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Great Teachers Matter – Credentials Don’t

montessori preschool irvine

How much will your child’s success in school and life be influenced by the quality of his teachers? Here is what studies say:

The available evidence suggests that the main driver of the variation in student learning at school is the quality of the teachers. Ten years ago, seminal research based on data from Tennessee showed that if two average eight-year-old students were given different teachers—one of them a high performer, the other a low performer—their performance diverged by more than 50 percentile points within three years…

Another study, this time in Dallas, shows that the performance gap between students assigned three effective teachers in a row, and those assigned three ineffective teachers, was 49 percentile points. In Boston, students placed with top-performing math teachers made substantial gains, while students placed with the worst teachers regressed—their math got worse. Studies that take into account all of the available evidence on teacher effectiveness suggest that students placed with high-performing teachers will progress three times as fast as those placed with low-performing teachers.

mckinsey.com

Another recent study, quoted in the New York Times, put a monetary value on the damage done by just one bad teacher:

Conversely, a very poor teacher has the same effect as a pupil missing 40 percent of the school year. We don’t allow that kind of truancy, so it’s not clear why we should put up with such poor teaching. In fact, the study shows that parents should pay a bad teacher $100,000 to retire (assuming the replacement is of average quality) because a weak teacher holds children back so much.

nytimes.com

No matter where you look, the answer is clear: Good teachers matter tremendously—and if you want to choose a school for your child, you should find one that hires the best.

But what does it mean to be a good teacher? And which schools will ensure your child will have good teachers, consistently?

Unfortunately, public schools, with their strict, union-driven work rules, often take a simplistic approach to teacher quality. While there are no doubt great public school teachers peppered through the system, the underlying approach to teacher selection rarely guarantees that your child will consistently have the best teachers, even in a good school district.

  • Hiring practices that exclude many capable potential teachers. Public schools usually draw their teacher candidates from graduates of education colleges, that is, credentialed teachers. At first blush, this sounds like a good idea: after all, you want a teacher who is well trained, and a credential certifies that the teacher has completed course work on teaching. Many credentialed teachers are in fact highly dedicated, intelligent individuals who are passionate about educating children; but many others, in fact, are not.

    Yet it’s important to understand that teaching credentials are neither necessary nor sufficient in hiring the best teachers.

    • montessori preschool irvine

    • Many smart, dedicated students who graduate with a B.S. or B.A. in a subject field—math, science, literature, history—would make great teachers. They often are passionate about their fields of study; they may have discovered a knack for explaining and mentoring while in college; they have a deep grasp of the subject that they could readily pass on to students. Yet, leaving aside a few alternative certification programs in high-need areas, these outstanding young people are often excluded from teaching by narrow certification requirements that impose onerous additional coursework of questionable merit.
    • A credential, by itself, isn’t necessarily a good indicator of whether someone will make a good teacher. Teacher candidates vary widely in their skills, and admission standards of teacher colleges typically are not as rigorous as those of the top schools offering subject-matter degrees. Certification programs vary significantly in their content—some are more rigorous on subject matter knowledge, for example, while others require students to spend much of their time on courses on teaching processes (which may or many not be of much practical use in the classroom.)
  • Limited ongoing development. In many public school systems, first year teachers immediately teach a full class load. They rarely have extra time to develop or even adapt curriculum; they rarely receive the benefit of regular coaching, or even have the opportunity to observe in a master teacher’s class. Once in, the public school approach seems to be “sink or swim” (beyond whatever support the teacher gets as part of completing her teacher credentialing program).
  • Fast and largely irreversible tenure, which means ineffectual teachers stay on, even when everybody knows they aren’t doing a god job. Most junior teachers get tenure after teaching a mere three or four years, and the standards for tenure are lax. An L.A. Times article reported that 98% of teacher candidates in LA received tenure, after a process so lax that it requires just one unannounced classroom visit by school administrators! Admits the districts superintendent: “Too many ineffective teachers are falling into tenured positions — the equivalent of jobs for life.” Terminating a poorly performing teacher is nearly impossible. Instead, when parents successfully protest about a teacher, the teacher gets moved on to another school or another district, in a process so common it has a name: the “Dance of the Lemons.” 

To summarize:

  • Good teachers are important – critically so!
  • Public schools don’t consistently hire the best and brightest young people as teachers. They don’t train new teachers well. They put teachers on tenure, making it practically impossible to fire teachers who aren’t performing well.

At LePort, we understand how important great teachers are. That’s why our hiring, training and development practices are diametrically opposed to those of public schools:

  • Hiring based on relevant skills and personality traits, not merely credentials. At LePort, we want to hire the most capable and motivated teachers possible. That’s why we hire based on three standards:
    • Deep skills in and passion for the subject the teacher specializes in. In our 4th – 8th grade program, students have different teachers for different subjects: a homeroom teacher, who usually covers literature and language arts, as well as specialist teachers in math, science and history. We believe that these teachers first and foremost must be knowledgeable about their subjects, and passionate about what they teach. This seems obvious—how can a literature teacher instill a passion for books, if he doesn’t love reading—but it’s unfortunately often ignored in other school settings!
    • montessori preschool irvine

    • A love of and skill in working with children. Being a great scientist isn’t enough to teach science at LePort: we understand that a teacher must love sharing his knowledge with students, and must be able to relate well to children, in order to be effective.
    • Joyous, growth-minded character. We want our students to be inspired by their teachers: we expect teachers to model the type of growth-mindset and joyful living we want our students to achieve. What better way to kill a child’s aspirations than to put a cynical teacher in front of him?!

