Zack’s New Montessori School

We had to make a tough decision recently to move our son out of his old daycare, and this week we’re dealing with a huge, emotional transition as he cries every day at his new place.

The old place had an infant care room, and Zack started going there just a few hours a day when he was three months old.  It was a brand new facility with wonderful caregivers.  Zack’s primary caregiver, Elsa, became one of his favorite people.  She still babysits for us.

When he was 17 months old, the place came under new management and let Elsa go.  We were frightened of the changes that would come, but all in all, the new management turned out to be good.  Zack was on his way up to the toddler room anyway, so he would not have beenwith Elsa too much longer.  At that point, he became the class biter, which was a frustrating situation, and every day we would get “ouch reports” in writing, letting us know that he had bitten one of his buddies.  The daycare folks figured he was frustrated and bored and moved him up to toddlers a bit early.  Problem solved.  We were so happy with that outcome that our trust in the place was renewed.

And Zack did great all through toddlers, until he turned two and a half, at which point he became the class hitter.  And again, the teachers suggested to us that he was too advanced for the toddler room and should move up to the preschool room.  But there was one big obstacle:  potty training.

I’ve read a lot about potty training, and I’ve talked to many parents about it.  In fact, as I was starting this post, one of the parents from my old daycare called to say she was sorry we had to leave.  And she said that she simply “forced” her son to potty train by three.  And he did it.

Color me flummoxed by this idea.  My kid is downright resistant to the potty right now.  He has had a few victories, which were hugely celebrated in our house.  And then he became a stealth pooper.  He just doesn’t want to use the potty, and if I’m interested and have the energy to try to catch him pooping, I’ve had to become faster and faster at it.  Gone are the signals he used to give.  The kid is smart.  Before you can say, “Are you poop–” it’s over.

So we backed off.  I get it.  Some folks can make this happen faster.  Apparently.  We’re not those folks.

And then we had to pick up our kid all the time from daycare.  We must have gotten five or six calls.  Come get him.  He’s being aggressive.  He knocked another kid off a platform in the playground.  Come pick him up.  You have thirty minutes.  He pulled a kid down by her hair and dragged her on the floor.  He hit a teacher in the face.  He head butted another teacher.  He hit someone and got scratched.

We saw none–absolutely none–of this kind of behavior at home.  I even went into the daycare one day and secretly observed my son through some blinds as he played outside.  He looked like he was having a blast.  Then later, one of the teachers said to me, “Did you see him hit that parent?”

And then I realized that these people were kind of nuts.  He had not hit a parent.  He had walked up to a parent and held his arms out, like for a hug, and then brought them together in a pat on her legs.  He was saying hello.  And that was interpreted as aggression by these teachers, who took him aside and urged him to be gentle.

I’m sure Zack did pull some hair.  He sure does love hair.  He is constantly playing with mine, and yeah, it gets annoying.  But knocking a kid down?  Dragging a kid by the hair?  I have to wonder now how much of this is true and how much of this is exaggeration.  It seems more likely that Zack’s obsession with hair caused a kid to fall down. 

And oh, by the way, Zack is huge.  He’s almost three now, and he’s easily the size of a four-year-old.  And he was stuck in the toddler room, with 18-month-olds who probably just fell over when he played with their hair. 

And he knows the shapes.  And the alphabet.  And the colors.  He was bored.  Again.  But this time, daycare could not move him into the appropriate room, because his brain is faster than his butt.  He was far from potty trained, but he was smart.  And enormous.  And frustrated and bored.

We were hoping June would solve everything.  Magically, we knew he’d get it by then, and then he’d be three, and potty trained, and we could move him to the preschool room, with the fish tank and the older kids, and the more challenging stuff.  We worked out a deal where he could visit the preschool room for an hour a day.  And we talked to the toddler teachers about splitting “circle time” so they could have an older kids time and a younger kids time, so they could challenge the older kids a little more.

But all those extras came to an end.  Not enough staff on hand to handle them.

And then we found out June was a no go.  Zack wouldn’t have a space in preschool until September.  He’d lost his space.  (I think the mom who just called me might have gotten it, actually.)  And honestly, we don’t know if he will even potty train in September.

