By Virginia Lozuke
A couple of years ago I started approaching parent teacher conferences a little differently. Before I compiled all my observations, notes, recordkeeping, and pictures, I went back to my files and pulled out the original application that parents filled out prior to enrolling at our school.
The answers to those questions are incredibly revealing. Those answers are pure, untouched by the pressures of looming expectations of what kindergarten or first grade may bring. Those answers are beautiful and whole, and really perfect. They reveal a desire for a child that grows into a whole, loving, fulfilled, engaged adult that contributes to the world around them. They are long goals, and represent what will truly matter in 10 years, and 20, and 30.
But, parenting doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Something happens, most often when a child is between four and five years old. World pressures push in and long goals are pushed aside for short-term “measurable” goals. Even some of the most enlightened and relaxed parents find themselves fretting over when their child will be reading the way another child is reading, and if they should do “more math at home.” We feel it too. It seems easier to write a report that states your child has mastered single digit addition than to narrate their amazing journey to better conflict resolution skills, but what about those long-term goals? Why are they suddenly not important?
The stuff that matters, the stuff that will enable your child to be life-long happy isn’t “masterable” at three and four, but, this is where that skill begins. We know you want a child who gets along with others, approaches new situations with confidence, sets boundaries for themselves, participates in their community, problem-solves, has a growth mindset and resilience, never stops learning and celebrates effort in themselves and others. We know you want a child that continues to be curious and creative and compassionate. This is what we work to enable. This is the environment and the culture we labor to create. This is the long game.
When I first became an early childhood teacher someone told me that children forget most of what happens before the age of five. I’m not sure about that. I am fairly certain that I have forgotten the Pythagorean theorem and the facts surrounding the War of 1812. I have not forgotten what it feels like to do something hard and finish it, to risk failure, or to be part of a community. These are the lasting lessons. This is what happens in our classroom daily. It isn’t mastered and set aside at four. It is a lifelong practice, and we have the privilege of guiding that practice right now.
Some of our students will be strong early readers. Some will be handling “second grade” math with ease in kindergarten. That is not our goal. Our goal, if we are doing our jobs as Montessori guides to the best of our abilities, is to send our young learners off to their next experience with their curiosity and passion intact, with greater compassion for themselves and others, and with a life-long willingness to grow.
There will be those in your book club who will share that their child is reading chapter books at four. There will be folks at work that brag about their three year old doing long division. Your Facebook feed may be filled with “academic” achievements of other people’s children. And if you find yourself tempted to compare, remember your original rubric. Go pull out a copy of that application you filled out when you dreamed about sending them to a Montessori preschool and breathe a sigh of relief. Those dreams are already coming true.
About Virginia Lozuke
Virginia Lozuke is the Head of School at Montessori Farm School in Durham, North Carolina. She fell in love with Montessori when researching options for her then three year old daughter and has taught for twelve years. She loves chatting about all things Montessori, but especially incorporating farming, gardening, and cooking projects into the student’s experience. Her classroom, housed in a nearly 100 year old building, is filled with light from giant windows, art (from children and adults), plants, animals, students and laughter. Her family creates the beautiful jewelry at My Bella Montessori