Thursday, October 14, 2010

Unipedes, Metal Insects, and Southanqueues: The Montessori Language Divide

Montessori school words become integrated into the child's mother tongue, but they are always a second language for parents. How does this play out in a parent's ability to understand the child's school experience?

Thank you, NOLAMom! I do miss this blog, and see how she's grown! I know it's kind of a fashion-y picture, but we're all fashion-y now, and if she could pick a photo for you to know her by, this would be the one. Nuvy is a very more-ish four-and-a-half. Silver hair ribbons to match her shoes, twirly rainbow flower skirt and twirly hair, twirling and twirling all over the piazza. Her image is heartbreakingly important to her now, and she loved how she looked on this day.

She's in her second year of the primary curriculum, and what a difference a year makes. I'm pretty sure she spent the better part of the first year "normalizing" (read, "as a forceful and challenging personality"), but this year I don't hear about her "having time out"--which phrase I am assured nobody ever uses with her, so it's curious that she persists in using it herself--I guess other kids gave that experience that name for her. Last year I heard about "time out" most days at pick up time.

This year, I am beginning to hear the words I have been listening for. "Unipedes!" she said proudly! I have spent a lot of time around children in Montessori classrooms, so the translation to "unit beads" was made almost without my noticing it, and before she ever rattled off "tinbars" and "southanqueues" (If your child comes home speaking in tongues in this way, she is talking about the bank game--very big work!).

In a school like Nuvy's, though, that experience makes me wonder what it must be like for un-trained parents. Even for those of us who stay at home and are able to volunteer at school, Montessori school can be a bit of a black box. The classroom is for the children, and parents--when they are invited in at all--are at the extreme periphery. We man the Christmas ornament project or the Thanksgiving feast. We try to be very quiet and respectful on observation days, and we try not to overstay our welcome. We understand that the classroom is for the children, and buy all the reasons why we should allow them that space, but I wonder what a parent who really has only a parent's-eye view must imagine when faced with words like "unipede", "tinbar", or "metal insect". Are these biological curiosities I have either forgotten or never learned? What are the locomotive habits of the unipede? is it terrestrial? aquatic?

Different schools have different means of addressing the Montessori language divide, and I think they are widely various in their success. Nuvy's school seems very much in the black box category. I drop her off in a car line, pick her up in a car line, and am invited to observe her in the classroom for half an hour, twice a year, and have a mid-year conference. I am invited to a curriculum program each year, and am free, of course, to ask any questions that arise.

My "old" school was not much more communicative, except from an advertising angle--but we did have curriculum tours, two curriculum programs a year (sensorial/math and practical life/language), and a kindergarten "tea", to demonstrate the value of staying for year three instead of going off to the well-regarded local public kindergarten. Parents still stayed out of the classroom and out of the curriculum, as I believe is appropriate, but it must pique the curiosity, no?

How does your school handle this?