“But, if you don’t make her do it, how will she learn?” A worried mother asked. Teaching in a Montessori school, I became accustomed to new parents’ concerns about whether or not their child would progress without frequent exams, a classroom full of students learning the same thing at the same time, and homework.
Why is Progressive Learning Scary?
Parents are often concerned about their child’s education. It’s a show of their love for their children who are essentially their life’s masterpiece. As a mother I can understand. I want the best for my children and want them to excel and do well. For this same reason, many parents choose to place their children in schools with philosophies that are progressive such as Montessori, Project Based Learning, STEM, Waldorf, and similar systems that emphasize more student-centered learning. They’ve probably heard that children who study in these programs are happy and do well. They’ve heard it’s the new trend – the better way for children to learn.
However, many parents don’t have a profound, deep understanding of these philosophies. And the style is very different from what they grew up with – which most likely consisted of writing, reading and arithmetic with plenty of weekly tests and memorization, including few choices. For these reasons, once their children are enrolled and in classes, the fear sometimes starts creeping in. They wonder, “Will my daughter be successful? What if my son doesn’t spell well? What if my son doesn’t want to work on math…will the teacher notice? What will be done about it? That project didn’t cover American history, when will she learn about it?” The questions go on and on until parents have worked themselves up.
Parents’ worries often focus on the products of learning; whether or not their children acquire knowledge in the form of information or whether they are covering all of the subjects equally and especially, whether they are keeping up with the other kids. They lose sight of the benefits of knowing how to learn, how to acquire information and how to communicate. They give less importance to social skills, working as a team, completing long term projects, and the ability to analyze and solve problems.
What can you do about it?
In my experience, communication and education is what’s missing for parents to get on board and allow their children to enjoy school and learning. Parents need to have some idea of what’s going on in the classroom and the benefits of the activities that are taking place. In addition, they need more information about how things work and how the educational philosophy promotes learning.
To do that, it’s important to speak with parents about what the children are doing – it can be a quick chat at pickup time, an email or a phone call. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out conference – just a “Hey, Sarah really worked hard on reading about horses today and she is interested in doing some more research on it” or “James was really interested in learning long division today.”
In order to improve parents’ understandings of the philosophy, one option is to send very (I mean very very very) short emails with interesting points or quotes about the philosophy being used. These little snippets should be easy to read within a minute or two, but provide some valuable insight into what goes on in the classroom.
Finally, inviting parents into the classroom can often assuage their fears. Preparing special events or project presentations where the children show off what they’ve been working on or show some of their skills can help answer the parent’s questions about what goes on at school.
Most importantly, be open and approachable. The last thing you want to do is chase parents who have questions and doubts away – things will just get worse. Smile, listen to their questions and be understanding. Remember, their questions come from a good place – love for their children – which is one thing you probably have in common.