    While some of our teachers hold teaching credentials, we also hire strong candidates who hold Bachelor’s or advanced degrees in the subject matters they want to teach, and in some cases even hire individuals with little formal training in their area but a clear lifelong passion and knowledge in a given area. We regularly review hundreds of resumes and conduct dozens of interviews, to find the best possible teacher candidates.

  • An intensive, structured on-boarding and ongoing development program. Teaching is a skill that can only grow with practice, practice, practice. New teachers at LePort have many opportunities to develop their skills under the guidance of our academic staff:
    • An onboarding training program. When we hire multiple teachers to start for a new school year, we put on a multi-week, intensive training program. Teachers get immersed in our unique curriculum. They practice teaching lessons the LePort way. They observe each other and give and receive feedback. They learn about our systems, from report cards to organization, from classroom management to parent communications. Most of all, they form a learning community – the basis of growing together throughout the year.
    • montessori preschool irvine

    • Ongoing observation and guidance. All teachers, but especially new teachers, receive regular feedback from our academic supervisory staff (the Head of School, the Assistant Head of School, and our Executive Director for the Elementary and Junior High program). We regularly observe teachers in class, and give them feedback on how to improve. We also expect teachers to observe each other’s classes and to give each other detailed feedback. (Curious about this feedback? Click here to read a sample of the feedback one of our newer teachers received after such an observation.)
    • Reduced course loads. While many elementary school teachers in other settings teach all day long, with rarely a break, at LePort, even home room teachers have several hours off during the school day, while the subject matter teachers take over the class. This provides time for them to prepare lessons, observe other classes, and think through any classroom or playground issues so that each student has an optimal learning experience. It also enables them to participate in weekly or bi-weekly departmental meetings to discuss curriculum and pedagogy issues specific to their subject area. Every month during minimum days, teachers also have an afternoon to participate in development workshops and further strengthen their teaching skills by collaborating with each other.
  • A willingness to part with teachers who do not live up to our standards. Letting a teacher go is extremely hard: students and parents connect with teachers, even with some that are not top performers. And bringing a new teacher on board to replace one we let go means a lot of effort and cost. Yet because we know how crucial great teachers are, and because even the best hiring and training system cannot guarantee that every single teacher we bring in is a great fit with our program, we find that we on occasion need to replace a teacher who cannot meet our standards, despite much coaching. Because we are a private school and not bound by onerous union contracts, we are actually able to replace under-performing staff members in a timely fashion.

If you are seriously considering LePort for your child, we invite you to do your research about our teachers. Scroll down and read what some of our parents say about our teachers. Review bios of our teachers (Huntington Pier campus & Irvine Spectrum campus). Watch some videos of our teachers in action. Call us to schedule an observation: we invite you to come in, spend an hour or a half-day in our schools, so you can judge our teachers for yourself.


Related Articles

Elementary & Junior High: Who We Are
Parent Testimonials


LePort teachers love what they do, and care a lot. A great education boils down to the teachers. At LePort, every single teacher is very passionate about his subject, has deep knowledge, and cares personally about his students. There’s a personal relationship that grows between a teacher and each child. The teachers become the student’s role models and mentors. Our son wanted to please his teachers, because he respected and admired them—and that made him strive harder. When his teachers gave him their constructive feedback, it thus motivated him, and allowed him to go back and do even better. I really believe LePort teachers care—they take a vested interest in each student, and there is a strong personal relationship that goes on. You can see that—watching my son leave the school, and how sad he is to have to go, and to not be able to see his teachers every day any more. The heart of LePort is the teachers, individually and as a group. They are all a little different, they have put together a good mix of nice people with their own styles and personalities. Every single teacher at LePort actively engages the children in learning, and connects with them socially.

Kevin G.

The teachers at LePort inspire their students. They are all young and engaging – not teachers that have been doing it for 20 years, and are just going through the motions. Every one of them is sincerely concerned about a student’s personal growth. As they do the academics, they constantly talk about how they relate to the rest of life. All the teachers at LePort are the same way – they have a passion for their work, and it shows with the kids.

Lina S.

LePort’s teachers are consistently amazing. At other schools, you’d have a teacher here and there who would be great; their reputation is well known among parents and students—so you’d hope that your son/daughter was in their class at some point. The astonishing thing about LePort is that every single one of their teachers is excellent. The consistency is incredible: you never have to worry about which teacher your son/daughter will have the following year. To have an entire school of outstanding teachers speaks to their recruiting standards, their processes and how they train teachers as they come into the school. This is even more amazing given that all the LePort teachers are incredibly young!

Maritza A.

All the LePort teachers are excellent. I don’t think there was a bad teacher at LePort at all. Every one of them is an incredible professional, they are into their subjects, they are excited about teaching and learning. And that attitude transferred to the students.

Noreen M.

LePort teachers have what I like to call, “youthful enthusiasm”. This is probably due, in large part, to their clear philosophy that no teacher can teach a subject that they are not personally passionate about. If you think about that, it makes so much sense: if teachers love what they are teaching, that passion is present in every day classroom activity and that enthusiasm filters down to the students. It is apparent that the teachers feel supported. The equation is quite simple really: Happy teachers’ = happy students= happy parents.

Ruthie T.

I am really excited about the LePort teachers’ passion. My daughter will come home talking about history with such enthusiasm, that I even get excited and ask her questions about her history class! Because the teachers are so passionate, students become passionate—and go into real depth to explore the subjects. They become enthusiastic learners, and always ask to learn more. It’s a major contrast to some of our past experiences, where it appeared at times that the teachers didn’t want to teach the subjects, that they just went through the motions, to get the day done.

