Montessori, Charter, Other private programs, or Public School?

First, let me say that I have no problems with public schooling in general. My husband and I are both products of public education (including state university), and we’re both fine, productive, reasonably intelligent adults.

However, the city I live in has absolutely awful public schools. Like many citie there is much poverty, which tends to translate into overcrowded classrooms, teachers who spend much of their time dealing with discipline issues, lack of parental involvement, and absolutely 0 arts programs.

My daughter will be 2 years 9 months in September, and I’m starting to think about whether or not to take her out of home daycare and put her in pre-school. We’re also seriously considering looking for a house in a community with better public schools. There are many in the area, but housing is incredibly expensive compared to the city where we live. (We’re in Worcester, Massachusetts. Our home would cost two times what we paid if it were in any neighboring town.)

I’m not averse to spending some money on private schooling, to avoid moving. We’re already paying for daycare, so we would just continue to pay for school. It would be around 2K more per year. It would be a wash with buying a new home after a few years.

My daughter is very, very bright (she could count to 20 by the time she was 18 months, knows her ABCs, is beginning to recognize numbers and letters, and speaks in complete sentences.) I want her to be in a school where she is both nurtured and challenged, and is never bored.

Searching the Dope I found this thread on Montessori schools.

It’s an interesting discussion on the pros and cons of Montessori, but I don’t want that to be our only option. I’m interested in Montessori, but also interested in hearing about Charter schools, other private programs, parochial schools (though we’re not Christian), and good public schools.

I hope this is a respectful discussion, that highlights your personal experiences. I’d rather it not turn into a Great Debate, which is why I put it into IMHO. I assume if it becomes a debate, a mod will help us out and move it. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

My husband and his sisters went to Montessori preschools & Catholic elementary schools and got a very good education. They seemed far ahead of other kids when they hit HS, but that may have been a maturity issue rather than a learning issue.

I went to public school all the way through. I am smart and got a pretty good education, but I rarely felt challenged and was allowed to be lazy.

My son goes to a Montessori school that goes from preschool to grade 3. It is an excellent school and he is thriving.

I don’t know if this was covered in the linked thread because I can’t open it (my problem, not the board’s), but Montessori is not a copyrighted name. Anyone can open a school and call it a Montessori school.

I checked out the school thoroughly first, along with severeal others. To our surprise, we found that the head of the school had taught my husband & his sisters at their Montessori school way back when! So we were very familiar with her background and training. All teachers are fully certified Montessori instructors, no volunteer aides or non-teachers helping with instruction.

My son gets music, French, ceramics, gardening and gymnastics in addition to the standard curriculum, and I am amazed at what he has picked up! The other day, he pointed to a map on TV and said “Look Mommy, Africa!” I nearly had a heart attack. This school also focusses on social skills such as taking turns, helping to serve and clean up snacks, going potty & washing up, etc.

The kids are well-mannered and seem very happy. I am very pleased with the school, and plan to keep him there through grade 3, even though tuition is a bit steep (I pay $635 per month for 5 days 8:45 am - 2:45 pm).

Just my $.02!

I attended a Montessori preschool and kindergarten, and have nothing but praise for it! We learned at our own pace, and got to choose things we wanted to learn (but we thought we were playing, actually :)). I have a clear memory of trying to do a puzzle in Montessori school, not being able to figure out how to do it, and putting it away. Months later, I tried it again and solved it. There was absolutely no shame in making mistakes — I didn’t learn this until I went to Catholic grade school later.

I also attended a Montessori preschool, and thought it was wonderful. By the time I left, I was already working with fractions and decimals (at 4 years old), and I was one of the less developed kids in the class.

Another great thing about the school was that there was a whole room devoted to doing things to help you gain coordination - polishing shoes, buttoning buttons, etc. And snack time made me a lifetime graham cracker fan.

And instead of the ridiculous, they get the practical- they learn to make food, slice bananas, pour liquids. In a public school, a kid slicing bananas would be suspended or expelled!


It’s those 0 tolerance policies towards knives. :wink:

Exactly my point- private schools have no need for school board silliness.

The whole idea of getting the nonsense out of the way and letting the teachers do what they do best is wonderful. Our 3 year old has really blossomed this year, even though he hardly talked when he started in the fall.

