Wheaton Montessori News
From Tracy Fortun, Lower Elementary Classroom Teacher
“I don’t get why parents are so worried about the transition. It’s just not that big of a deal.” This was one of the things that Henry, my 16-year old, said on the drive home from his participation in the Alumni Panel Discussion. Like him, I had noticed that out of the many parent questions raised, almost half of them had to do with the transition from Montessori to traditional school. And the panelists did their best to try to assuage the parent’s worries, even as some of them shared in Henry’s puzzlement as to why the question kept coming up.
It is certainly true that all our WMS students, at one point or another, are going to have to enter a more traditional type of learning environment. And there is no doubt that for parents who commit to a primary program that includes kindergarten, or to our Elementary and Adolescent programs, it is typically the TOP question they consider when making their decision. That said, I’m not sure I quite understand why.
Granted, I have a different perspective on it than most. I was a committed Montessorian long before I had children. It has been part of the DNA of my parenting that I would find excellent Montessori programs and keep my children in them for as long as possible. My husband and I have absolutely no qualms whatsoever about keeping our daughter at WMS through ninth grade. Concern about her transition into high school as a 10th grader is not even a remote question in the back of my mind.
“But, how will she be prepared for real life, where it isn’t like the carefully curated Montessori environment?” Well, in my more than 20 years’ experience in authentic Montessori environments, again and again I have seen children DO life. Real life, day in and day out.
Each day of my career, I have observed and supported children to collaborate, communicate, solve problems, and tackle daunting goals. I have seen children give up. Sometimes they try again, sometimes they don’t. Then I offer support as they experience the consequences of their choice.
They learn that what they put in, they get out. When you don’t practice the racks and tubes for a while, you forget how to do long division. That square root exercise that seemed so hard you cried when you first tried it is now so easy that you are showing others how to do it.
They deal with difficult coworkers. They learn that one child makes a great playmate but maybe they are not cut out to be partners in times when concentration is needed. They experience the joy of seeing a plan come to fruition, and sometimes get their hearts broken when a dream fails to be realized. They pick up the pieces and figure out how to move on.
Does any of that sound a little bit like…real life?
So on Alumni Panel Night, when the parents of some of our younger students were bravely sharing their concerns about what the transition will be like for their child one day when they have to leave the Montessori bubble and enter “real life”, what I was thinking was, “Well, it doesn’t get more real than this!”
What our Alumni Panel participants know, and would like you to know, is that transitions are not scary to them. Because one of the things the real life of the Montessori classroom has given them is the experience of change, and of things not always working out exactly as they imagined. By the end of sixth grade they have banked a whole fund of experiences with change and transition. They’ve had appropriate support along the way, but they’ve had real experience with growth and diving in headfirst to new things.
Each of our sixth grade graduates has had a lot of “firsts” with us. First time collecting pizza money and making change at carpool. First time serving pizza at lunch. First time being the lead on a job team. First time on a camping trip without Mom or Dad. First time FLYING without Mom or Dad. First time snorkeling, going into a cave, hiking to a mountain peak, and having a bison cheerfully peer into your cabin window.
Our kindergarten graduates are ready to handle the transition to Elementary, either in a Montessori program or a traditional one. The Primary classrooms are designed to ensure each student gathers lots of experience with self-control, patience, compromise, communication, responsibility, asserting yourself respectfully, and being flexible when needed. Doesn’t that sound kind of like the ideal preparation for anyone heading into a transition? The other night, one of the alums, Zach, said, “I don’t think you can look at the transition [to high school, in his case] as all bad or all good. It’s just…going to be different. And you’ll get used to it.”
I think that this sentiment was echoed in the responses of everyone on the panel. Transitions are a part of real life – and our graduates have felt prepared to meet them.