Tami W.

The passion and compassion of the teachers is rare—it is something that’s difficult to find. My younger daughter would just talk non-stop about her teachers, about how much she admired them, and how she respected them and enjoyed working with them. The LePort teachers took time to work with each of my girls, to help my older daughter fill in her knowledge gap due to illness, and to inspire my younger daughter to become an eager reader and writer. It also inspired my girls to be able to see a woman as amazing as Lindsay Journo, the head of school, and to dialogue with her every day: their teachers truly became role models – and that’s a hard thing to achieve in middle school.

Tom C.

5 Ways LePort Is Different: Your Choice, In a Nutshell

Since you are reading this blog post, you are probably researching a private school for your child. Maybe your child is in a private school already; or maybe you are just deciding between public school and private school.

This choice may be one of the most important you’ll ever make for your child – and, if you choose private school, one of the biggest investments you’ll make as a parent. Private schools, after all, need to charge tuition for their services, while public schools don’t require much payment from parents (beyond, of course, the taxes you will be paying, whether or not your child attends public school).

Faced with the choice of “free” public schools and the private school alternatives, parents naturally wonder: is it worth paying for private school?

It’s a very personal question, dependent on your family’s financial circumstances and your other values. In many cases, the answer may well be that private school is not worth it: in some cases the difference just doesn’t make enough of a difference. Yes, private schools usually offer nicer facilities, more extra-curricular options, and smaller class sizes. Beyond these factors, however, many private schools aren’t that different from public schools: Often, they follow the same California Standards and use the same text books as public schools; they hire teachers from the same education colleges; they use the same pedagogical approach in the classroom and prepare students for the same standardized test battery. Sure, class sizes are smaller and there’s more accountability—but is that alone really worth all that money if at root private schools offer the same educational product as the public schools?

If we ask a different question, whether LePort Schools in particular is worth the investment, it won’t surprise you that we believe the answer ought to be yes for many, many more parents. The reason is that LePort Schools offers a truly different education. In our view, we offer a wholly different product, not just a better quality of the same thing offered by public schools.

Here are five fundamental differences between an education at LePort and at many other schools, private or public alike:

  1. A deliberate, carefully thought-out focus on your child’s long-term happiness. What is your goal for your child’s education? How does it line up with what the schools you consider aim for? For many schools the answer is either very specific (“getting children into good colleges”, “achieving proficient scores on API tests”), or very broad (“responsible, global citizenship” or “making meaningful contributions to the world community”). At LePort, our core goal is different: we want to enable your child to achieve his own personal happiness. As we put it in our mission statement, “At LePort, we help our students acquire the essential knowledge, thinking skills, and strength of character required to flourish as joyous children today, and as successful adults tomorrow.” This difference in purpose has many implications; stay tuned for an upcoming post just on this topic!
  2. A carefully sequenced, content-rich curriculum. With the dominance of No Child Left Behind and now Race to the Top, public elementary schools focus excessively on a narrow, test-driven, memorize & regurgitate approach to the basics – reading, writing, arithmetic. Many traditional private schools unfortunately follow a similar approach. Others, identifying themselves as progressive schools, commit a different mistake: worried about the negative impact of rote learning, they throw out an adult-guided, structured curriculum altogether, and rely instead on child-led, project-based exploration, which may leave children with significant skill and knowledge gaps. We reject both these approaches. Instead, we have developed a carefully sequenced, academically challenging curriculum that respects the child’s motivational context. Click here to learn more about five key ways in which LePort’s curriculum differs from what your child would encounter in public school. (In case you are concerned about test scores, we do want to assure you that our students test well – see here for recent scores.)
  3. Motivation by interest and joy, not grades and fear. Here’s a question you should ask of each school you visit, private or public: how do you motivate children to learn? For many schools, the answer relies heavily on extrinsic motivators, which reward “good” behavior and results with stickers, praise, class parties, treasure chests or good grades, and punish “bad” behavior with loss of privileges (recess, independent work time), extra work (more homework!), bad grades or a trip to the principal’s office. Sounds familiar?! LePort is different: we understand that in order to really learn, children have to make a choice to want to learn. We think it is our responsibility to make what we teach so interesting that children can’t wait to learn. Curious how that works? Click here to find out!
  4. Passionate professionals as teachers. A teaching credential: at most schools, public and private alike, this piece of paper is a must-have, do-or-die requirement for becoming a teacher. Not so at LePort. While we do have many credentialed teachers, we didn’t hire them because of their credential—and many of our teachers never attended a teacher’s college. Instead of relying on a credential, we have our own exacting hiring standards. Parent feedback, student comments, and our academic results all bear witness that our hiring approach consistently leads to high quality teachers who connect with their students and motivate them beyond the parents’ wildest dreams. Click here to find out how we manage to consistently hire, train and retain excellent educators, or click here to read bios of our staff at the Irvine Spectrum and Huntington Pier campus.   
  5. A focus on individualization, made possible by small class sizes and low ratios.  At LePort, we limit class size to 16 students for grades 4 – 8. (Our Montessori elementary classrooms typically have 24 students, with two teachers, for a 1:12 ratio.) As impressive as a 16-student class size is, our actual teacher-student ratio is closer to 1:10: each class of 16 has a dedicated homeroom teacher, who usually specialized in language arts. In addition, students receive instruction from subject-matter specialist teachers in history, math, geography and science. Our typical 4th – 8th grade program is staffed by 10-12 full-time teachers, for a 1:7 or 1:8 student teacher ratio. Hiring this many highly-qualified staff members isn’t cheap, but we think it is essential to providing a great education: we expect our teachers to get to know and appreciate each child and family; to motivate the student by understanding his temperament, talents and interests; to provide detailed coaching feedback on each assignment (as against just assigning a letter grade and moving on); to help the child learn personal skills (such as organization, time management, goodwill during competitions), in addition to strictly academic content; to create ample time for questions in class and an opportunity for each student to participate. There is just plainly no way this level of personalized instruction is possible in classes with 25 children in 1st grade, or even 35 or more students by middle school (numbers unfortunately now typical of most public schools, and even many private schools).

