While this is the time of year when many parents and schools are preparing for their Fall registrations, when new combinations of Montessori communities are being imagined and new classrooms designed. But not all families have the option of keeping their children in Montessori throughout their school experiences. For them, this time of year may be filled with anticipation and anxiety: What will happen next?
In the world we hope to build, all children will experience learning settings that move seamless from home to school, in which their natural development is protected, in which the elegant materials of the Montessori environments are the norm and the rigid standardized focus of bubble sheets and comparisons is a distant memory. In the meantime, we need to support families as they move from Montessori into other classroom models, whether as an outcome of cost, availability or other factors.
First, don't panic. While Montessori classrooms may look very different from traditional school settings, Montessori children are equipped with exceptional resiliency and problem-solving. In Montessori, children learn to be independent, to take responsibility for their own work, to be curious and careful and precise. In Montessori, children's nature, as peaceful, collaborative and community-minded, is protected. In Montessori, children have agency and mutual respect for other learners and teachers. In other words, in Montessori, children learn how to be the kinds of students that can thrive in traditional schools. Trust that your investment in Montessori doesn't end when your child's enrollment there does.
Then, be realistic. Change is hard, even in the best of situations, and transitioning from one school to another will have its own challenges. Take the time to prepare yourself and your child for the change:
Transitioning from Montessori: Talk to your child's teacher about how to pace the conversation about your child's last year in Montessori. Are there special rituals or programs your child's school incorporates to mark these transitions? How much notice do children have about when and why these events are happening? What kind of language can you expect if your child raises the issue at school? How does the classroom teacher respond to children who may be going to different schools? Understanding both the day-to-day and the ceremonial ways in which your child's current school is helping to prepare for the change will help you to offer consistent language at home. Children who know that they are transitioning out of their schools will often move between the most challenging work they know how to do during the day and those lessons they've loved for years. Don't be surprised if your academically advanced third year student starts spending more time back in Practical Life. Trust that they will be well prepared academically for what's coming next, and be grateful that they are in a space that allows time for their emotional lives in the meantime.
Transitioning to Something Else: Most parents' concerns about transitioning to traditional school are around behavior or academics. Will my child know how to follow directions? (Yes, they've been doing so for years.) Will my child know how to make friends? (Yup, got that one covered, too.) Will my child know how to deal with adults? (Extremely well, actually.) Will be child be academically prepared? (Almost certainly.)
Rest assured: the parts of traditional school that are influenced by your child are likely to go smoothly. Montessori children are usually thoughtful, responsible, kind learners.
Will my child know what to do with a schedule that's segmented into different content areas? (Oh. Um. This might be trickier.) Will my child know what to do when they're not allowed to talk in class? (Probably not right away, tbh.) Will my child know how to handle wait times/boredom/fullgroup activities? (Honestly? It might take a little learning.)
That's where the work will be: not in whether your child has had instilled and protected in them the qualities and dispositions that are sought after in traditional school, but whether they'll understand the arbitrary structures of schools that often, frankly, don't make a lot of sense.
Thank goodness. That's the easy stuff to prepare for. Following rules in a traditional school setting, even when those rules seem illogical, is a practical life skill. Prepare your child to follow them. Make time now, when school is still in session, to visit your child's future school. Spend as much time as you can there, letting the principal or admissions person know that you are looking for the times that might be bigger changes for your child so that you can help to prepare them ahead of time: drop-off, walking in the hallway, moving through the lunch line, etc. Ask about how the day is segmented and whether children are allowed to bring books with them to read should they finish their work early (a common problem for Montessori kids.) Ask if there are teachers who enjoy working with kids who've come from Montessori or progressive school backgrounds. Engage in the PTA. Remember: in September, none of the routines of school will be established yet. If you want to see them in action before your child is learning to navigate them, you need to go now.
Build relationships and expect conversation. At school, you should think of yourself as an informed partner. Neither a client demanding services nor a passive recipient of someone else's program, but a partner. Ask how you can get involved, and make space to build a collaborative relationship with your child's new teacher and administration early. When problems arise, as they inevitably will whenever humans are involved, you are better equipped to solve them if you're working with people who you already trust and respect. At home, expect that your child will raise questions, both before they transition about what is happening and after they do about what they're experiencing. Remember: your work is not to compare your child's new experience in an overly romantic way to "when you were in Montessori," but to help equip your child to be successful in their new setting. Acknowledge their fears or questions. Answer them simply and without judgment. And offer them opportunities to make sense together. If an issue arises that's more than you can affirm or address at home, make time to talk to the teacher in a collaborative spirit to identify ways in which your child may be able to thrive within new limits.
Our end goal is the same, whether your child is in a Montessori school or a traditional one: to preserve those qualities that help your child to thrive and to instill in them what they'll need to have agency and ownership over their own futures. Trust that the small transitional stresses of moving from one system to another are predictable and manageable, especially within the context of a collaborative relationships between parent, teacher and school. And trust that the underlying causes of these stresses (that your child wants to be independent, to have agency, to remain curious, to be respected and treat others with respect, to delve deeply into new ideas, to change the world) are ones you probably want to maintain. Presume there will be bumps, and know that you can best navigate those bumps by continuing to to invest in their ability to diplomatically change the world.
(Then, while your child is at school, go advocate at your school board, write to your legislators and engage other stakeholders to bring attention to and funding for the kinds of programs that support and protect children's development. We need all the help we can get.)