Another option to consider is Waldorf education.

My brother went to a Montessori preschool for a few years and LOVED it.

During the 1989 Olympics – I think the winter games – we were watching the opening ceremonies. My then just four-year-old brother was reeling off all the countries…by their flags! He was just starting to read but dang, he knew his flags.

I don’t think he’d have done well with the Montessori lack of structure later on, but for preschool, it was great.

From the site-

***"2. What is unique about Waldorf education? How is it different from other alternatives (public schooling, Montessori, unschooling, etc.)?

The best overall statement on what is unique about Waldorf education is to be found in the stated goals of the schooling: “to produce individuals who are able, in and of themselves, to impart meaning to their lives”.

The aim of Waldorf schooling is to educate the whole child, “head, heart and hands”. The curriculum is as broad as time will allow, and balances academics subjects with artistic and practical activities.

Waldorf teachers are dedicated to creating a genuine love of learning within each child. By freely using arts and activities in the service of teaching academics, an internal motivation to learn is developed in the students, doing away with the need for competitive testing and grading."***
The Waldorf FAQ makes it sound a lot like Montessori (rather than different from it). It sounds neat. Any personal experience with it?

They are similar in a number of ways. I think the main differences are that Montessori emphasizes structure, order, and self-discipline while Waldorf emphasizes spirituality, the arts, and creativity. The two approaches also differ in the order they introduce concepts. Waldorf schools focus on fantasy, imagination, and the creative arts in the younger years and introduce academics later.

I don’t know a lot about Montessori, so I don’t know whether Montessori schools have as much emphasis on handiwork, foreign language and music.

As to my personal experience, I am a home schooler and I do incorporate a lot of Waldorf ideas into my children’s education. We try to use natural toys, vs. plastic and electronic, and we focus a lot on the creative arts and literature. I don’t follow one particular philosophy in its entirety, but rather pick and choose what feels right from different sources.

Wow, how cool. Montessori does focus a lot on arts and creativity in the younger grades, and my three year old has French and music classes as standard curriculum, along with an extra ceramics class. The school also offers after-school programs in piano, gymnastics, ballet and etiquette.

I have found that the academics are kind of stealthy, in that the kids don’t know they’re learning geography or math or whatever, because of the way the work is done. Also, the fact that work is chosen by the child and done individually helps.

A lot of the order in Montessori comes from the way the materials themselves are presented, which is very specific. But the kids do a lot of crafts too (if only you could see my fridge!).

I admire you for homeschooling. I don’t think I could do it.

Calliope, thanks for mentioning Waldorf! I’d never heard of the method before. I checked into local schools, and it looks as though there is only one in my area. It’s in Lexington, a very, very wealthy town about 1/2 hour’s drive from here. The tuition is $9K per year for nursery school. :eek: The philosophy seems really interesting, though. They have an open house coming up - I may go just to find out more.

What do you all think of Charter schools? We have two in Worcester, but I haven’t heard much about how they differ from public schools. We also have public school choice in Massachusetts, though precious few communities have chosen to offer it. (It’s not mandatory). Any experiences with these options?

I have no experience with charter schools. It seems that in the LA area, you only hear about the ones that have failed or had problems.

It’s a good idea in principle, so are magnet schools. Do you have them in your area? They are public schools, but they focus on a particular area, like science, arts, etc, and kids are wait-listed to get in!

Definetly go the the Waldorf open house- you will have the opportunity to meet the staff, view the classroom environment, see and perhaps try the teaching materials, and meet parents of current students.

Wow, $9000 per year, and that’s not a 12 month year, is it? Although, if I add in summer school mine is high too, though not quite that high.

Unless you’re wealthy, how would you afford $9000 a year for each kid to attend such a school? Holy moly.

I personally feel that the home environment is the most important thing to a child’s learning. I went to public schools pretty much all of my life and I came out bright and intelligent. At least in my own inflated opinion of myself.