These are five of the fundamental differences between an education at LePort and at many other private and public schools, and there are more subtle differences that parents pick up on when they become LePort parents.

In some ways, the process of becoming a LePort parent is like purchasing that very special car you’ve been eyeing. Before choosing the car, you probably first decide what type of car you want: sedan or SUV, roadster or truck. Then, your next step is a test drive.

As you research schools for your child, we encourage you to follow the same process: identify first what type of education you want for your child, then search out schools that offer a program in line with your goals. Next, take a “test drive” by spending a few hours observing at a few different schools you are considering.

Here at LePort, we love to have prospective parents come visit and sit in our classes and see our teachers in action. No matter how much we write about our unique approach, the best way of understanding it is to come in and see for yourself. Feel free to come for a guided tour, ask to meet with our Heads of School, or schedule a time to observe classes in action.

While many private schools and most public schools limit parents to pre-scheduled open houses, we think the decision of which school to send your child to is so important that you should have the opportunity to see for yourself. (Isn’t it ironic that car dealerships will do anything to get you in to look at their cars, while many schools are resistant to having parents even come in for an observation – and this is the education of your child, not just a test drive of a sedan!) So, please contact us and set up a tour: click here to find all campuses phone numbers.

The Fundamental Choice

It is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child he once was. Dr. Maria Montessori

Last May, I had the opportunity to observe a kindergarten and first grade class at the local elementary school my then 5-year-old daughter would have attended in fall, if we went the public school route.

The school I observed is about as good as it gets in public education. It’s a “Blue Ribbon”, “California Distinguished” school, with standardized test scores in the top 5% of the state. It has families all over the city vying for spots. The principal, whom I had the pleasure to talk to at length, is a kind man and a good listener; he struck me as the type of educator deeply dedicated to providing the students in his charge with a quality education.

private-school

Generally, public schools are reluctant to allow observations by prospective parents. After I shared that my daughter attended Montessori school, and that I was concerned how she would transition to the public school environment, the principal made an exception to his usual policy and invited me to observe some of his best classes.

I saw a lot in the time I spent in each of two classrooms. The kindergarten students were working on individual letter sounds q, v, and z. The 1st graders were writing 3-4 sentence paragraphs and working with numbers up to 100. The contrast with a Montessori classroom was dramatic. Kindergarten-aged children in a Montessori environment are reading real books and writing multi-sentence stories in cursive, and elementary 1st year students are writing page-long stories, reading chapter books and doing arithmetic into the thousands.

But while the contrast was dramatic, it wasn’t surprising to me. I went in expecting this difference in academic progress. What really took me by surprise was just how deep the difference between the programs went. The traditional classrooms I observed were, in a thousand ways large and small, training students to conform passively to adult rules and expectations—a completely opposite behavioral mindset than the active-minded independence we encourage in Montessori preschool and elementary programs.

Let me share just two small observations among many, one from each class.

First grade: Teachers as guides or as servants? Children as independent actors, or passive observers?

In the first grade class, the children were studying how seeds grow into plants. Each child was asked to observe how a few lima beans and sunflower seeds germinated, and to record their observations in a science journal—a project that you might well find in a Montessori lower elementary classroom.

But here is how the project was implemented in this classroom: the teacher walked around the tables in the room, stopping by each child. She tore off a paper towel, put it on a plate, and sprayed it with water. She then had the child put the lima beans and seeds on the paper towel. After that, the teacher folded the towel, and inserted it into a zip lock bag, upon which the child had written his or her name. Over the entire 15 minutes I observed, the teacher was occupied making these kits for the children, while children were apparently supposed to be working independently on other tasks, but in fact spent much time chatting and mingling without a clear purpose, as the minutes ticked by. The teacher completed the kits of approximately 6 out of the 30 students in the room, suggesting that she was going to be occupied by kit making for well over an hour that afternoon.

private school

As someone familiar with Montessori rooms, I could not believe that the children had such a passive role! This was a class of 6 ½ to 7 ½-year olds, fully capable (one hopes!) of tearing off paper towels, of wetting them by using a sprayer, of counting out beans and seeds and placing them on a towel, and so on. These children could have and should have made these science kits by themselves! Instead, the teacher did it for them. The teacher was in charge, the students, outside observers of their own education.

I couldn’t help but contrast this with how the same experiment would happen in a Montessori classroom. The teacher might take 10 minutes in the morning, collect a group of students ready for this experiment, and give them a brief introduction, describing the purpose of the work and demonstrating how to assemble the experiment. She would then set up a table with all the materials, and invite the children to make their own kit. The children would autonomously make their own bags, taking turns at the table. They would have ownership of their work, and reinforce many practical skills in the process. They would help each other if one got stuck, with the teacher monitoring from afar to ensure that the peer interaction was to mutual benefit. The teacher would gain over an hour to dedicate to her actual job, helping students learn, rather than spending her time in essentially the role of an unwanted nanny or servant, doing things to children perfectly capable, and almost certainly eager, to do them for themselves.

