Cost of Montessori Education

I don’t like to use my blog to rant, but this might be close. We never planned on sending Baby D to preschool. We can teach him to count and read and PutThingsBackCarefully. Then I got to thinking maybe half days in a Montessori Infant Community would be beneficial and not take him away for too long. Then I saw the price. I knew Montessori schools were expensive. I didn’t realize half day preschool would cost over $9,000 per year. That is slightly more than in-state tuition at our state college. Full day preschool is over $13,000, as is Primary. Elementary is $14,000. This school is fully recognized by AMI and looks to be just what we would choose if Baby D did go to school. I understand that teachers must be paid a living wage, schools must carry a lot of insurance, and materials cost quite a bit. But do the operating costs of the school really add up to $9,000, $13,000, or $14,000 per child per year? The first Casa dei Bambini was in a tenement. Dr. Montessori made the materials herself. How did Montessori education go from serving the poorest children to courting families who either can afford to pay that much for pre-school and elementary school or are willing to go into debt? How can we make Montessori education available to a wider community? Peace through education can not come about if so few people are included. Do we need non-profit, donation supported schools? Volunteer teachers? How do we accomplish this?


Exciting Proposal for Public Schools in My State

In an effort to improve the quality of public education, my state is entertaining proposals for changes in the very structure of the system. I am quite excited about one proposal in particular– doing away with grade levels and allowing students to move on to new material once proficiency in previously covered material has been shown. As one district superintendent put it:

“I feel like our system locks students into spending 12 years in school, when some students might be ready for their next challenge in a shorter time frame. It also makes sense financially. Some students may need more than 12 years and some may need significantly less.”

Yes! This step is one of the changes I have wanted to see in public schools for years. Why promote students based on age instead of mastery of material? It seems that this change would lead to improved outcomes– students get as much time as individually needed to learn each concept, and are allowed to move on when they are ready instead of when the “unit” is completed. No more pushing some students ahead before adequate understanding is reached, resulting in frustration and decreased understanding of more advanced material. No more holding students back from the next step when they have understood the preceding material, resulting in boredom and loss of excitement about learning.

My opinion of the public school system in the U.S. has been that equal access to education for all is a noble concept, but structural change to the system is necessary before the goal can be reached. This change would be a very positive step in rebuilding a functional public education system. I dearly hope this proposal is adopted.



In Gratitude For Public Libraries

Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.  —Anne Herbert

I would like to take a moment to say thanks… for public libraries. Public libraries give all people access to the wealth of human understanding without asking anything in return. Obscure and out of print books, books too expensive for most people to own, books on any and every subject one could desire to learn about are freely lent for only a promise to bring them back. This is extraordinary! The support of a public library is one of the most important things a community can do and thankfully is a high priority. The existence of such wonderful places, though, seems to imply a responsibility for those of us blessed enough to have access to the books, music, journals, museum passes and such that the library provides. We have no excuse for not continually seeking self improvement. If we fund libraries through our taxes and then never use them we are impoverishing ourselves on a human level.

 A man who I belive to be a hero of educational philosophy, Mortimer Adler, educated himself at the New York Public Library after dropping out of school to go to work at the age of fourteen. He went on to become the only person to earn a doctorate degree from Columbia University without having the benefit of a bachelor’s degree, and then went on to dedicate his life to making a liberal education as widely possessed as possible. He founded the Great Books movement and contributed to the compilation of the Great Books of the Western World series, which put most of the most influential western books up until his time in one set– many of them accessible to the masses for the first time. None of this would have happened without the public library.

Residing quietly in our cities are repositories of the seeds of greatness. Libraries are unassuming places, never ostentatious, not resorting to flashy lights and catchy jingles to lure patrons. The library is there waiting to welcome all who desire knowledge and to share freely the wealth contained therein; jewels laid bare for the taking– jewels with the remarkable property of belonging to all who desire them and having the capacity to be possessed fully by many at once. There is great treasure available to us for the asking, the only price being the effort we put forth to acquire this treasure. Thank you, fellow citizens, for funding the public library. You are doing an immeasurable service to humanity.


