I remember, as a working parent, feeling guilty about how much time my child spent at school. I worried if it was too much, if she was missing other activities… like just playing.
Part of my guilt, however, was assuaged when I realized that Montessori was not like the schools I had attended as a child. She didn’t have to sit at a desk all day. She didn’t have to listen to a teacher drone on about some topic or another all day.
Her day was filled with choices. Did she want to do a puzzle or have a snack? Did she want to write a story or match some picture cards? Her day included many opportunities to get up and walk around, considering all of the possible activities open to her. She could sit with a friend and share some work or a snack. She could read a book and just relax in the class library. She might have chosen some time on the computer, with an educational game instead of one with some less desirable objective. Of course, there were several time slots for outdoor play or at least indoor games with her friends on rainy days.
When she was still quite young she took a nap and I must admit, she went down for that nap more easily, and probably got more restful sleep, than she would have at home.
So as my guilt lessened I started looking at school more positively. I realized that children are almost always engaged with something, unless they are asleep and at school I knew there were no bad choices. Every game, material, or activity she engaged in was a healthy choice. All had been selected and designed by teachers who really know what they are doing and who understand the developmental needs of children.
At school there were no battles over television or other media time like there were every Saturday in our home. While the computer was always a top choice for her, she had to set the timer, all of the children knew and accepted those limitations, so she went along with the rule.
If she wanted alone time, and she frequently did, she knew that no one else could touch her work. If they did she could say, “Don’t touch my work!” and they would listen… unlike a younger sibling. It made her feel empowered and in control of her choices and her life. At other times she could just as easily say, “Do you want to work with me?” and share a social exchange with a friend while engaged in one of those healthy choices that surrounded her.
I especially appreciated the autonomy she had in the Montessori classroom and the responsibility she learned to take on. She wasn’t beholden to an adult for permission to have a quick snack, or use the bathroom. She knew she was responsible for pushing in her chair, or cleaning up her work area. Best of all, there were no battles about putting things away; it was simply expected so she adapted and accepted that responsibility.
The final caveat came to me when I noticed that when she was home, on the weekend or over a holiday, her favorite activity was to “play school.” School was her world and she loved being there. At home I made sure there was plenty of family time and cuddles. All in all, she had a good life!