Kindergarten: Respect for intellectual independence, or conformity and obedience?

In the kindergarten class, I arrived during a silent work period. I was pleasantly surprised at first: after all, independent, engaging, self-initiated work is the core means to develop concentration skills in children!

But when I observed more carefully, here’s what I saw: these 6-year-old children were totally silent. Not one word was spoken. They were glued to their desks, upon which were found things like play dough, simple coloring pages and other very basic activities typically undertaken by 3- or 4-year-olds in a Montessori class. Some children were engaged, but many more seemed bored and disengaged.

And then the work period ended. The teacher turned on the light, and started counting, loudly: “Five, four, three, two, one. All eyes on me!” Without giving children time to process her expectations, she immediately started directing her students: “Sara, put that down. Ian, stop. Look at me, now. Come on class, remember our agreement: when I count, you stop working. Let’s try that again. Put your fingers on your noses, all eyes on me!”

I stood, stunned, as I saw these twenty-odd six-year-olds touch their noses, line up, and stare at the teacher. I cringed as they were ordered to clean up, pronto (“you have three minutes to clean up, then please find your spot on the carpet” and “Peter, you are late, pick up your pace.”)

Compare this scene with the work periods I observe regularly in Montessori classrooms. There, children have 2-3 hours of uninterrupted work time, twice a day. During this time, the classroom is calm, but not eerily silent, as children are free to move about, talk in appropriate volumes as they work with friends, and select from a wide range of stimulating activities much more engaging than play dough or coloring pages.

private school

In such a Montessori room, here’s how the work period might end: the Montessori teacher would ring a small bell, and speak gently in a quiet voice, “Children, I invite you to finish up your work and put it away if you are interested in coming together in circle.” After this request, children are free to complete their activity, and to put it away on their terms. A child immersed in an advanced task might continue with it, even as the other children join the circle and the teacher starts reading a book or singing a song. Another child might leave his work out, with his name badge on it, so he can continue and finish it in the next work period.
Consider the difference. In the public school class I visited, the implicit theme is obedience to adult rules. In practice, students learn to conform habitually and unthinkingly to cues and prompts and commands. In a Montessori class, in contrast, the theme is respect for each individual, and the result is that a child develops the ability to responsibly take care of his own work, learning how to act freely while also considering the needs of others.

I cannot be sure how representative my observations are of public schools in general. As a parent, if you’re considering public school, you should definitely make the time to observe the school and classroom your child would be joining. What I know is that this was a highly-rated school, and the two classrooms I observed were chosen by the principal as examples of what a good public school education can look like.

If what I saw is indeed indicative of a pervasive characteristic of public education (and sadly, I suspect it is), then the implication is that in choosing between a public school and an authentic Montessori school, you are making a choice that goes far deeper than just the difference in academics. You are choosing the type of implicit values that will be emphasized to your child: respect vs. obedience, creativity vs. conformity, active-mindedness vs. passivity.

As Dr. Montessori put it, it is the child who makes the man. I’d encourage you, in judging your child’s future classroom, to ask yourself what kind of man or woman you want your son or daughter to become.


This blog post was originally featured on the Maria Montessori website.

What Sets LePort Montessori Apart From Other Montessori Schools?

montessori preschool daycare palos verdes

If you are reading this, you may be looking for a preschool–and may be curious about whether Montessori is a preschool education that makes sense for your family.

As you research Montessori, it is important to know that Montessori isn’t a trademarked term, nor a franchised system, not even a national brand you can trust. Unfortunately, it’s not true that every Montessori preschool delivers on the promise that Montessori offers. As education-journalist Peg Tyre correctly states:

A school can call itself a Montessori program, and many do, without knowing a single thing about the educational philosophy developed by Dr. Maria Montessori.

Peg Tyre

In many major metropolitan areas (think Orange County, LA, or San Diego), you have many Montessori preschools to choose from. (The last time we counted, there were over two dozen Montessori preschools in our home market of Orange County alone, and we probably missed some!) If you’ve done your research and agree that the Montessori method is right for your child, the next step is choosing one of those preschools.

So what do you look for when you tour different Montessori preschools? What differentiates an authentic preschool program that takes the methodology seriously, from one that may be more interested in utilizing the Montessori name as a means of attracting parents, but does not really strive to apply the method in the classroom and preschool community?

Or, put from our perspective, why do we think you should choose one of LePort’s Montessori preschools?

A few years ago, I was in your shoes: when my daughter was about 2 years old, I toured a handful of Montessori preschools in Oakland, CA, where I lived at the time, and enrolled her in what I thought was a good program, conveniently located near our home. Unfortunately, as I educated myself about Montessori and joined the LePort leadership team, I discovered that while the school was a nice, friendly preschool, they were not serious about applying Maria Montessori’s educational principles. (They also fell woefully short on customer service to me, a working parent.) After more research, and much soul-searching, we moved her to another, better Montessori preschool, where my daughter and son experienced a good bilingual Montessori education. (We later moved to Orange County, where both of my children now attend our LePort Montessori elementary school program.)