Engaging the Sensitive Period for Language

According to Montessori, there are “sensitive periods” in which the child is intensely interested in and ideally suited to learn different skills. The earliest and longest lasting of these is the sensitive period for language, lasting from birth to age six. Doman also speaks of the incredible ease of learning language in this period, although he caps the range at age five. Others say that native-level fluency is most easily attained between birth and age three, with the window of ease closing around six or seven years of age. There is a general agreement, however, that earlier is easier when it comes to learning language.

We are fully utilizing this sensitive period with baby D. In addition to the reading cards, we make sure that he hears several languages spoken every day. His dad reads to him in Russian. One of the Russian language books we have is  Voyage of the Dawn Treader from the Chronicles of Narnia series.

I read French language children’s books aloud– this gives me a chance to work on correct pronunciation, also. Our public library has a small but well stocked foreign language section in the children’s department. Here is what we have currently:

It is important to us that he hear language spoken correctly. While his dad has near native level fluency in Russian and Arabic, and very respectable Mandarin, I have what I learned in high school french class. So I am listening to as much spoken French as I can, exposing baby D to recorded spoken French, and pronouncing what I read to him as carefully as I can. We are very happy to be able to open up the world of language for baby D. It will be fascinating to see how his understanding of multiple languages develops.

Next Step In Reading… and Russian!

The next step in using the Doman method to teach baby D to read is to add in two more sets of words, so that he will be seeing a total of twenty-five words every day. Now we are focusing on parts of the body. These are our first two sets of body words:


He will see these words several times, as well as the three sets of words we have been using. Starting tomorrow I will remove one word from all of the old sets and replace it with a new word. Each day thereafter one old word from each set will be replaced. I make sure to change the order of the words each time they are shown so that there is no association of the words based on pattern. This may seem like quite an ambitious program for so young a child, but Doman says that the child at this age assimilates information as fast as we can provide it, and that it is far more likely for a child to lose interest because of boredom from moving too slowly rather than to become overwhelmed with too much. Each session only lasts a few seconds– long enough to briefly show each card and say the words. We spend a total of a few minutes per day “playing the word game”. I figure if it works, great, and if not then no harm has been done and we’ve spent some time interacting. Before beginning each session I make sure I choose a time when baby D is alert and in a good mood. I then say either “I have some words to show you!” in an excited tone, or “would you like to play the word game?”. He often smiles and makes vocalizations when I offer the words. I think he enjoys it.

Baby D is lucky enough to have a multi-lingual father. He has been hearing several languages since birth, and will be given the opportunity to learn to read them as well. Today my husband will begin showing him Russian words. Here are his word cards:

Just like with the English words, my husband will begin by showing baby D one set of words, adding another the next day, and another the third day. He will show all of them for five days before beginning to drop an old word and add a new word every day.

One of the attractive things about this method is that there is no pressure to do everything perfectly. Doman stresses that the parent should always present words with a positive attitude, and take care to make sure that the child is in a good mood and wants to see the words. He also says that even a reading program implemented imperfectly can not help but benefit the child– no need to be obsessive about doing everything precisely the right way. There is no pressure on the child. Reading is a delightful gift, a key that unlocks the treasures of learning. Any attitude of compulsion or drudgery is anathema to this method. If this works, this will be a very pleasant way to learn to read.

Adventures in Learning to Read

We began today to use the Doman method to teach baby D to read. Glenn Doman, through his work with brain injured children starting in the 1950’s, found that it was possible and natural for very young children to learn to read, and that some parents had been doing just that for a long time. Just as the child learns to speak his or her native language effortlessly by exposure to the sound of the spoken language, so the child  learns to read by exposure to written language. His method was popularized in the 1970’s with the publication of How to teach Your Baby to Read. The method is simple: show the child large, clearly written words and tell the child what the words are. He suggests beginning with fifteen “first words” that are familiar to the child– mommy, daddy, the child’s name, names of relatives, familiar items in the child’s environment, favorite activities– written on 6″ by 24″ cards. They are very large so that the child can see them easily and clearly. Over time the vocabulary progresses to body parts, household items, verbs, and other words needed to make complete sentences. The cards the words are written on get progressively smaller over time, so that eventually the child is reading standard sized print in a book.

