From Montessori to Public Kindergarten: What is a Good Start for Kids?

My child is about to finish their first year in public school, and I already feel that they’re regressing in progress from their previous Montessori education.
Written by
Kim Le
Published on
April 16, 2024

Children are Brilliant

Our child attended private preschool like a lot of kids these days because their parents both had to work, like most kids’ parents do. We lucked out that their first school experience was in an accredited Montessori classroom. During the pandemic, their preschool gave them a sense of normalcy during two years of anything but normal.

Having never been exposed to Montessori before, I was amazed by what the teachers were able to get toddlers to do and understand at such a young age. What was evident to me was that children are brilliant if we give them the appropriate environment to shine. Too often with adults, children are misunderstood. They can do so much more when they are given the support, guidance, and tools to make their own way.

We saw our kid talk about forming a government, issuing currency, and arresting the werewolves causing unrest in the town. We saw them bringing home maps of the world where they can name all of the continents and where they were on the globe. We saw them learn numbers and letters before they knew how to use the toilet. All along the way they were learning manners, emotional regulation, and how to share, be kind, and yet firm in who they were. They learned how to interact with kids their age starting with parallel play and evolving to working collaboratively on multi-week projects. They weren’t in school. They were in an environment that had let them excel.

Public School is A Step Back

Fast forward two years and we make the logical, economical decision that most parents make when their kids enter kindergarten. We pull them out of private school. We send them to public school. We knew that the curriculum would be behind their previous schooling but we were surprised to learn by how much. They are learning concepts they had started learning two years ago in private school. We had aimed to supplement with additional extracurricular activities, but the results have been a mixed bag with some programs being exceptionally good while others are mediocre at best. With the lack of regulation and accreditation for private after school programs, it’s a wonder how any parent figures out which supplement is good and which is not.

Despite our investment of time, it was beginning to feel like that extra effort didn’t amount to as much as that $50,000 we spent annually on the private school they were attending.

One-on-One Instruction Is Still Superior

So by now, we’ve tried:

  • Private School
    • Results: high price tag, excellent results, small social circle
    • Parent Effort: Both parents worked full-time with limited involvement in the child’s schooling.
  • Public School + After-school Supplements  
    • Results: highly cost efficient, time consuming, mixed to subpar results, wide social diversity.
    • Parent Effort: One parent works full time and the other part-time. Some involvement in child’s schooling, but predominantly socially driven like play dates and community events.
  • Any Type of School + 1-on-1 Parent Instruction
    • Results: best academic results, high stress and tension at home, limited social time (fewer social plans),owest cost outside of time investment.
    • Parent Effort: One parent works full time and the other part-time. Scaled back after school supplements.

The last option, where we dedicated significant one-on-one time with our child, by far yielded the best results. This happened during various periods: the height of COVID’s shutdown, between school transitions, and at various points during the school year in short bursts.

The parental instruction took many forms. Sometimes I assigned homework while I worked and provided assistance as we worked side by side. We played interactive educational games together. We would discuss a television program we watched together. Sometimes those programs were educational like the history of evolution, and sometimes the program was not like Project Runway but still created worthwhile discussion. Then we would have direct one-on-one tutoring with a textbook and activity sheets. Whether in private or public school, the additional parental time instead of after or before school care has yielded better results.

With the abundance of teaching materials on Amazon, high quality educational video content online, and websites selling all ranges of school curriculums, one-on-one tutoring yields the best academic results (for those parents who can provide it). It allows for tailored education to focus on the child’s weak points while pushing forward where they demonstrate competency. By blending together teacher feedback on school performance with supplemental education at home, we were able to see immediate results. The verdict is clear to us: education has to continue, if not begin, at home.

An Overtaxed System

While we critique here the results from public school and the high price tag of private school, we also want to take the time to appreciate how taxing both systems are.

The plight of public school is lack of funding

Money is spent on administration, buildings, and Scholastic books, but money isn’t spent on the basics. We see teachers using their own money to buy things for the classroom and sometimes for the kids. Families help by donating from time to time, but aren’t able to keep up with what the kids need. When kids are sent to school missing something for the day, it’s the teachers that step in to fill the gaps. They don’t get paid enough or are appreciated enough for what they do.

Private school have high price tags, and high operating costs

Mandated regulations meant to keep children safe in commercial care settings make childcare expensive. High tuition costs And when enrollment levels are low, private schools can teeter on the edge of bankruptcy, despite high tuition costs, because of the large capital costs: from leasing and maintaining buildings to investing in teachers and marketing to recruit new students. The cost to make private school viable as a business also makes the education unaffordable to most families.

We Do More, To Get Less

The end result is that parents, children, and communities have to do more to get less. They pay more for schools, taxes, and extracurricular activities hoping to set children on a increasingly competitive path from a global talent pool, new AI tools and shrinking white collar job prospects.

Trade and vocational schools are becoming more attractive alternatives to the corporate desk jobs for the masses. On the other end of the spectrum, machine learning scientists, venture capitalists, and founders are shooting off into the future making and spending billions of dollars on AI humanoids, blockchain technology, rockets in outer space, meta-verse headsets, and anti-aging bio-hacks. It’s not surprising that kids today want to become influencers. Instinctively they understand how hard their career path options are, and we as a nation are not doing much to help correct their trajectory.

The failure of the social framework leaves children and their parents to fend for themselves. Parents who aspire for their kids to compete for the next generation’s best jobs are going to invest time, money, and their own dreams to give their children a shot, regardless of how poorly placed that investment is. We are no exception.

Hitting the Library

We’re not teachers, and we’re not amongst the best of the best of the talent pool. We don’t know what will help our child get ahead. We’ll try pretty much anything and everything. In addition to that, what we do know is that avid readers with a deep well of knowledge to tap into tend to figure out things for themselves. Humans have been able to achieve what we have as a species succeeded at: building on the works of our predecessors. If that has worked for tens of thousands of years, it’s probably not a bad bet now.

Hopefully, we’re wrong about the future. That the kids are going to be kids, and they will be resilient and brilliant enough to carve their own path into an unknown future. In the mean time, I’m going to swing by the library to stock up on more books, just in case they don’t.

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