Now, when friends ask me for a cheat-sheet for touring Montessori preschools, here’s what I tell them to look for:

montessori preschool daycare palos verdes

    1. Head teachers who have completed a year-long, intensive Montessori training program, preferably from an AMI training center. At LePort Montessori, our preschool head teachers typically have a Bachelor’s degree, and a credential from AMI, the Association Montessori Internationale, which is the original training organization founded over 60 years ago by Dr. Maria Montessori. While there are other good training programs we occasionally hire from (most are MACTE accredited), we have found that AMI consistently selects highly-motivated and skilled candidates, and provides them with the most rigorous training possible. Be aware that some schools conduct quick “in-house-trainings”, sometimes lasting only a few weeks, and that some teachers at other schools have learned their skills from books or online-only self-study curricula. Also ask about teacher experience and training: ideally, teachers new to Montessori have experienced mentors to work with and learn from, before taking over their own classrooms!
    2. montessori preschool daycare palos verdesMixed-age preschool classrooms, which combine 3- to 6-year-olds into a family-like community. Many so-called Montessori preschools have succumbed to the traditional preschool approach of splitting children into the “Twos”, “Threes” and so on, or are separating out Kindergarten-aged children into separate groups. A mixed age group is essential to a real Montessori preschool program: it allows children to learn at their own pace, to learn from older peers and become mentors in turn, and to build a strong bond with a teacher, who gets to know a child closely over the three years she’s in her preschool class, and can guide her as an individual. The final year–the Kindergarten year that the child starts when he has turned five–is a critical, cashing-in year, and allowing children to complete the full three-year-cycle in one classroom community is critical to reap the tremendous benefits from Kindergarten in Montessori. 
    3. Extended, uninterrupted, child-led work periods, preferably 2-3 hours in length, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. Montessori is about enabling the child to follow his own interests, to learn at his own pace and on his own schedule. A good Montessori classroom offers him plenty of space and time to explore what interests him, in contrast to the adult-led, group-focused programs common in typical preschools.
    4. A high-quality, clean, bright, peaceful preschool classroom environment, equipped with a full range of Montessori materials.montessori preschool daycare palos verdesIt should go without saying that a child’s preschool environment should be clean, bright and beautiful, but unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of clutter and messiness at some preschools we’ve visited. Equipping a school with a full set of Montessori materials is not cheap (we budget about $20,000 for materials for each preschool room, and regularly invest in improving our programs, such as buying thousands of dollars in new books for our phonetic reading program!), but it is essential to ensuring the children get the most out of their Montessori preschool experience.
    5. A mature school organization, with well-honed hiring and teacher-training programs, and a strong leadership team. Finding great teachers is a learned skill, as is training them. Our schools have many head-teachers who have been with us for years. When we hire new teachers, we typically give them the opportunity to co-teach with an expert for several months to a year or two, so they can give your child the best instruction when they take over his classroom. Several part-time and full-time Montessori experts at all levels–from infants to middle school–and a full-time Head of School at each school, help us ensure that every classroom consistently delivers the highest quality experience for our students. Plus, they enable us to put on a lot of Parent Information Events and social get-togethers, which help you to be a part of making your child’s education the best it can be, and finding a community of like-minded parents, thus creating your own chosen village for raising your child.

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  1. A professional administration that understands how important convenience and customer service are to you as a busy parent. While your primary concern should rightly be your child’s experience, a good preschool also looks out for you as a parent. Nothing is more annoying than holiday schedules that leave you scrambling to find alternate child care, or not knowing what your child does at preschool day-to-day, or not being able to reach your teacher or the preschool staff when you have an urgent question. We take pride in running LePort to high standards in customer service, and always welcome parent feedback that helps us improve.

We hope that you are making progress in your preschool research, and we’d be thrilled if after careful consideration, you chose LePort Montessori as the preschool for your child.

Be Choosy: Not All Preschools Are Created Equal

Deciding on a preschool for your child is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a parent. Choosing a preschool is certainly more important than buying a car or even a house: the environment your child is in during the formative years between three and six can shape his very being. That’s why it is important to research preschools at least as thoroughly as you’d research a new car, or a house you’ll buy.

That’s why we want to encourage you, in the words of Peg Tyre, long-time education journalist, to "be choosy" about the preschool at which you enroll your child. Ms. Tyre’s book, The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve, explains the importance of judging carefully:

When you visit a preschool, it’s hard to see past the endearing and hopeful aspects of nearly any program. Four-year-old human beings–small, active, wide-eyed, and endlessly curious–seem almost by design to fascinate and delight us. To the untrained eye, all but the most troubled programs look like reasonably happy places. What we know, though, is that all preschools are not created equal. There is good data to suggest that our gauzy and trusting perceptions of preschool can hide a troubling reality: there are badly run preschools or badly run classrooms within an otherwise acceptable preschool.

Peg Tyre

She also explains that a label, even one as prestigious as Montessori, doesn’t make a good program: "[A] school can call itself a Montessori program, and many do, without knowing a single thing about the educational philosophy developed by Dr. Maria Montessori."

At LePort, we know how important the preschool decision is for your family, and we want to do our part to help you be an educated, smart consumer. If you are on our preschool newsletter list, you’ll receive a short email from us every 1-2 weeks, with information we hope will help you make the right preschool decision for your family. (If you don’t find these emails helpful, there’s an "unsubscribe" link at that bottom of each email, so feel free to opt-out at any time!)