The book How to teach Your Baby to Read is brief but informative. The first part of the book addresses that it is possible to teach a very young child to read and why one would want to begin that early. The second part of the book covers making materials and the progression of vocabulary. It is highly unusual to begin teaching reading this early, I know, so I will let Mr. Doman speak for himself:

“When we began to study the literature on the subject intensively we were impressed by four facts:

1. The history of teaching little children to read was not new and indeed stretches back for centuries.

2. Often people generations apart do the same things although for different reasons and philosophies.

3. Those who had decided to teach young children to read had all used systems which, although they varied somewhat in technique, had many common factors.

4. Most importantly, in all of the cases we were able to find where small children were taught to read in the home, everyone who tried succeeded, no matter what the method.”  How to teach Your Baby to Read, pp.55-56

“The question as to when to begin to teach a child to read is a fascinating one. When is the child ready to learn anything?… Beyond two years of age, reading gets harder every year. If your child is five, it will be easier than it would be if he were six. Four is easier still, and three is even easier. One year of age is the best time to begin if you want to expend the least amount of time and energy in teaching your child to read. (Should you be willing to go to a little trouble you can begin at eight months or if you are very clever at three months of age.” How to teach Your Baby to Read, pp. 104-105                     

“If you start your child at one year old or before, he may not yet talk, or say only ‘mommy’ and one or two other words. It is quite possible to be able to read before one is able to speak. We have seen thousands of children who can read thousands of words who can not yet talk.Among adults it is almost always true that an adult can read a great deal more of a new language than he can understand of that language through his ear. Remember that a baby is learning a new language.Let us suppose that you have decided to teach your six-month-old child to read. Absolutely fine, go right ahead. Do it exactly in the same manner in which you would teach a child who talks. It will be easier for the six-month-old but more difficult for you… Remember reading is not talking. We adults are apt to think the two are the same thing. This is both unfortunate and unwise. Tiny children are capable of reading before they can talk. A six-month-old can not say his name yet but he can most definitely recognize the reading card with his name on it if he has been shown it frequently… The fact that your child may be too young to speak or may not wish to say his reading words does not negate the fact that you are increasing and enriching his language by teaching him to read. Indeed such investments in teaching the baby to read will speed his talking and broaden his vocabulary. Remember that language is language, whether transmitted to the brain via the eye or via the ear.” How to Teach Your Baby to Read, pp.123-124        


We want learning to always be natural and pleasurable for baby D. While it is certainly possible to learn to read at the traditional “school age”, it is not as easy at that age and often proves a frustration to children and colors the perception of learning and reading throughout childhood and maybe even into adulthood. The aim of early reading is not to make the child more “advanced”, but to ensure that learning is a delight rather than drudgery.

Here are our first sets of cards:

The first set of words. Baby D's name is also in this set to make five words.

The second set of words also includes the names of two family members, again to total five words.


The third set of five words.

Baby D, just because.

A Word A Day

Those familiar with Glenn Doman know he insists that the easiest time to teach a child to read is in the years before he or she is school age. He says it is easier to teach a child to read at four than at five, at three than at four, at two than at three, and at one than at two. He says that once a child is five or six years old, the window for ease of learning has passed, and while it is possible to teach reading once a child is of an age to be in school, it will not be done as quickly or as painlessly as it could have been done earlier. My parents were not familiar with Doman or his work, but they did teach me to read early. They just saw it as part of a natural progression, and not something unusual or mysterious. I believe that their approach gave reading consistently positive associations for me, and avoided the stress that is often part of learning to read in school.