By this time, it was getting discouraging to constantly hear so much negative feedback about our kid.  We believe he’s the most beautiful, smartest, cutest, and sweetest boy in the world.  But we were being told to come and pick him up from school because he was aggressive.  And we disagreed with that consequence.  Developmentally, how could that be right?  We asked the school about timeouts, and the director told us that kids Zack’s age don’t understand timeouts, because by the time the timeout is over, they’ve forgotten why they were in it.

So how could Zack understand being sent home?  That happened 45 minutes after the incident in question.  Why would he make that connection?  The director advised us to basically make the rest of the day suck for Zack to really drive home that he had been sent home for misbehavior.  Don’t read books to him, don’t do fun stuff.  That’ll show him.

So we realized, crap, we’re in a place that calls itself a “child development center.”  And we completely disagree with them on fundamental issues of child development.  Force potty training by three?  We believe that’s wrong.  Send a kid home as a consequence he doesn’t understand and then tell parents to make his whole day bad as further consequence he can’t possibly understand?  Wrong all around.  Have kids stuck in a room that’s too easy for them and then chide their behavior when they act out?  All terribly wrong.

But Zack loved his teacher, and he knew all the kids, and he’d been in that center since he was three months old.  We had only had to have him there part time, and I was starting a new full time job.  Fearing a change, we tried to stay for a few more months, and we kept getting worse and worse reports about him.

So we looked around, and I got it into my head that Montessori might be the way to go.  I visited a local Montessori school, learned a little about the methods and the philosophy, found out this school is accredited by one of the Montessori accrediting agencies, and I got a good feeling that this would be a better fit for Zack.  A few things bummed me out about the school, like the food is a little junky and there is some TV watching.  But overall, it seemed like it would be more challenging, get him with kids his own age, and not force him to potty train until he was ready.

I approached Montessori as a skeptic, but the more I learned about it, the less I could find any reason to protest it.  There have been a couple posts on here about Waldorf, so I was looking at Montessori as another cult like situation that proposed some untested, dogmatic theory about kids and just ran with it.  It seems quite the contrary.  The ideas are fairly sound, and studies show Montessori kids are often ahead of their peers when they get to regular public schools.  And the idea that Zack could choose his own activities was very appealing to me.  Watching “circle time” at our old school, I felt like the kids were a bit restricted.  Circle time seemed like a nice way to look like they were actually doing something of value, but I wasn’t sure what it was, besides teaching them to sit in a circle when asked to do so.

Mostly, I was impressed by the idea that there was a pedagogical, methodological approach for teaching young children that seemed to be based in actual observation of their abilities and tendencies.  Every other preschool I looked at gave blanket statements in their marketing literature about respecting the whole child, individual attention, encouraging social skills.  But I never saw any particular philosophy or method for getting there.  We all want to respect the child as an individual, but in practice, just how do you do that in a preschool setting?  What does that mean in terms of the instructional approach, the materials you use, the way you offer or do not offer help, the interaction you expect among children?   Montessori offers pragmatic guidelines for what that vague statement means on a moment to moment basis.

Interestingly enough, Maria Montessori actually advocated for the mixing of children of different ages, which was exactly one of the problems we had with our old daycare center.  We felt Zack was frustrated because he was with younger kids.  But perhaps he was frustrated because he was having to do the activities of younger kids.  It wasn’t the kids themselves.  It was that he wasn’t being challenged by the work he was doing.

We’ve been going to our new Montessori school since Monday, and here’s the result so far:  Zack cries for me all day and hates it.  He doesn’t do any of the Montessori “work” yet.  He is confused and sad about why he’s in a new place.  It’s heartbreaking.

At my new job, the first month was a downer.  I’ve been slightly depressed and disoriented, not sure if I made the right choice, and it took a while to just get used to the new surroundings and calm down about this huge life change.

So I can’t even imagine (or remember, since I know I went through it) how sad and difficult this kind of enormous life change must be when you’re under three.

The whole experience of seeing my kid this sad has made me question daycare altogether.  The transition has just been way too tough.  I could kick the old preschool director in the shins for forcing us out.  My rage that she put us in the position of making my kid have a hard time like this is fairly huge.

