My son, Bailey, except for first and second grades in a traditional American school in the U.S., has spent the majority of his schooling life in a Montessori classroom – even for preschool and kindergarten. He’s a textbook Montessori child – curious, self-motivated, and interested in a variety of subjects. Last June, he graduated from the fantastic school which he had been attending for the prior four years and we decided to send him to the big American School here in Japan – literally called The American School in Japan (ASIJ), which is an hour outside the city, in Chofu. The school runs many buses from downtown, but it has to be located out there in order to have the facilities (read: for sports) that an American school requires. All of the parents worry about the bus ride, but the kids actually like it. It’s like an hour-long playdate before and after school.
Montessori method is quite different from a traditional learning environment. It’s more individualized, child-centered, and independent. Children stay in the same classroom ideally with the same teacher for three years, and Bailey got one extra year out of his wonderful teacher because she moved classrooms with him. So he had the same teacher for four years. The classrooms are mixed age, and often older children teach younger ones because you never learn something so well as when you teach it to others. Montessori method also does not require homework or testing, feeling that the children work hard enough in school, and work to master concepts innately, so they do not have to assess the progress – it’s apparent. We loved it for Bailey – it was perfect for his style of learning.
But he has done quite well transitioning to the American school too – where in the middle school, he has not only one new teacher, but seven. It’s a big place and he has to use a locker, a gym locker, and a music locker for his violin. He’s enjoying it.
But there has been one stand-out consequence of the transition that we have just realized, in the fourth week of school. Bailey has never had to study for or take a test.
He had a math assessment last week and he did not tell us about it beforehand. He did okay – 80%, but not stellar. He was disappointed with himself.
“Well, did you study, Bailey?” I asked.
“I knew the material. I understood it.”
“There’s more to it than simple understanding.” This statement floored him. In the past, if he understood, it was great – he could move forward with the next thing.
So my husband and I sat down with Bailey and literally showed him how to study. It’s not enough to understand – you have to understand, take in the material, memorize it – own it – and then be able to regurgitate it in the proper format for the teacher.
We talked about various methods of studying. Some people write to learn, some people say things out loud, some people can learn by staring at the book and then asking someone to “test” them, but most work in a combination of methods, depending on the class and the type of material.
“That’s hard!” Bailey protested, when we found out that he had a health quiz the following day for
which he needed to study.
My husband, Marc, and I agreed – it is hard! And time-consuming, to boot.
Grudgingly he put in the time to write out the material he needed to learn for the health test, and then Marc tested his knowledge. Miraculously he did very well on the test!
“That studying thing really works, Mom,” he said, pleased with himself.
“Gee, ya think, Bailey?” I teased.
The whole thing was wildly interesting to Marc and me – knowing how take a test and study is one of those things we take for granted. I don’t remember “learning” it per se. And now Bailey will always know it as he works on what methodology is good for him personally. Onward and upward on this journey!