To get you started, here are four key areas Ms. Tyre recommends that parents explore in evaluating whether a preschool program will help your child maximize his potential:

  1. Will the preschool program ensure your child is actively engaged in learning? Neuroscientists have demonstrated that the right type of environmental stimulation enhances brain activity in children, and may make a permanent impact on mental capacities. You want a preschool that engages your child’s brain.
  2. Will the preschool program lay the foundations of literacy? You want a preschool program that enables your child to build "phonemic awareness", isolate the sounds of language, and to connect them to the letters of the written word. A number of intensive research studies, including the national "Reading Panel", have concluded unequivocally: "the central building blocks of literacy must be laid down before kindergarten."
  3. Will the preschool hire highly-educated, smart and caring teachers? Your child’s first teacher is a key influencer of her love for school: she has to be a kind, nurturing positive person who treats your child with respect and caring on not only your child’s good days, but also her bad. She also needs to be intelligent and perceptive, so that she can observe your child and identify how to effectively introduce a wide range of skills. Many preschools hire high-school graduates who have earned only the minimum State-mandated twelve Early Childhood Education Units. Rare exceptions aside, that is simply not enough.
  4. Will the preschool program purposefully develop "executive functioning"? Executive functioning refers to that all-important set of cognitive skills, which enable a child to be able to choose an activity and stick with it to successful completion. Writes Ms. Tyre:

    Intellectual ability without self-regulation, it turns out, is like a Porsche with a lawn mower motor. Flashy? You bet. But it’s not going to take you very far. What we used to consider soft skills, like the ability to focus, to drown out distractions, to plan, and to persevere, are starting to seem like bedrock traits for sustained and lasting achievement. And research bears this out: kindergarteners, for example, who show high levels of self-regulation, do better in school than kids who know a lot of letters and numbers or who have a high IQ.

    Peg Tyre

We encourage you to actively judge LePort Schools by Ms. Tyre’s list of criteria for selecting a preschool. If you haven’t already, call us to schedule a tour. Read about each of our preschool teacher’s qualifications on our web site. Watch videos of children in our preschool classrooms, and read detailed descriptions about our curriculum, from preschool to middle school. Attend our Parent Education Events and Open Houses, or try-out LePort for your toddler with our Mommy & Me Montessori Program.

At LePort Schools, we want parents who are "choosy", because they’re the ones who recognize the importance of a good education. We are here to help you learn as much as you need to make the best preschool choice of your child and family.

A Day in the Life: A Visual Tour of Your Child’s Montessori Toddler Experience

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When your toddler joins his Montessori toddler class, he enters a beautiful environment, carefully prepared to meet his needs. Materials are arranged on low, open shelves. The high-quality wooden chairs and tables are just his size. Art is hung up at his eye level. Activities are color-coordinated and set out on trays or in baskets, which makes it easy for him to find what he needs. The environment is orderly, everything has its place. This empowers your child to become independent, to do things by himself, and supports his natural need for order.


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There are so many enticing activities on the shelves! As soon as your child joins the class, one of our trained Montessori teachers will work with him or her one-on-one. She’ll give him brief demonstrations of the materials, showing him slowly, deliberately how to remove and replace little figures, how to pour beans, use a paintbrush, squeeze an orange. Over time, your child learns a wide range of lessons, each of which he or she practices until mastery.


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Then your child is off to the races! During extended, uninterrupted work periods, she can freely choose from all the materials she has been introduced to, and work with them for as long as she needs. Having freedom to explore at length, to explore activities slowly and in depth, to master new skills: this is the luxury of time the Montessori toddler environment offers your child!


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At some time during the morning, your child will be invited to join the teacher and a few friends for snack (provided by the school.) This too is a learning opportunity! Children learn how to set the table, how to serve themselves food, pour a drink, and clean up. Early in the year, we keep the routine simple, and teachers assist quite bit. But come back in May or June, and you’ll be just stunned to see how well-mannered and independent these 2- or 2 ½-year-olds are at snack time!


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Language development is a key part of our Montessori curriculum. Your child receives vocabulary lessons. He is regularly invited to story time. He sings lots of songs! And, toward the end of the year, we even begin to introduce them to phonemic awareness (an important step in learning to read), by asking them to isolate and repeat back the beginning sounds of words.


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Motor skills are also very important for toddlers. That’s why our classrooms include a lot of movement and all kinds of activities that involve working with your hands, from stacking blocks to unlocking things, from gluing to painting, from dancing to walking around the classroom carrying a tray. When repeated every day, these are the activities that will help your child achieve poise and precision of movement!


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Toddlers love to and need to explore with all their senses! We encourage them to do that – to play with goo and to touch woodchips, to experiment with shaving cream and to discover themselves in the mirror. As Aristotle said, “There is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses.”


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Becoming independent is a big emphasis in the Montessori classroom. That’s why you’ll see students work on self-care skills like dressing and hand washing. You’ll see them learn to prepare food (cutting bananas and eggs, for example). They may even help in the garden, planting, harvesting and preparing vegetables!


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Of course, outside time and physical activity are a key part of the day. Children may start their day outside, if they arrive early. They then have outside playtime in the morning, and again in the afternoon after nap, if they stay for extended care. When they get outside, choices abound. A variety of high quality play structures and slides beckon, tricycles await …


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… running around is fun, as is chasing bubbles, or playing bunny with a teacher!


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After outside time, students who stay for the afternoon have lunch together. We emphasize healthy eating: Dr. LePort, our founder, is an obesity surgeon, and he knows how important proper nutrition is. You can bring your child’s lunch from home (no sweets, please), or you can order a hot lunch from CaterTots, from a menu especially adapted to fit with LePort’s healthy eating policy. After lunch, the children turn in for a well-earned nap.


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Want to see the toddler program in action? Click here to watch the LePort Montessori toddler program video.