So we’ll see how it goes.  I hope to be posting in a couple weeks about how Montessori was the right choice for our family.  I hope to be posting that Zack loves his lessons and his friends.  For now, all I have to say is that I would like to win the lottery, quit my job, and home school.  Today is Wednesday, right?  I need to run and by myself a lottery ticket.  Thanks for reading.

14 Responses to Zack’s New Montessori School

  1. Welmoed says:

    There are many different accreditations for Montessori schools. My kids were in Montessori from age 2 all the way up through 8th grade. Their school was accredited through AMI (Association Montessori Internationale). There was NO television at all, which makes me wonder about your school’s adherence to Maria Montessori’s philosophies. I loved the multi-age classrooms; most of the kids grew up together and formed strong bonds that resembled siblings rather than schoolmates. As a result, there was little of the “hormonal terrors” in the Middle School class (7th & 8th grades in a single classroom). My kids are both in college now and credit their Montessori years with giving them a passion for learning.

    • littlez2008 says:

      Our is accredited by AMI as well. Or so they say! The TV thing really does bother me, but it’s apparently only a little bit. Other than that, they do the Montessori stuff from 9-2 and then play outside a lot.

  2. M says:

    I have a friend whose child has been in daycare since he was about 6 months old. He, too, had been labeled “aggressive” and she said it was because he was too smart and bored with the baby stuff. So they had him skip kindergarten and called him gifted, though she would casually mention “incidents” at school.

    We had him at my child’s birthday party last weekend where he chased a scared 2 year old with a stick, tackled my girl down into the grass and attempted to smash her, later he twisted her arm because her balloon landed too close to his cake, he was yanking on another boys arm to try and throw him to the ground, pushing a 3 year old around and was being a general creep.

    His mom made excuses for him all day – he’s upset because our dog died (4 months ago) and acting out, other kids are mean, he is just too smart for his own good… etc. “He’s never like this….” and then she has the gall to declare “Oh, he’s too smart to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy!” in a roomful of kids ranging in age from 18 months to 6 years. I am glad none of them were listening to her.

    Being smart doesn’t make a kid aggressive. I don’t know you or your situation, and I hope this Montessori school sorts everything out for you, but I hope you are being honest with yourself about your child’s behavior.

    Again, I am not accusing. But I’ve seen quite a few parents who don’t believe in discipline (He’s so smart – we reason with him, while he talks back and ignores us) act surprised that their little angel is out of control.

    As long as you are sure it is everyone at the Day Care and not him who has the issue, good luck at the new school -

    • littlez2008 says:

      You know, we definitely didn’t want to be in denial about our kid and were very concerned that we might be overlooking something. We took him to a doctor when the daycare folks were concerned about his language development. The doctor said he was actually verbally advanced. And we really can’t find anyone–friends or family–who would agree with the assessment that he’s aggressive. It is tricky, though. We are preparing ourselves for the possibility that this behavior will crop up again in the new school. If so, then we’re dealing with a different problem. Sorting out the possibility that the school was actually the issue took us several months and a lot of self examination and conferencing with them. My brother’s kid is on Prozac for aggression and anxiety, so I don’t think I’m blind to the possibility that kids can have this problem. But I simply never see it at home at all, and neither does anyone else I know. So that’s where we at right now. I think I’m savvy enough about mental issues (coming from a family with plenty of them) that I would spot something like that. And we’ve successfully imparted the idea of “gentle touches” at home. But yeah, I know what you mean when you see those nightmare families with the kid that they just won’t admit actually has a behavior problem. Certainly hope not to be one of those.

      • mistressofboogie says:

        It’s tough when reports you get of your child when s/he’s out of your view just don’t chime with what you yourself know about the child – the feeling that it just doesn’t sound ‘right’ to you; it’s different, however, when it’s you yourself who witness the behaviour all the time, but make excuses. That doesn’t sound to me like what you’re doing. You were seeing one child at home and hearing of a completely different child at school – that would always make me suspicious that the differences aren’t coming from my child’s behaviour but from, perhaps, others’ preconceptions of my child (like did he just get a ‘bit of a reputation’ in the caregivers’ minds after the biting phase?). I hope the new school works out for you all. I, ironically, have the opposite problem; my daughter’s behaviour is way worse at home – at school she’s an all-singing, all-dancing angel. Which, thinking about it, means that I may have a perception problem of my own…!

