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Montessori Memory

November, 2010
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I am the mother of two Montessori “children” and was a Montessori teacher. I am pleased that now, as the Head of School, I have two teachers who are also Montessori mothers! Many young women “discover” Montessori when they are looking for excellent and loving care for their children. As the child grows and learns, the mother becomes interested in Montessori education. Some mothers make a career change. They go off to take Montessori teacher education training. The mothers are drawn to Montessori education by how much their children enjoy learning and are curious about how this happens!

mss-jd-family-sI interviewed the children of these mothers. One mother is from the United States and her daughter completed 3rd grade in a Montessori school there. “Zella” has just turned nine since coming to Shanghai. My other mother, also a teacher at my school, is from China, but fluent in English, having lived in the US for 8 years. She is married to an American. Her children are Whitney and Everest. The last mother is me. My son, Scout, now all grown up, is visiting from the US. I thought it would be interesting to see what he remembered from so many years ago! My picture includes both of my sons as they were both students at a Montessori school.


Judy: What do you remember from Primary class when you were 3-6 years old?

Whitney: I remember the Metal Insets because I could make beautiful pictures using the shapes from geometry to trace the outline of a circle or square or triangle. I could overlay one shape on the other and color the picture any way I wanted. My mom has put some of these pictures in my “baby book” because she loves them and wants to keep them forever.

Everest: I loved the Big Bead Frame, which is like an abacus, because I learned how to count really big numbers on it! It also helped me understand how to add and borrow when doing addition and subtraction.

Zella: I love to read! I learned how to do that at school when I was little. I used to read chapter books and picture books at school. Now I love to read by myself at night because that is the quiet time in my house. I still have a great time snuggling up with my mom and reading to her. I liked learning new things, for example learning how to do addition and subtractions of fractions with the fraction materials because I could see and understand how I got the right answer every time!

Scout: I remember the Pink Tower, the 10 cubes based on the metric system, and how much fun it was to build the tall tower with all the cubes mixed up. The teachers never said it was “wrong”. Then my friends and I would reassemble it so that the biggest cube would be on the bottom and the tiniest one would be on the top of all the rest. The teacher took pictures of it both ways!

Whitney: I remember all the works that had water. I like learning how to wash a table or spraying the leaves on our class plants, wiping the dust off. I tried so hard to be careful. I liked doing a good job and felt happy when I did.

Everest: All the things in the classroom and on the shelves are so interesting! You can touch them and pick them up. I loved the games and playtime because everyone was treated fairly. In the classroom, I really liked the “no talking table” in the junior class (6-9 year olds) because you could concentrate and there were no interruptions.

Zella: One of my favorite Montessori works was the Pink Tower because each cube is a different size. I also liked the Hundred Board because it helped me learn how to count. I liked learning about division and what it really means. The materials make it so easy to understand. I enjoyed practicing division. I know that sounds weird, but the math materials really helped me see what math was all about.

Scout: I remember the Sandpaper letters and learning the sounds that the letters make, and I remember the golden bead 1000 cube and how we tried to look inside to count all the 1000 little beads! We never could but that didn’t stop us from trying every time!mss-1-fs

Judy: What do you remember about the playground?

Scout: I remember that the teachers wanted us to be safe in the classroom and on the playground. We discussed the rules before we went out to play and helped make them up together. The older children helped make the games “fair” because we were the leaders and we wanted to be good leaders, especially for the younger children.


Judy: Did you have any trouble adjusting to your new school when you left Montessori? 

Scout: I left Montessori when I was 14 years old. By then, the school had taught me how to behave around girls, how to be nicer to my parents even though I was a teenager, and how to study efficiently. In high school I missed my friends because many of us had been together since we were 3 years old. Today, I still occasionally see these friends from years ago. It is like we have never been apart. Sometimes we talk about the field trips we had or how we all learned to ski together, or the parts we had in our school plays. We laugh a lot!

Everest: In my Montessori school I felt I was free the whole time. I felt in control of my life because I could move around, decide on what to do, manage my time and do my “work schedule”. The teachers helped all the children make a schedule so we could plan the work we did each day. Now I am in a Chinese school. There are 35 minutes of work and 10 minutes of recess all day long, and someone else manages my time and my work. Sometimes I want to go out to play and sometimes I don’t want to, but we always do everything together. Now that I know the two systems, I like the “free time” more because this made me feel responsible. My mom and dad tell me that being responsible is like being an adult.

Whitney: At Montessori I did my work and there wasn’t any “homework”. Well, there was homework but it didn’t feel like homework! I had to read and do math then but now I have lots and lots of homework in my Chinese school. It isn’t much fun. I do homework all day now, in school and at home. My mom says that it takes a lot of time and hard work to learn to read and write Chinese but that I must do this when I am young.

Everest: In a Chinese school, the teachers throw the lessons at you and everybody gets the same stuff. In Montessori the teachers want you to understand what you are learning, but in my Chinese school, you have to memorize a lot of things. I am glad that my mom and dad can help me at home!mss-violet-s


At authentic Montessori schools, the quality of a child’s life is the most important thing. Everyday children are encouraged to learn and be responsible, whether it is by caring for a small living thing like a classroom plant, or caring for each other while on the playground. We teach children to take turns and they end up sharing and being generous with each other and those around them. We try to have children understand what we are teaching and help them to understand the world around them.

The results of a Montessori education have a positive and profound effect on children and their parents. It is a joy to work with these children. The effect on some mothers is also positive and profound. It can change their lives forever: they are then not only mothers, but become teachers in their child’s Montessori school.

And that is how the children came to Shanghai with their Montessori mothers.

By Judy Townsend,

Head of School at Montessori School of Shanghai

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  1. December 9th, 2011 at 16:12 | #1