Anyway, my parents read to me all the time growing up and my parents leisurely read all the time, so I grew up being read to and seeing people read. I picked up reading just like a child would normally pick up any skill or language it is regularly exposed to by the time I was four or five (it’s unclear since I don’t really remember and my parents didn’t realize I could read until during a parent-teacher meeting during one of my first weeks of pre-school or kindergarten or whatever that the teacher congratulated my parents on teaching me to read before I started school as I came in knowing all the letters, etc. they were trying to teach the other kids - it’s funny, because I remember having a difficult time learning to write). Anyway, if there is a stimulating home environment with good examples being set, I’m not sure it matters much except in cases where the school is extremely unsatisfactory. If that’s the case, hit the private schools. That Montesorri dealie looks pretty slick, I must say.

Couple things I would watch out for:

  1. Different things work for different people. Montessori is great for some kids, otehr kids need more structure. Furthermore, kids change over time: the system that was perfect at 3 may cause horrible anxiety at 4.

  2. The philosophy and methods matter less than the people applying them. There are a hundred different ways to teach, and a good teacher can teach 60 differnet ways with the same success: likewise, most kid can learn any number of different ways and will get to the same place in the end (I am not a child psychologist, and this is just my opinion, but I think the best definition of a learning disbility is a lack in the ability to learn equally well in a varity of modes: a LD kid learns only in a few modes, and the trick is finding it). So as long as your kid shows no signs of any sort of learning disability, pick a school based on the quality of the teachers first and the philosophy second.

  3. Don’t pick a school that stresses you out: if the best school in the area is a 45 minute out of your way commute or costs so much you have to worry every month, then go to the second best school. Kids pick up on things, and home stress about school–which they will see as being “their fault”-- is a 1000X worse than a slightly higher student-to-teacher ratio, or a crappier lunch.

  4. Don’t be worried too much about the rate at which kids are learning, and be leery of any school that uses learning rates as a central selling point. At this age, much of what determines learning rates is physiological, and is utterly meaningless. In the long run it makes no difference if a kid is reading at 4, 5, or 6: there is no race here and they all catch up around 6, and again around 15. People don’t feel like the child that walks at 9 months has an edge over the one that walks at 12 months: I don’t know why they think that the child that reads at 4 has an edge over the child that reads at 5.

  5. Try not to stress too much: remember that this is an important decsion, yes, but it is one to which there are several “correct” answers, and as long as you excersise reasonable diligence (such as opening this thread, talking to teachers, noticing if your kid is learning and happy), you will make a good choice.

Wow. I’m surprised that no one has mentioned homeschooling as an option yet. I’ve homeschooled my two oldest for two years now (the last grades they attended in public school were 8th and 4th). For my youngest who is 3, I plan public preschool and kindergarten for structure and social skill development, with homeschooling to start at 1st grade.

So, you may want to see what homeschool stores are in your area and do some investigation there, too. It has a lot of the advantages of private school, but is much less expensive.

EJsGirl, we do have magnet schools. I don’t quite understand what they’re all about - I’ll have to check into them.

Neurotik, Holy Moly is right. I didn’t get to go to my first choice for High School because it was $8K a year (in 1982). My parents basically said, “We can either pay that much for high school or college. Take your pick.” But unfortunately most private schools in this area are in that range. Because I work four full days I’d still have to either have daycare arrangements after school, or find a full day preschool program. Either way, I could never pay that kind of tuition PLUS daycare. And yes, that’s not a full year. So I’d have to find daycare during the summer as well.

Manda Jo, you’re a balanced voice, as always. Thanks for the supportive words. I try to go with my best educated gut instinct in most parenting situations. For some reason this one has me intimidated, and I’m really concerned that I’m going to make the wrong choice for my daughter. I’m not sure that I know what kind of learner she’ll be, or how her personality will influence her classroom interactions. And I hate it that financial and logistical considerations have to come into play when making such an important choice. I wish I could just make the “best” choice for her in a vacuum, without worrying about the rest. I suppose that’s what most parents would prefer.

norinew, I didn’t preview, so didn’t see your post until after I posted. (Your name has given me a craving for sushi, btw!)

I haven’t really given any serious thought to homeschooling. I don’t think I would be very good at it, to tell the truth. I’m one of those moms who is ready to go back to work after three days at home with my beautiful toddler. I love her to death, but I just don’t have the energy to keep up with her!