montessori school in Nashville. I lost count of how many times we ended up in the director's office. Seemed that 3-year-olds that don't nap and can't lie still on a mat for 60 minutes were frowned upon, and so we were frowned upon. Very often.
We moved to Indy right after the end of her first year in school, and we struggled with whether or not we would continue with Montessori. The previous year had sucked just about all the joy out of preschool. I mean really, that's what middle school is for. I felt like we had to give it one more try in a different school, though. We ended up in Montessori in the first place because of my dear friend, Rebecca. We met in a playgroup, but in her previous life she'd been a Montessori teacher. I didn't know anything about the method, but I knew that I loved the way Rebecca interacted with children, and the way her home was set up to accommodate a toddler.
We visited a bunch of schools in Indy, but five minutes into our tour of the Montessori School of Westfield we knew we'd found the perfect place to give Montessori another try. Elena fell in love with the playground and the promise of no nap time, we fell in love with the peaceful feeling of the school and the warm, friendly staff.
This Friday is Elena's last day in Montessori. I'm getting all snuffly as I write this, because this school has been such a big part of our lives for the last six years. Everything we thought we knew about Montessori that first year was wiped clean and replaced with something totally different, and incredibly wonderful. In these last six years, Elena has been privileged to be in an environment where she's been encouraged to think creatively, to challenge herself, to learn with her hands, mind, and heart.
I know you can learn these things in many different kinds of environments. However, the basic Montessori principles, in the hands of these wonderful teachers we've had, have helped shape Elena into the wonderful girl she is today.
She's a smart girl. She probably would have done well just about anywhere. But at MSW they taught her that you can be book smart, but you have to be socially smart as well – you have to treat those around you with respect, kindness and empathy. They know that learning in the classroom is important, but you have to give kids room to be physically active as well. And so they have this great property, with room to play, to build cities in the woods, to dig in the dirt. They know that rules and discipline are imperative, but they also know that the same tactics don't work for everyone. And so they tailor their responses to the individual. Most importantly, they loved her, even when she was a challenge.
It's time to make the change to public school for Elena. We thought about it last year, and I was unsure, panicky. This time around, though, it feels right. We always knew that we'd eventually make the switch to public school – Mike and I are products of public education, and the schools in our community are excellent. Elena has an incredible foundation to build on, and she's ready for something different.
But still, change is hard and this school feels like family to me. As we sat and listened to Elena and her classmates give speeches during their graduation ceremony, I could barely concentrate on what they were saying. I saw Elena, and her friends, as the 4-year-olds I knew when we first came here. They could barely navigate their way to the bathroom, and here they were, reflecting quite elegantly on their time at the school.
Elena thanked her teachers and the director. She said, "I have had such a great year here. I liked to do long division, reading group and art. My bffffffffff is Brenia. Even though we have been arguing, she is still my bestest friend. I will miss all of you next year."
The transition is made a teeny bit easier knowing that our connection to the school is still strong. Eli has at least 2 more years there, and I'll continue to serve as PTO president for another year. Elena has already said that on days where her new school is off but MSW is in session? She'd like to spend the day there, making her one of the only kids I know who would spend a day off from school . . . in school.
We'll go to her new school with high hopes and open minds. And, fingers crossed, we'll stay out of the principal's office in this school, too.
If you've made the transition from Montessori to public school before, I'd love to hear your thoughts.