In the early days of June, my son, Harrison Michael, graduated from the Primary Program at Meadows Montessori. Of that day, I will always remember how tall he stood, how clearly he spoke, the expanse of his smile, and the pride on his face as he prepared to transition to the next stage of life. And now, as summer comes to a close and the new school year begins, I find myself reflecting on our family’s time at Meadows.
Why didn’t I just listen to my mother?
When Harrison, was about begin nursery school at the age of 18 months, my mother (drawing from all the insight and wisdom that 30 years of public school teaching brings) said, “Why don’t you try Montessori?” Truth be told, I did not seriously consider her recommendation until two years later when a series of difficult experiences at a franchise school left Harrison anxious about school and more than reticent in student-teacher interactions.
Initially, all that was driving my search for a new school was a desire for an intimate environment that communicated a sense of trust, mutual respect, and reciprocity. These qualities, I felt, were absolutely essential for rebuilding Harrison’s relationship with school. When I toured Meadows with my mother in the fall of 2012, I found the warm, welcoming environment I was looking for and so much more. We came away deeply inspired (and, at times, moved to tears) by the passion and dedication to Montessori philosophy and method expressed by teachers and administrators. We came away deeply impressed by the depth of engagement in academic and practical work each child displayed, and by the grace and courtesy the children extended towards each other and the adults charged with their care. I cannot count the number of times during the tour, and after the tour, my mother said, “This is how school is supposed to be. If I had had the opportunity to teach in a school like this, I might still be teaching.”
Even before I committed to enrolling Harrison in the Primary Program, the teachers and administrators at Meadows listened to and clearly communicated how they would address my every anxiety and concern, hope and desire. The Education Director, Miss Anna, and I carefully orchestrated Harrison’s transition, making sure he had multiple opportunities to visit the school and attend school activities prior to his first day. On his first day, and for some time thereafter, his teacher, Miss Monica, gave him the space he needed to adjust and trust. She allowed him to just watch or stay close to her when he needed to, while also inviting him to take “risks” and explore when he showed signs of being ready.
Learning at Meadows
As time passed, I gained a greater appreciation for the knowledge, insight, and wisdom that make the “Meadows Experience” seemlike magic. During his two years at Meadows, Harrison had ample opportunity for self-directed and collaborative learning in a flexible atmosphere where the resources at his disposal included texts, manipulatives, peers, teachers, and the world outside the classroom. To Harrison, though, learning was natural, effortless. His greatest challenge at school was, I quote, “Choosing a work.” And, even though by the end of his Kindergarten year he was performing at or above grade level in language arts and math, and could name the continents or speak with authority about the life cycle of stars, frogs, butterflies, and humans, whenever I asked him what he did at school, invariably he would say, “I played.”
Growing at Meadows
In spending any length of time at Meadows it becomes apparent that fostering social and emotional growth is of no less importance than encouraging academic development. Values of peace, justice, compassion, acceptance, trust, respect, and social responsibility are embodied in every classroom. For Harrison, a very verbal, very social child who is sensitive, intuitive, and deeply curious and concerned about others, Meadows was an ideal environment to learn and grow. Whether we are at home, on the playground, or on a play date, it is a wonder to watch the skills and behaviors he has learned and refined at Meadows – from formal conflict resolution to welcoming and mentoring younger children – translated to the world outside the classroom.
Harrison’s years at Meadows were truly happy ones. At drop off, he could hardly wait to get out of the car; at pick up, he was rarely ready to leave. Even now, he continues to hold his teachers in the highest regard and speaks fondly of his “best friends.” As for my husband and I, whether we were participating in observations, visits, conferences, emails, telephone calls, “birthday walks,” school events, or impromptu chats, we always felt welcomed as valued members of the learning community. In fact, we were so pleased with our experience at Meadows that we decided to have Harrison continue his education at a Montessori elementary school. As Miss Anna, Miss Monica, and many of my fellow mothers can attest, I searched far and wide to find a school that would complement the foundation Harrison gained at Meadows. Every time Harrison tagged along for a school visit, I was reassured of our decision when I watched my once reticent child walk into a new environment with the type of confidence and joy that says, “I have a right to my place in the world.”
“Thank You” and “Farewell”
My husband and I would like to extend our sincerest thanks and deepest appreciation to the teachers, administrators, and families of Meadows Montessori. To be sure, our “Meadows Experience” is the standard by which all future schools will be measured.
Connect with Amber Harris Fillius
Right now, I am passionate about:
2. school transitions
3. life stories