Our Montessori Preschool Experience
At the time of our relocation, having just turned four, my daughter had been thriving at her Danish preschool for a year. Like all Danish preschools, her preschool had focused on free play, either inside or outside on a playground.
In Denmark, roaring children identify — a mile away — the presence of a preschool. The supervising adults comfort and help sort out conflicts between the children and maintain discipline only at lunch and snack time. My husband and I subscribe to the Danish belief that acquiring academic skills at preschool is unnecessary. On the other hand we believe that fostering a cheerful, individualistic, perceptive, and self-confident approach to life as well as acquiring social skills will prepare them to handle school and later adulthood.
When I opted for a Montessori preschool, I chose the school based on recommendations, but wasn’t as such interested in the Montessori part. I thought that I had done my homework: parents praised the preschool on several websites; our landlord’s daughter had attended the school several years ago and our landlord kept hearing good reviews. The Preschool Director assured me that the teachers had experience in bilingual children and that they adhered to free play. I read up on the Montessori philosophy and I checked out the preschool website — but I didn’t get it.
For instance, I never perceived that the preschool rule “we always use our quiet voice in the classroom” entailed that all talking had to be done by whispering and that children were not allowed to interact, to PLAY, inside the classroom.
On my daughter’s first day, she bounced her way to preschool in anticipation of meeting new friends. Instead, when we got into the classroom, we were seated uncomfortably in a corner, on the floor, close to the door, where we sat whispering by ourselves: the classroom teacher requested that I didn’t move around in the classroom because this would “disturb the children.” This intimidated my daughter who then didn’t feel like exploring the classroom on her own. My daughter was asked to choose three activities — using Montessori playthings — before lunch, which focused on writing letters, practicing the alphabet, or painting. She only exercised shaping letters because other activities — including painting that she thought looked fun — were not reachable from our spot. The classroom had no dolls, no costumes — no toys. Children had to focus on their chosen project and were discouraged from interacting during this class-time — even when using their “quiet voice.”
On the second day, the teacher asked me to leave and expressed that I disturbed the classroom (sitting in the corner) and that my departure would facilitate my daughter’s transition. My daughter panicked when I introduced the idea of leaving her alone in the classroom, so I didn’t, and I had a heated argument with the teacher who let me stay (because the preschool Director had promised me, I could stay for a longer period of time).
On my daughter’s third day, her father left her alone in the classroom BRIEFLY, for less than ten minutes, while he took over our car, and I took over in the classroom. When I showed up, my daughter sat in her teacher’s lap on the floor crying so hard that she could hardly breathe. From this moment until three months later, it was as if a stranger took over my happy daughter.
… To be continued