Monday, September 22, 2008

Rant about Montessori

**Warning: If you aren't interested in educational practices, you will find this post boring :) **
So Matias started preschool this month. He goes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and seems to really enjoy it. They do the usual preschool stuff: singing, playing, art, snacktime, learning the alphabet, playground etc. I love that it’s a place where he feels safe, gets some social interaction, is allowed to freely explore and learns some new songs and routines. No, I did not put him into a Montessori preschool and quite frankly, I am against their whole philosophy.
There are so many parents who seem to think that Montessori preschools are somehow a cut above; that the elite and most caring parents enroll their kids in Montessori. I think they are seriously wrong. But first let me say that absolutely any preschool can have the title Montessori, so the title itself guarantees/means nothing. In fact, I would argue that most preschools that use the Montessori title don’t follow the Montessori philosophy at all and are just using the name to draw people. Second, kids who attend Montessori preschools often do poorly in regular classrooms because the philosophies in most kindergarten (elementary) classrooms are completely opposite to the Montessori method.
Okay, so what’s my beef with the Montessori method? They discourage playing and the use of the imagination. Toys are not allowed. Objects can only be used for their “real” purpose. You can’t pretend a block is a car, because that is wrong. Technically, they are correct in that a block is not a car. However, I don’t think 3 and 4 year olds need to be corrected when they are using their imaginations.
Each object in a Montessori classroom is meant to be used in a particular way and for one specific purpose. This purpose is demonstrated to enforce this point. I find this completely inflexible and stifling.
To discourage play in 3 and 4 year olds is (to me) a crime. Kids already grow up too fast. They need to play, in order to have fun, but also in order to learn. Kids make sense of the world through free play. They need to be imaginative because it helps them think outside the box later in life.
In Montessori schools, the kids work. They actually call it work!! I think that’s crazy. The kids who had the hardest time in my kindergarten class were the ones who didn’t know how to play. They would ask me for extra work. If they had to choose an activity, they would stand in front of the sign up and pick nothing because free play was a foreign concept. Sorry to say, but these same kids were also the ones who had very few friends. So, even though academically, they may have been doing well, socially they were lagging.
I am sure that there are kids who thrive under such rigid structure and enjoy “working” independently. But at 3 years old, I want Matias to feel uninhibited by reality, letting his imagination run wild. I want him to explore things without having to limit his mind to their “real” and intended purposes. I want him to learn to care for others by playing and interacting with them. So, I would never put Matias in a Montessori preschool.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sometimes the old way really was better!

I hate change. Not because I never want to try anything new, but because change that comes from without is rarely for the better. I believe in personal growth (change), technological advancements (change), and all those other kinds of change that come along with aging (getting wiser) and the dynamic nature of the universe. BUT. As the saying goes, To change and to change for the better are two different things.
I remember when I used to work at Eaton’s they used to make a big deal at training sessions that we had to be “change-willing”. The problem with that was that in the seven years that I worked there, there was ONE positive change (new cash registers). The rest of the changes were stupid, time-consuming and usually complicated the lives of all the salespeople. Of course everyone knows the ultimate fate of Eaton’s. It went belly up.
So this week Pentti “upgraded” (changed) our tv/pvr system. Guess what? It no longer works properly. It stalls. It skips. It crashes. Thanks for the “improvements”, but I was fine with the old system. But that system is of course irretrievably gone forever. Great.
Also this week, the powers that be at facebook decided to force everyone into a new format. Guess what? NOT better. I hate it. It’s confusing and messy and hard to navigate. I don’t know anyone who likes the new format. The only upside is that I will be spending much less time facebooking :D
I also seem to be cursed with liking products that are doomed to “tweaking” which, again, are rarely improvements. My favourite toner is now blue (instead of clear) and doesn’t work as well for my skin as the old formula. My favourite salad at Cactus Club has been taken off the new menu. The formula for Oxiclean was changed and no longer takes out stains as well as it used to. Again, thanks a lot.
So, change sucks. I know, I sound like an old lady. But that’s okay. After all, my Spanish professor at UBC told me about 10 years ago already that I had the soul of a 50 year old woman. He was an old and wise gray-haired intellectual, so I took it as a compliment. That would make me (or my soul anyway) 61 :D

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Back to School

So, today was back to school for the kids and teachers around here. But not for me. At 8 am when I woke up, I was not late for work. I wandered downstairs in my pajamas (with Joonas in tow) and made myself a nice hot latte. I fed the boys breakfast and thought about exercising. Hmmm. I ran on the treadmill, while the boys played. We went for a walk, and had some lunch. Then it was nap time, and they are actually both napping :)
My mat leave is up in October, but I am going to stay home with the boys for at least another year. So, I didn't have the usual back to school stuff to think about. I didn't have to pack a lunch. I didn't have to set up my classroom. I didn't have to attend any staff meetings (YAY!!!). I didn't have to make any small talk with parents. I didn't have to do playground duty. BUT. I also didn't get to see any excited students. I didn't get to chat with my colleagues. I didn't get to have those nervous, excited, happy, tired feelings that go along with the beginning of another school year. Oh well. There are days when I really really miss teaching....How much I miss it varies from day to day and is directly related to whether my own two boys are driving me crazy or not. Still, even on the "bad" days, I would rather be at home taking care of my own two kids than at school taking care of someone else's. Fortunately, today has been a good, calm day and so I am quite happy to be at home, rather than sitting in some mind-numbingly boring staff meeting. School for the kids only lasts an hour on the first day, but for teachers, it goes on until 3pm. Depending on what time that staff meeting is scheduled, and how many annoying teachers there are who ask lame, redundant questions, it can go on and on and on and on...
Anyway, there are some things that I miss about being at school, because I really do like my job. I miss some of the students. I had one boy in my grade 3 class a few years ago who drove all teachers nuts. Other teachers came to tell me that they felt sorry for me because he had been assigned to my class. You know what? I thought he was awesome. Yeah, he was really hyper and loud and annoyed the other kids. But, he was hilarious too. When he got really excited, he would stand in front of everyone, play his air guitar and sing "Ole, ole, ole, ole". He wasn't "bad", he just found it really hard to contain himself. Maybe because I liked him, he noticed and was better for me? Who knows, but I never had any problems with him. I had another kid in that same class who was an awesome writer. During free writing, he came up with the craziest, most original stories. I used to look forward to reading his notebook (which he let me keep at the end of the year). Another kid was the most amazing drawer. At 8 years old, he could draw better than anyone I know. In another grade 3 class that I had, the kids were really sweet. Some of the girls wrote me letters years after they had "graduated" from my class. Quite a few of them would show up in my class after school begging for little jobs so they could hang around after school.
So, anyway, with schools starting again today, I suppose that I am feeling a little nostalgic. But then I remember: That because of dropping enrolment, I would have been surplussed and sent to a new school. That meet the teacher night is in September. That there is never enough money to properly set up classrooms, so teachers have to pay for things from their own pockets or have super anemic classroom supplies. That Gordon Campbell is an idiot and so is his peon Shirley Bond, the minister of education. That report cards are laborious to write. That the photocopier always has a line up at the beginning of the year. That the staff fridge will smell by Friday. Etc. Etc. And guess what? Nostalgia gone.