The Benefits of a Third Year in Montessori

Very often, after having experienced a very positive first two years with their child in a Montessori primary environment, parents begin to wonder.  “Why shouldn’t we take advantage of the excellent Kindergarten program offered at our local public school?  Our child has  learned a lot already in her Montessori preschool.

She’s certainly as ready for Kindergarten as the other kids on our block, if not more.  Let’s save some money and move on.”  This line of thinking is entirely  logical and a very common sentiment.  However, it does show some lack of understanding of the myriad benefits of staying in the Montessori program for the full three years.

One disadvantage to making any kind of transfer at this time is the time lost to adjustment.  This last year that the child has the power of the Absorbent Mind can never be regained.  Instead of furthering her studies in her Montessori class, the child transferring to a new school will spend much of her year getting to know the new routine, expectations, kids and teachers.  This really cuts into some very critical learning time.   Additionally, the child’s previous learning and understanding may not be fully recognized and appreciated by teachers.  Typically the five-year-old child is not expected to be familiar with the decimal system, world geography, complex math, etc.  Our Montessori children may not appear to be as knowledgeable as they truly are.  Many of the concepts they have been exposed to in class will not be approached again until much later in their school careers.  If not given a chance to reinforce and internalize these concepts, they will likely vanish.

Montessori is a method of education based on understanding.  The mind of the child is approached via manipulatives.  Research shows that actual movement and manipulation of the environment is the way young children learn best.  Our concrete sensorial activities, repeated over time, help the child to form a mental image of the idea to be learned.  Ordinary kindergartens lack the specialized, hands-on materials that offer isolated concepts to children.

Children who stay in their Montessori classroom for a third year are being given the gift of familiarity.  Their confidence soars as they realize they know where nearly everything is, they know most of their classmates and they already know how the system works.  This leaves them able to go on pursuing their studies and relationships in a confident manner.  They are familiar enough with the activities and grounded in reality so their imaginations can really take flight.  A third year child may think of doing an activity in a new way, with different papers, for example, or combining one activity with another.  This is something a second-year student would likely not do.

The Montessori classroom contains what we call a Cosmic Curriculum.  In our room, on our shelves, are the Keys to the World — materials and experiences that relate to any field of study one might think of.  Children can truly pursue, not only math and reading, drawing and singing, but many other interests as well.  We offer a richness that is simply not found in your neighborhood kindergarten.

Because of the freedom of movement and socialization in our classroom, the opportunity to observe other’s needs and progress is present.  Children in their third year can and inevitably do help others in their work.  They see a younger child struggle to get their shoe on and offer to help.  They see a peer finish a work cycle and offer to present to them the next lesson.  They may teach a friend vocabulary they already know and in so doing, really reinforce that knowledge for themselves.  This high level of responsibility is of benefit to the child in a number of ways.  Firstly, they begin to appreciate how much they have learned and how much they have to offer.  This is a solid foundation for self-respect.  Secondly, they begin the habit of service to others.  Serving one’s community gives one’s life meaning and the surest way to happiness is by practicing kindness.  This is such a valuable experience right at this time.  The child is still in his formative years so this can become central to his character, yet he is old enough to actually have gifts, skills and knowledge to share.

Our school has a social curriculum that is presented through the lessons of Grace and Courtesy, Conflict Resolution and also by our creed of inclusion.  “You can’t say you can’t play” is our motto.  The importance we place on the social aspect of education makes our school a wonderful, affirming place to be.  Children here are respected, not rejected as they unfortunately sometimes are in other settings.  In the third year, the social life of the child often becomes paramount and much attention is paid to how others are treated and how they treat their teachers.  As this understanding of human interaction is formed and instilled in our children, how wonderful that they see such a benign, respectful model being played out each day at our school.

Lastly, allow me to invite you to think ahead to a possible fourth year in Montessori.  Some children are ready to begin Montessori as early as two and a half.  This means that by the end of their third year, they are still only five and not eligible for first grade.  In nearly all cases, their Montessori classroom is still the best place for them.  There is so much to do here, it is unlikely that anyone will explore the entire curriculum in three years, so there’s still work ahead for this child.  Some families will choose to keep their child in the Montessori primary class for a fourth year even though the child is eligible for first grade.  Perhaps the child set a more leisurely pace for herself academically and needs the additional time to finish up.  Perhaps the child is doing so very well in the freedom of the Montessori setting that it is best for her to continue on, doing her work.  Perhaps the child , even after the third year, never achieved that level of leadership that we set such store on.  That feeling of being an elder, with much to offer is such a pivotal experience, it is worth spending another year to attain.  It cannot be rushed.  It develops and grows with the confidence level of the child.  Some kids just need more time.

Whether you are approaching your child’s third or fourth year in Montessori, the goals are the same.  Everyone wants their child to be intellectually stimulated, joyful in their learning, with a deep understanding of key concepts.  Everyone wants their child to be a confident, kindly citizen with a sincere concern for others.  These are tremendous ideals and they don’t come quickly or cheaply.  They are something parents must invest in.  The best time to invest in your child’s future is now.