Why we chose a Montessori school (and so early)

Carlotta Cerri

I’ve been telling you for a while about Oliver starting a Montessori school in October. We’ve raised him Montessori since he was born, I’ve been studying the methods, the gorgeous philosophy, the materials. I’ve made up my mind about which of those methods I want to/can apply at home and which I don’t. About where I draw the limit between being Montessori at all costs and being practical (don’t get me wrong, one doesn’t always exclude the other).

Sending Oliver to a Montessori school was an easy decision, you must think. It wasn’t.

Mostly for one reason: Montessori is expensive compared to other nurseries. I was ready to pay that amount of money for his education to enrol him in an International School when he’d turn three: English is a skill in life I want Oliver to master and as we’re raising him multilingual, we’re not able to give him the level of English I want him to have. We definitely weren’t ready to start his private education so soon.

But that was before the first and only traditional and authentic Montessori school opened here in Marbella.

Casa del Mar Montessori is the first traditional Montessori school in Marbella (finally!)

You see, many private nurseries around here label themselves Montessori: unfortunately (or luckily, I can’t decide) Montessori has become a fashion, it’s what parents seek, it’s a great selling point. But they’re not Montessori. You walk in and there’s nothing Montessori about them: as you can watch in many YouTube videos, a Montessori school is as much about the furnishing, the environment and the materials—that are carefully thought and created for the children—as it is about the philosophy and the trained teachers.

The environment enhances and complements the philosophy; it nurtures the children’s learning the way Maria Montessori intended. The teachers are the soul of it all: they are highly qualified, and they undergo a very long training to become guides—and they’re actually called “guides”, not teachers, because their job is to guide the children through the learning process, help answer questions and solve doubts, not to be the star of the room and teach while standing in front of the classroom (there’s nothing like that in Montessori).

That’s why when Casa del Mar Montessori opened in Marbella, I knew it would have been Oliver’s school. But I thought I’d enrol him when he’d turn three.

So why did we choose to enrol him already this year, at 18 months old?

Couldn’t he just go to a traditional (less expensive) nursery for a year and then move on to the Montessori school when he’d turn three?

Of course he could have. And I have considered all the recommended nurseries around here. I personally went to all of them, I talked to the principles and the teachers, and I made a list of pros and cons for each one of them. I liked some of them, and what I didn’t like wouldn’t have been a big enough reason not to send Oliver there. But then I started thinking.

Do I want Oliver to go to a nursery that doesn’t share and teach the values and principles we try so hard to teach at home? Do I want him to be in a place where they don’t give enough importance to his independence? Where they don’t trust such young kids to be able to be independent? Where he has to do what everybody else is doing when they’re doing it—singing a song, painting, dancing—instead of being free to nurture his own interests at his own time?

The 18 months old to 3 years old phase is very important and delicate

For me, the answer to all those questions was NO. The developmental phase from 18 months old to 3 years old is a critical one: Maria Montessori called it the crisis of self-affirmation, when a baby stops being a baby and transforms into a child, when he starts using the words ”no” and eventually “I” to reassert his opinion, to make sure we adults know that he’s no longer a baby and is capable of taking some decisions. For the first time in his life he’s developing his self-confidence (unlike in previous stages, when he develops confidence in the environment). If you want to read more about this developmental phase, you can read this post.

In this critical phase, I want Oliver to be in a place where they understand and accompany him the same way I would—or actually much better. I want to feel comfortable leaving him, which for me means knowing that the environment he spends half a day in meets all my expectations and shares my beliefs.

That the people who will guide him through this critical period are experts on his specific age developmental phase, and will observe him to offer him the right activity at the right time—something that interests him, and that has the right amount of challenge for him to thrive, to feel empowered without feeling frustrated (which is something that, for example, I struggle at home when I think of activities to do with him or toys to buy for him).

Mixing age groups nurtures compassion, humility and cooperation

Last, but not least, another huge reason was the age groups. All the nurseries I went to here in Marbella are very strict on keeping children the same age together: they have 0-1, 1-2 and 2-3 year old groups and younger children rarely interact with older ones, and viceversa.

If I have a choice, I wouldn’t choose that for Oliver. I love the Montessori concept where children are in wider age groups: Oliver will be with children his own age, with 2 year-olds and with nearly 3 year-olds. They’ll all share the same room, toys and activities. He’ll look up to and learn from the older kids, and eventually he’ll help the younger ones. I love that! I think it’s healthy, it will challenge him and teach him compassion, humility and cooperation.

Montessori is simply the best choice for us

If Casa del Mar hadn’t opened here in Marbella, I would have surely found a nursery I like, maybe one of those that label themselves Montessori, and I’m sure both Oliver and I would have been ok with it.

But I would have always kept dreaming about Oliver having the possibility to go to a traditional Montessori school and starting his educational path with such strong values and principles—the same values and principles I came to appreciate and love over the last two years, when my journey as a mother began.

I’ll leave you with some lovely photos that my friend and talented photographer Megan Brown Martinez of MeramarIMAGES took of the Montessori school Casa del Mar during an Open House day. Soon we’ll be able to add some photos with the kids in action… can’t wait!

If you want to know more about Casa del Mar, please take a look here. Here you’ll also find a more descriptive article about the school and more photos by Megan.

UPDATE: Casa del Mar Montessori changed location and expanded: I am so proud of the owner and principal Ruth Coca for giving Marbella a traditional Montessori school with an elementary program, so kids can continue the Montessori education till 12 years old.

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