A Solo Mom’s experience with Montessori preschool
Choosing a preschool for your toddler can be daunting. The Montessori method has many benefits for the young, curious child of a Solo Mom, but along with its many positive attributes, there are several factors that may create some difficulty, including tuition cost, inclusivity, and neighborhood location.
Respect for the child
The Montessori method is for children aged three to 12 and founded on “independence, freedom within limits, and a respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social development.” I spoke with Solo Mom Daniela Zollo about the experience she and her two sons had at their Montessori preschool.
“I am Italian. Maria Montessori [the founder of the Montessori method] was the first woman with a medical degree in Italy. She was also a Solo Mom, and her methods have been adopted in all preschools and elementary schools back home. The various preschools I visited (in New York) were either too competitive, aiming at kids playing piano and experimenting in biochemistry by age four, or too strict. When I found my children’s Montessori preschool, I fell in love with the teachers and all the people working there. My children were welcomed, loved, understood, and treated as little persons. This is definitely a staple of the Montessori philosophy. If you have to leave your child for many hours a day, make sure you leave him or her with people you would like to spend time with yourself. In retrospect, that is good advice I would give anyone.”
Zollo’s experience with the teachers and staff is applied widely throughout Montessori schools. I asked Zollo if her children flourished personally and academically at the preschool they attended. She had no hesitation. “Absolutely; both of them [flourished]. They are very different and have very different personalities and learning styles, but in Montessori, they learned social skills and how to take care of themselves and their environment. Chores have an educational value for Montessori children. I learned that together with my children. It was awesome. They went in as toddlers and came out as little persons.”
Zollo had concerns over whether her children would have had the same experiences in a traditional preschool environment. Her main issue with traditional schooling was large class size, creating a lack of individuality for students. “My kids are growing up with large personalities, and I think it’s due to the Montessori school they attended.” Attending a school with a smaller class size is always ideal, but with wait lists and tuition prices soaring, how does a Solo Mom compete?
The financial aspect
The financial costs associated with a private school like Montessori can be enough to deter many two-adult family households, and finding solutions can be slim without family support or additional help for Solo Moms. Zollo’s father was able to help her burden the cost of the enormous price tag. “Preschools in NYC are all ridiculously expensive. My father saved the money he didn’t give me to go to college (I had a free ride) and paid for my sons’ preschool. It’s outrageous. My younger son had health issues that affected his development, so it was vital for him to be in a good, supportive, warm, and familiar environment. . . .”
Barter. Another suggestion for Solo Moms to consider is bartering. Says Zollo: “In New York City, Montessori schools are private entities, and you can offer to work for the school. Offer your services no matter what they are—a school needs a cleaning crew, an accountant, a lawyer, and teachers—in exchange for a reduced tuition or free tuition.”
Pay up front. Another option, one that is likely not affordable for most single-parent families, would be to pay up front. Zollo explained that some schools give discounts if you pay the entire year’s tuition up front or in two installments. It’s a huge expense and would likely be a detractor for Solo Moms on tight budgets.
Consider location. Zollo offered another suggestion: find a school in a neighborhood that’s not gentrified. In her experience, tuition prices are driven by real estate. “You could have a great school with awesome teachers, but in a less desirable neighborhood, you would be able to afford it.” This may be a fantastic option for some Solo Moms. It may also be a huge detriment to others with long commutes to and from work, Moms who have several jobs, and/or are looking to keep their children close by. There can be many negative issues with nongentrified areas, including safety, lack of resources, and support that would lead a lot of Solo Moms to pass up the opportunity altogether.
Zollo did have some cautionary advice for a Solo Mom choosing a preschool for her child: “Make sure the school is an inclusive, open environment where you are welcome at any time of the day, you can talk with the teachers at any time, [and that] they support you and are part of your ‘team.’ Sometimes young children might suffer from being away from their mom too early. The worst thing that can happen is for your child to hate school.” Her children were lucky to have excellent teachers, and both had a wonderful experience during their preschool years. She shared some of the best points of their development with me. “[The boys] were taught to think using cause and effect. They had great role models and learned self-advocacy; [to have] a great, huge love for the environment, nature, [and] animals; and about peaceful conflict resolution using their words to communicate.”
Zollo explained that although a Solo Mom may find a solution to tuition fees, your precious free time may be compromised, as it is required that parents volunteer. The time commitment may be tough for Solo Moms on the go. While deciding on a preschool for her sons, she saw why volunteering would positively affect her children and their development. “It’s very important for the children to see parents in their school. Both my children, when they were very little, called all parents ‘Mom.’ Both of them told me one day that they were so happy they met someone’s Mom, and his name was Thomas! They never felt bad discovering that some kids had two parents. I needed them to [learn about] other families. Now, in Brooklyn, we are lucky to live in a wonderful, diverse, and inclusive community, but it was not like that 10 or 20 years ago. . . . It’s important for me to have different families [around my children] to show them there are great dads out there, and other Solo Moms, solo dads, mixed-race families, immigrants, gay/lesbian couples, etc. . . . We are all the same.”
Zollo found the school her boys attended to be very inclusive, though at times she was the only Solo Mom in her son’s class, but she never let it deter her in any way. “By the time my younger one went [to the school], the neighborhood was gentrified, the school had expanded, and the rates were higher. I was the only Solo Mom in my younger son’s class, and one of two in the whole school. But, it helped that many other Solo Moms happened to send their children there when my older son attended. I am very happy and adjusted to being a Solo Mom.”
Zollo’s sons are done with preschool, but throughout the years when faced with a difficult financial decision such as tuition, she has found picking up a second job is her best solution to the problem. She relies on her community of friends and family as role models for her boys and for support. When things get tough, she has a great antidote: “We make lemonade, a very sweet delicious one. It’s a great life lesson, and Maria Montessori did exactly the same.”
Rebecca Cherry is an accomplished musician, writer, and creative seeker. She is enjoying her new role as a Solo Mom to her baby girl. You can follow her on Twitter at @CherryRebecca and Facebook at Rebecca Cherry.
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