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Our Montessori Journey

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My last post, Mapping Your Montessori Journey, addressed three questions to ask yourself to help determine what direction your journey should take. Since you've had some time to think about your answers, I thought it was only fair that I shared my story. I have started by simply answering the questions for those who would like the short version. If anyone is interested in our full, and very long, story, it precedes my answers.

How long do you plan to school at home?
Through high school, provided I do not completely lose my mind at some point. :-)

What are your academic goals?
My goal is to stick fairly close to the traditional approach, especially for the more academic pursuits. We certainly haven't applied every principle around our home but we also don't feel that each and every one would work for us.

How much of the traditional Montessori approach do you intend to utilize?
My husband and I both come from fairly strong academic backgrounds so classical academics do rank fairly high with us. We hope that each of our children will have excellent reading and grammar skills with a strong background in logical/critical thinking. Mathematics is also very important. We feel that a child that can read and reason well is equipped to learn for a lifetime. And of course the Classical educator in each of us desires a solid understanding of the arts (music, fine arts), history, geography and all things STEM related (science, technology, engineering, math). On the early part of our journey, we plan to focus primarily on the Montessori Method with a slight bent towards classical education. As our children age and Montessori trends towards more abstract concepts and independent research, we will most likely shift more and more towards a classical model.

The Full Story
My journey with Montessori began 6 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. At the time, I intended to return to work part time after her birth. I began investigating various types of educational day care facilities. One summary I stumbled across mentioned Montessori. I was quickly intrigued and began reading up on the topic. It clicked with me immediately. I adored the hands-on, self-directed approach. Not only was I taken by the philosophy but I was captivated by the materials. I found the math material particularly intriguing. My excitement only double when I introduced the idea to my husband and he shared my enthusiasm.

We began searching for a school. While there were two nearby at the time, only one took infants and only older ones at that. It was a great school but they only offered a five day per week program. I had no intention of sending her away the entire week, especially since I was only working part time. I wanted a good amount of time with her all to myself.

As she neared her first birthday, I entered what I will call my "playing with Montessori" period. We setup two small shelves in the corner of our office and filled it with Montessori inspired wooden toys. I continued to read about the principles and even purchased some simple Montessori albums. But for the most part, I only approached it from the academic standpoint and loosely at that. The full philosophy certainly hadn't infiltrated our home.

I always assumed we would send our children to a Montessori school when they turned three. While I liked the ideas of Montessori, it was simply too much for me to sort through. I also didn't want to invest in a classroom or other comparable materials. I know my husband was secretly, or maybe quite obviously, hoping I would change my mind and stay home but I enjoyed my job. It was rocky but I pushed through and before we knew it, out second child was on the way. Shortly after his birth our lives were in for a dramatic change. Our oldest daughter was hospitalized with as sudden onset of high fever and knee swelling. Before long we found ourselves with a diagnosis of juvenile arthritis and uveitis.

The next year was a whirlwind as we focused our energies on trying to control her JA. We approached things both holistically as well as through traditional channels. Her energy and ability to move freely was gone overnight. We were also in a serious battle for her eyesight given the aggressive nature of her uveitis. If you can name it, we probably tried it. I had very little energy left to put towards, well, anything. And of course, it was this development that ended my career for good.

The medical bills coupled with the lack of income put full time Montessori schools fairly far out of reach. I was more comfortable having her at home anyway due to her needs and limitations. Both my husband and I still felt very strongly about the Montessori Method. We agreed that the best approach was to invest in creating a Montessori environment at home and to ensure I was at least modestly equipped.

What followed next was a whirlwind of searching for albums and guidance. I eventually settled on the set from KHT Montessori which included a 2 year online course. I also took educational courses from local schools. I took an intro course from one and a full para-professional training series from another. I slowly worked my way through my materials list and placed a very large supply order. All the while, I tried to wrap my head around how to translate Montessori into a home environment. Even though this occurred just a few years ago, there were far fewer online resources dedicated to the topic.

We approached primary head on. There were good days but there were really hard days too. I often wondered what I was doing, not that I felt I had many other viable choices at the time. I learned so much about myself in the process; primary that I possessed very little patience. I was gaining head knowledge every days and in fact, I had a fairly good grasp of topics such as presenting materials and scope and sequence. However, applying that knowledge was far more difficult than I imagined.

I had hoped to start a local Montessori co-op but had difficulty locating interested families. I was disappointed that my children were missing out on the community aspect of the Montessori classroom. We made a decision to send our children to the summer program at a local Montessori school; one which was wonderful in working with her treatment. Thanks to the help of family and my husband's willingness to work a few extra hours, we've been able to send our daughter for three straight summers and my son for two. It's been such an enriching experience. It also gives me some time in the summers to think and plan.

The last year or two have been fairly straight forward. That is, outside of having our third child who was diagnosed with severe hemophilia and multiple life-threatening food allergies. But hey, it certainly reaffirmed our plan to home school! Thankfully, school could practically run on auto-pilot by that point. I was constantly playing with shelf placement, schedules, planning and tracking but the overall gist was the same.

Our past school year was bit momentous. Our oldest was eligible for kindergarten. Skipping registration was a bit odd as it always stuck out in my mind as a rite of passage. She was doing great with our arrangement at home but it still felt odd to go against the grain. It's the first time it felt real and I'll admit that the pressure I felt increased dramatically.

As much as I loved our albums, I began to feel like I wanted a bit more organization with subjects like history and science. I also wanted to feel like I had a general grasp of where we would eventually end up some day; mainly a loose road map to high school. While Montessori can be used at those levels, it's exceptionally difficult to locate resources. Also, as Montessori trends from concrete concepts to abstract, it tends to line up with a broader range of educational options. For this reason, we decided to add a program called Classical Conversations to mix.

At the early levels, Classical Conversations is designed to give a backbone of key subjects, although those topics can be explored by any method you choose. Language arts and mathematics are left completely up to the parents. We are only one semester into the experience but it has been a great fit so far. I use the weekly topics to guide what we focus on and to help spark interest. For the most part, our work periods have stayed true to a more traditional Montessori approach.

Since this is my daughter's kindergarten year, it also means it is her last year of primary. Elementary is on the horizon and I'll readily admit that I am completely unprepared and overwhelmed at the idea. There are far less resources available than primary. I have chosen Keys to the Universe for my albums. Much like KHT, the Keys program offers an online support forum. I'm going to need it! I think the biggest challenge that lies ahead is tying up our primary work. When children work at their own pace, they don't necessarily reach "the end" with every subject at the same time. And of course, as she embarks on a new adventure I have one who is entering meatier years of primary and one who is just beginning. It's never a dull moment, that's for sure.

So that's where we are in a nutshell. While I think I know where we're going in the coming years, I'm sure the reality will be even more interesting.