  3. Chris says:

    My middle child was impossible to potty train. He was actually being stubborn about it! I actually warned his kindergarten teacher that it might be an issue, but fortunately he figured it would not be cool in a real school.

    Yes, my son who was a high school honor student and who scored a five on the AP Calculus BC test was not potty trained until he was five years old.

    Around here there are different variations of Montessori, and I always thought they were pretty mainstream. Nothing like the Waldorf School.

    But in reality I found that it does not matter what the sign in front of the school says, what matters are the people inside of the building. Sometimes what was a good school will become a bad one, and vise versa.

    We lucked out in that the special preschool my oldest son went to was part of a sketchy regular ed. elementary. But three principals later (the first one being fired for having an affair with someone) that got turned around. It got even better when by the time he was in second grade the new principal was a former speech therapist. That was when the two special ed. programs (one being the deaf/hard of hearing) were more integrated with the regular program. By the time my youngest left thirteen years after my oldest started, it was one of the more sought after schools in the district.

    Hi, Welmoed! I remember you from the sewing newsgroups on Usenet years ago. I loved going through your sewing websites, and drooled over pictures of Redwall. I even made a princess costume with machine embroidered butterflies inspired by one of your Smithson gowns. I hope you and your family are doing well. I haven’t sewn much lately because I have to deal with the mess my daughter leaves when she does her cosplay (some shown here).

    • littlez2008 says:


      You know, it seems that our potty training issue runs in the family. My husband’s niece was not potty trained until she was almost four, and the quote from my sister-in-law was, “She just doesn’t care.” And it’s the same for Zack. He can just hang out in a poopy diaper. Just doesn’t seem to mind.

      When my husband talked to his dad about this, his dad said, “Yep, we thought the kindergarten teacher was going to have to train you. You just didn’t care.” So there you have it. Mr. Ivy League debater math whiz–not potty trained until he damn well felt like it.

      It makes so much sense to me, personality wise. If you met my husband, you would see that getting him to care about anything uninteresting to him is a pointless struggle. Still. (Although he did change his mind about the potty thing, eventually!)

      • Chris says:

        You know, there ought be a list of things to know about your future spouse and in-laws before the wedding! I have a few things I wished I knew (though it wouldn’t have changed anything, he was the only prince out of so many toads). ;-)

  4. HappyEvilSlosh says:

    When I was a kid I went to two Montessori schools. One is now called nova montessori, it didn’t have a name at the time, and the second casa dei bambini. Other than some questionable things that happened in the latter one the were both fine and worked well for me. Or at least I think I turned out well. :P

    I would also like to second M’s comments about parents likely not being the best unbiased assessors of their kids. In fact the whole describing aggression as a sign of intelligence/boredom seems a classic line thrown out by a parent in denial about their kid’s behaviour and I mean, even if it is the case, life is boring perhaps it’s good to start learning to deal with it now. :P But also like M I also have no idea about any of the people involved, so take with grain of salt. :)

  5. Having grown up going to a more traditional school, I am interested in hearing how the Montessori goes as there are many Montessori schools in my area and our son may end up going to one.

  6. Lynn Wilhelm says:

    I love Montessori education. Years ago I was an assistant at a wonderful school in NC. I thought the way the materials allowed children to move at their own pace are great. Some were learning multiplication and division–quite naturally–in what would equate to kindergarten.

    I was lucky enough to be able to send my daughter to the same school for a couple of years. She was in a 3-6 yo class until she went to first grade in public school (she might have done kindergarten again, she’s young, but she was ready for 1st grade).

    That school didn’t do any TV, occasionally movies, but I can see it happening for the younger kids in an all day program. The kindergarten aged kids from each class did more “work” (extended day program) after lunch, the younger kids took naps and did some work later. Lots of play time outside.

