After much debating and weighing pros and cons, we are going ahead with the switch to Montessori school for Eva. Along with a more central location (because I don't think we'll always live so far north in Ramsey) and $2k a year in money savings she'll also have a friend at the school! She'll start at the MN Renaissance School in two weeks and I'm really hoping that the transition goes smoothly. I took a tour during the school day and then we went back for an open house and Eva had the chance to "work" at some of the things in her future classroom. She seemed to really enjoy the challenge and the teacher was very engaging.
For anyone not familiar with the difference between Montessori and traditional preschool (which was me until a few weeks ago) here are some points:
1) Multi-age, family-like grouping. In a Montessori program, 3-6 year-olds are together in one class, and each child stays with the same teacher for a 3-year cycle. The younger ones benefit from observing the older children; the older children act as mentors. Children can develop at their own pace: the classroom will have materials appropriate for 3-year olds and for 7-year olds.
2) A deliberate selection of Montessori activities, and not the typical lego-blocks-barbie-trucks toys you have at home anyway. Over decades of experimentation, Dr. Montessori identified an assortment of learning materials, which share a few key characteristics: Children love to engage with them over and over again; by working with them, children learn certain skills - such as careful observation, hand strength, the ability to distinguish musical tones, the shapes of the letters, counting; the materials build sequentially, enabling children to progress from one to the next as their abilities evolve; they are self-correcting, so children can work independently of adults and learn to problem-solve on their own.
3) A long, unstructured, child-led "work period" - as against the typical adult-led schedule of 30 minutes of this, followed by 30 minutes of that (e.g., circle time, crafts, snack, outside time, story time etc.) In a Montessori school, children have 2-3 hours each morning and afternoon to pursue what interest them - and the adults respect and encourage this child-led exploration. Thus, children develop real interests - and learn to expand their attention span through chosen, self-directed activities.
The other big change that Montessori will pose is the switch to NO nap. Nervous mom here! She can take a nap if needed, but she's actually having such trouble getting to bed at night that I'm hoping by cutting out a daytime nap, she'll actually be tired by bedtime and sleep a good 12 hours at night.
This is a common scene in our house; she knows better than to come all the way downstairs but she'll venture out of bed after we think she's asleep and wind up on the stairs!
All prayers and crossed fingers welcome :-)