Interestingly, they say that they did not actively teach me letters. They just happened to watch Wheel of Fortune in the evenings, and they say that I was fascinated by it and learned the letters by seeing Vanna turn them. I do not remember this. My father points out that Wheel of Fortune uses an almost ideal teaching method– someone clearly says the letter, then the letter is shown. Eventually someone reads what the letters spell. They did not realize that I was making connections between written letters, their sounds, and words until one day I looked at the cover of a baby book and said “B-A-B-Y. Baby!” My mother was shocked, because no one had gone over letter sounds or making words with me. Thanks, Pat and Vanna.

This falls right in with Doman’s theory. He says that when very young children are shown written words, and when those words are pronounced clearly, the child will begin to figure out the sounds associated with letters on his or her own. This is why he advocates using the whole word method with babies and moving to phonics when children are older. Phonics are essential– he just contends that older children are more suited to phonetic learning, and that children who were introduced to words as young babies will have much of it figured out and have an easier time learning phonics when they are older.

The next thing my parents did, and something common to many parents, was to label things in the house so that I could see the words. So at one time a visitor to our house would have been greeted with helpful signs: “chair”, “table”, “wall”, “cabinet” etc. There was even a label on the ceiling.

Once the household words were old hat, my father began doing something that I think helped me tremendously in building vocabulary and learning how to spell. Every day he brought me a new word written on an index card. My job was to learn the meaning of the word and how to spell it by the next day. Upon demonstrating that I knew the word and its spelling I was given a new one. This was a delightfully fun game, and I waited eagerly each day for my new word. This ‘word a day’ game laid a broad vocabulary foundation for me which gave me much more confidence once I got to school. My father says that he could have started bringing me words earlier, he just didn’t think of it until I was almost four years old.

Doman would agree– children can learn written words from the time they are babies! And new words don’t have to be introduced one at a time. The younger a child is, Doman contends, the faster the child learns and the more– and more quickly– words can be introduced. A child who reads early is not more gifted than a child who does not read early. The early reader has just been given the tools to be able to do so. I am really grateful to my parents for providing an environment that was conducive to learning to read naturally and painlessly. I am excited about providing the same opportunity for my child from infancy.

The Classroom of Life

Here is a link to a post on the blog The Parenting Construction Site explaining the Montessori classroom in action. The Montessori classroom prepares children for competency in life. Please check it out!

Preparing Children for the Classroom Called “Life”

Education and Personhood

One of the highest priorities for me as I anticipate the birth of my child is his or her education. I believe that a real education grants access to the collected discoveries and achievements of mankind. It also invites one to further those discoveries and achievements. This has been called entering in to the “great conversation” that links those who lived before with those living now and those who will live in the future. Essentially, a person who has been given access to education enters fully into the human experience.

That all sounds abstract, and I am interested in the concrete methods and benefits of offering my child a chance to become an educated person. Mortimer Adler said that to become an educated person is a lifelong endeavor, and a diploma is not the end, but merely a recognition that one has the tools needed to be a lifelong learner. To think that education is accomplished by the age of eighteen or twenty-two, he asserts, is to accept an emaciated imposter and to miss out on the real and beautiful original. Working from this view I see clearly that I am not an educated person, and my desire to pursue authentic education over the course of my lifetime is ignited. I also see that my experience in American public schools did not prepare me to be a life long learner, or even seek to foster that desire.

Unfortunately, the goal of K-12 schooling seems always to be to get into college. The goal of college seems to be to get a good job. I have nothing against employment, but when this is the main focus of sixteen or more years of one’s life it becomes an impoverished end. Shouldn’t the main focus of schooling, from early childhood through graduate school, be the development of the person?

Free and equal public education is a noble idea. Sadly, the education system in place where I live is not living up to that worthy goal. I truly believe that my time in the public schools stunted me intellectually and socially, and I have spent years undoing the damage. I can not in good conscience entrust the formation of my child’s mind and character to a system that I believe to be deeply flawed. What, then, are the alternatives? Private and parochial schools have much the same structure as the public schools. Some may be more rigorous, but they are based on the same system. I would consider a Montessori school, but the cost is very often prohibitive. I do not know much about Waldorf schools, but they do intrigue me and I will investigate them further. As of right now I am planning to take responsibility for my child’s education on myself. This does not mean that I think I am an extraordinary teacher, or that I have all of the answers. I do believe that I can provide my child with a better philosophy of education and the goal of human life than traditional schools. Due to the sad outcomes for high school graduates, I feel that I can afford my child a better chance at academic proficiency than can a public school.