    The “work” the kids do is amazing. They learn to put their work away, clean up, push in their chairs, work on their own and with others (some works are 2-person works). Group (circle time) is important as that’s when the teacher does a lesson in a new work. Because it’s multi-age some of the works are seen by older children a few times and they tend to see the works in a new way. They can also help younger children, maybe just by modelling. Some works are very low key, maybe counting (playing with objects) or “reading” in the reading corner.

    I’d be patient. Is he really crying all day. Most of the kids I knew became very involved pretty quickly. But the nice thing is that all the kids were able to be themselves (as long as they didn’t interfere with others) and grow/learn at their own pace.

    We did require that kids were potty trained in the 3-6 class. It’s nice your school is more liberal. But hopefully your son will move ahead when he observes others using the potty.

    I hate to be like John Rosemond here, but it might be good to try some things to encourage Zach to use the potty. Get him to help cleaning himself and his pull up when he doesn’t use the potty. This can be messy, but I think it would help. He’s old enough to help clean up. I’m also a big fan of rewards for potty training. M & Ms were great for my daughter. One for #1, two or more for #2. By the way, I took M&Ms to her daycare (small home) for the other children to get when my daughter used the potty. Maybe there’s something similar you could do at her school–peer pressure can help a bit.

    We also sang the Super Pooper song, a very silly version I would sing to Super Trouper from ABBA.

    Good luck and keep us updated.

  7. Rachel says:

    My 4 year old son has been going to a Montessori school for about a year now. Though he cried every day for about a month when he started, he now loves it and is excited to go.

    Montessori might even help with the potty training – being with older kids might encourage using the toilet.

    Good luck!

  8. Sane Mom says:

    I worked at a total of five different preschools during my twenties, ranging from Montessori to very traditional, so I like to think I have an insider perspective on this issue. The one criteria I consider most important in choosing a preschool is how closely they adhere to their state’s official Minimum Standards, particularly in regards to teacher/child ratio. Too many schools, in my opinion, use the minimum standards as their guideline, apparently ignoring the word “minimum”. This means that teachers are watching the maximum number of children that the law will allow. I can tell you from experience that following the minimum standards to the letter means that the teacher is one small step from being completely overwhelmed. Under these conditions, an independent, spirited child can easily be labeled as a troublemaker, particularly if he or she keeps monkey-wrenching transitions between activities or having multiple “accidents” that the teacher doesn’t have the time or ability to take care of. The reason preschool directors max out their ratios is for profit–more kids mean more money for the owners, who are often business majors with no background (and often no interest) in child development.

    My child is not currently in a preschool, but if and when I do enroll him, my first question to the director will be about how closely they adhere to minimum standards. If she says nothing about attempting to exceed those standards, that to me is a clear warning sign that the school is driven by profit rather than by the individual needs of each child. Good schools have well-paid teachers, low ratios, and low turnover, which enables them to handle children who need extra help with behavior or potty-training. If a school insists that children are fully potty-trained by age three, that probably means that there are too many children in the three-year-old class.

    Montessori is okay, as long as you keep in mind that there are many different types of Montessori. The one I worked at was mostly staffed by women from India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and they took a very strict approach to child management. I would not be comfortable enrolling my child at that particular school. The best school I worked at was a non-profit, community-oriented school with an inclusive philosophy (meaning special-needs children were in class alongside the neurotypical). The ratios were low, the staff and student body were diverse, and the director was focused entirely on the needs of the families rather than on fattening her own pocketbook. Children were never sent home for misbehavior (even those with severe emotional issues) or for not learning to use the potty fast enough. The downside is that the building we used was ramshackle and we relied on the community for things like art supplies and playground equipment. Still, it was the best learning environment I’ve ever worked in.

    Ultimately, the niceness of the building, the confidence of the director, and the slickness of the parent manual are not good indicators of the school’s overall quality. Low ratios, low staff turnover, and a laid-back philosophy will be the main criteria I search for when it comes time to place my own son in a preschool environment.

    Best of luck to you and your family!

    • littlez2008 says:

      Sane Mom,

      You nailed so many things in that comment. Our teacher is from Sri Lanka, apparently a place where Montessori teachers are credentialled. Who knew?

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