I remember clearly the crunch of the gravel under the tires as I pulled into the NewGate parking lot for the first time. Dylan was eighteen months old and I was in the middle of a divorce. We had never spent a day apart, and I was starting a new job. I didn’t know it then, but walking into Ms. Lauren’s classroom that day would unfurl a thread that would weave itself so indelibly into the tapestry of our lives that, nine years later, I’m still hearing the same gravel crunch under my tires every day.
It was rough leaving him. He reached for me from Ms. Lauren’s arms, his face smeared with tears. She was calm and authoritative, urging me to go. It will be better for him, she said. For the first time ever, I ignored his pleas. I put my faith in her and Montessori, and I left my crying child in her arms and walked away. It was hard, but it was probably the best decision I ever made for him.
I’m not going to lie, drop-off was tough for a while; we both had difficulty adjusting to being apart. I can’t tell you how many times during the day I had to suppress the urge to call the school to make sure he was alive. But day-by-day, soothed by Lauren’s calm authority, Dylan and I settled into this new routine and began to thrive in our new environments.
Before long, Dylan was dismissing me with a quick kiss and hug and disappearing into the fold of his classroom each morning. To this day, I am captivated by the sight of a smoothly running Montessori classroom—
everything so tiny and orderly—small children working with a focus most adults don’t often display.
I learned that, while from the outside a Montessori classroom may seem to lack the structure you’d expect to see in a traditional classroom, the structure of a Montessori classroom is in the planned environment. Each classroom is carefully crafted and structured so that the children can follow their interests and foster their own independence. I began to see my ‘helpless child’ become capable in ways previously unimaginable. In his classroom, he would prepare a snack for himself and his friends, then carefully wipe the table and dishes. He could select a lesson from among the dozens on the tiny shelves and then work quietly at it for long stretches of time.
Lauren taught me ways to be more Montessori at home. I put his cereal, snacks, and dishes in low cabinets at home, and watched, amazed, as he poured his own cereal the next morning. I organized his toys onto shelves so that he could see and reach everything. We had fewer meltdowns, we had more peace.
Montessori made its way into our home in other ways, too. For instance, Dylan started to tell me sternly, No, thank you! (in a tone remarkably similar to Ms. Lauren’s) anytime my suggestions or behavior deviated from what he found to be acceptable. “Dylan, stop jumping on the couch,” “No thank you, Mommy!” “Dylan, please put on your pajamas” “No thank you, Mommy!” Lauren laughed when I asked if she knew the origin of this charming new phrase. She did, of course, because it originated with her.
One day at drop-off, Lauren told me that Dylan had begun to express interest when other children used the toilet. She told me to send him to school with four clean pairs of underwear and shorts. By the end of the week, my child was completely out of diapers. It was a painless transition for us at home, I joke with my friends that this alone was worth the tuition that year.
Dylan and I walked into NewGate that first day alone and scared; we only had each other. By the end of the year, we had a community—a family. Some people send their children to school to receive an education, and that is enough for them. When I send my child to school, he’s receiving an education, but he’s also receiving love, support, and guidance. In fact, both of us are, and we are better people because of it.
Katrina Costedio is a graphic designer on the staff of the Montessori Foundation. She has a son, Dylan, who is an upper elementary student at NewGate school in Sarasota, Florida. She has been a Montessori parent for 9 years. Katrina received a BA in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Tomorrow’s Child/Sept 2016