I do want the public schools to improve. Unfortunately whenever education reform is discussed the answer seems to be to increase the education budget and/or increase classroom time. Spending more time and more money on the same flawed system will not improve results for students. I can not gamble with something as vital as my child’s education. I hope the public school system is one day improved, but I believe that will only happen once more and more families opt out.

I don’t like the term “home schooling”, because to me it implies that learning best takes place in a school and that school is being replicated at home. I believe the opposite: learning is an essential and natural part of life and schools exist to make it easier to provide large groups of people with access to that essential and natural learning. A school is a tool, not an end in itself. So, I prefer to say that I will take full responsibility for my child’s education. There are many curricula available for “home schooling” families, most of which I don’t like. I had decided to build my own curriculum, but then I found the Great Books Academy and its sister program the Angelicum Academy. Both programs are essentially the same, the Great Books Academy being secular and the Angelicum Academy being Catholic. The difference is that the Angelicum Academy adds Catholic materials to the curriculum. The core remains the same, based on a “good books” literature program for younger students and a great books program for high school. The core program was designed in conjunction with Mortimer Adler. This is the kind of curriculum I was hoping to put together, but I would not have been able to come up with something nearly as good or thorough. I am currently reading through the whole curriculum so that I can make an informed decision as to whether this is the route I want to take with my child’s education. I can say, though, that finding this curriculum brought real hope to me.

Has anyone out there found a good educational alternative? What works for you?

Babies and Reading and Math, Oh My!

      The Doman method. This topic inspires heated debate among parents and child development specialists. Is it developmentally appropriate to teach young babies to read, identify quantity, perform equations, recognize hundreds of “bits of intelligence” and learn facts about them? Is it safe or worthwhile to begin a program of physical development soon after birth? Is it safe or even effective to teach infants to swim?

      My gut instinct is to say yes it is possible– as evidenced by the many children actually doing these things–, and that as long as it is not forced or turned into a high pressure demand for the child to progress at a certain rate or perform on cue for the gratification of parents, worth trying. Glenn Doman and his daughter Janet Doman, authors of various books on the topic and directors of the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia, say that learning is and must always be a joyful experience for the child and for the parent. They contend that if information is presented joyfully– I really like that description– the child will learn effortlessly and be eager for more. They stress that the parent should always end a session before the child wants to, so that the child is always excited for more. In this way, they say, a very young child can learn to read, do math, have “encyclopedic knowledge”– which really is just broad knowledge– learn multiple languages, perform gymnastics, and really anything the parent and the child find interesting and enjoyable. They say that as much or as little time as you want to devote to teaching your child, as many or as few areas you want to cover, you can’t go wrong because spending joyful, loving time with your child teaching them exciting things is always good.

      I plan to use the Doman method with my child. My view is that to try it and find that it is not what I was hoping is better than to dismiss it without trying. So our child will have a crawling track from birth, we will introduce words when it seems appropriate (3 months seems to be a common time), then quantity, then “bits of intelligence” (cards with pictures of specific objects). I want to see where this goes and if my child derives any benefit from the program. As always, I’d rather give it a try then skip it because it seems unusual.

      I also very much appreciate the phrase “professional mothers” that the Domans use. Really there are professional mothers and professional fathers. The term refers to parents who devote the same time and energy to teaching their children as professionals in other fields devote to their careers. I like the respect for the seriousness of parents that this term conveys. To be a professional mother or father is a far cry from being “just a mom” or “just a dad”!

      Anyone who has experience with this system, positive or negative, is welcome to share the experience. I’d love to hear from others who have tried this!