A True Learning Community: the Mixed-Age Montessori Preschool Classroom

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In addition to the unique Montessori materials, one of the first things you notice when you observe a Montessori preschool classroom is the wide range of ages in the class: 3-year-olds work alongside and sometimes with 5- and 6-year olds. Children stay in the same classroom community for a full three years: the traditional kindergarten year is integrated into the 3-year Montessori Primary program.

Often, parents new to Montessori preschool wonder: how will this 3-year-cycle work out for my child? Will my 3-year-old be intimidated by the much larger 6-year-olds? Will my kindergarten-aged child revert back to babyish behavior because she is around younger preschool children? And, maybe most importantly, how can one trained Montessori teacher possibly ensure that 20 or 30 students in her classroom are challenged and engaged, when she has such a wide range of abilities to accommodate?

The Montessori materials are one key factor that enables the 3-year cycle to work. But, in amazing ways, it is the 3-year, mixed-age environment itself that provides an optimal learning environment for all students!

In contrast to most other preschool or school settings, in Montessori preschool, your child will typically stay with the same teacher for three years. This has many benefits:

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  • No annual “getting to know you period.” In most other preschools and elementary schools, a teacher has to get to know a whole new group of 20+ children, each September. She has to assess their academic, motor and social skills. She has to get to know their strengths and weaknesses, discover their temperaments, learn about their home environments, and build relationships, with 20+ children. In contrast, in a Montessori preschool class, only about 1/3 of students are new each September!
  • The teacher can really get to know each child. Because Montessori teachers have each preschooler for about three years, they can get to know this child well:  Is she shy and needs time to warm up? Is he a strong-willed little person who needs very firm limits and immediate consequences? Does she love flowers—or machines?  Does he love to tell and write stories, or would he rather work quietly with puzzles?  Every detail that a Montessori teacher knows about a child is an insight that helps her to tailor the curriculum to that child.  
  • Teachers as partners to parents. Over a three-year period, you can build a relationship with your child’s teacher. This means you have a knowledgeable adult at your service who knows your child really well.  She is also a professional who spends significant amounts of time with many children of your child’s age, and can be a valuable resource if concerns arise regarding learning or behavior. 

And while parents may initially be skeptical of the mixed-age preschool classroom, there are benefits that are not immediately evident:

  • Older children—and their advanced work—inspire the younger ones. Children who are new to a Montessori preschool class often learn much from the older students. A 3-year-old may observe carefully as a 4-year-old works with the Sandpaper Letters, for example—and he will learn a lot in the process. One of our teachers reports being stunned when a little friend of 3½ years knew all the letters on the initial presentation: she had observed her older friend’s lessons and work, and absorbed all that knowledge! Just as importantly, the younger students desperately want to be as capable as the older students they adore. This is a great motivation for them to master the early materials: they know that there is a progression of lessons, and that in order to do the exciting Golden Bead work, for example, they have to first master their numbers to 10!
  • An ability to be the youngest and the oldest child, in turn. Most children have a fixed role in life: the big sister, the little brother, etc. In a Montessori environment, each gets a chance to have all roles: big sisters suddenly are the youngest when they arrive, and are able to find older friends as role models and mentors. Little brothers who complete the three-year-cycle finally get to be the leaders, to be admired by and to mentor their younger peers. This exposure to different roles fosters the astounding kindness and nurturing nature about which parents and others so frequently remark when they observe our classrooms or encounter Montessori children in the world!
  • A benevolent, non-competitive, growth-focused community. In a typical single-age setting, where all children do the same thing at the same time, it’s easy for children to start comparing themselves to others, rather than to focus on getting better themselves. They think, “I can read more than Susi,” instead of “now I can read books with phonograms: I’ve learned a lot since the summer.” In the Montessori preschool class, in contrast, each child works independently, at his level. The result? A benevolent community of young learners, each focused on growing, and none jealous of the others’ achievements nor frustrated by an inability to keep up with more advanced peers.

A tremendous opportunity to develop real confidence and leadership for those children who stay for the entire 3-year-cycle. Click here to read more about the significant non-cognitive benefits earned by those children who stay for the critical 3rd year of the 3-year-cycle.

Rituals and routines: the home/school connection

Dropping a baby off at daycare for the first time can be a very sad event for a mom or dad. After all, it’s a transition from being able to observe, experience and guide every aspect of your child’s life, to one where she’ll now regularly be away from you for hours at a time.

We know this separation is hard—probably harder for parents than for babies!

But we also know one thing that makes it easier: when we engage in frequent, detailed, two-way communication with parents, and see work with them as a partner rather than treating you as a mere client. To put it differently, our goal is to work with you to build a community around your child. At LePort Montessori, we simply have too much respect for the bond between parent and child to approach it any other way.

We are experienced experts in helping children thrive. We encourage you to see us as more than just a daycare, as as a resource to make sure your child has the best possible start. We want to be there to help you, not merely by offering daycare, but by being your partner. We want to keep you informed, to answer child-rearing questions you have, and to offer suggestions how to help your child at home, too.

Because we offer a Montessori infant program, our focus is on your child’s overall growth and well being as a developing individual, not just some delimited metric of growth in some specific area. This means that the home/school connection, and building a community on that basis, is central to what we do. Here’s the many ways we interact and communicate with parents who enroll their baby with us:

  • Free home visits prior to the first day.
    One of our trained teachers will come to your home for an (optional) home visit, before your baby starts his Montessori daycare experience with us. We want to understand your infant’s environment, so we can ensure a smooth transition. We also want to spend quality one-on-one time with you, so we can build a relationship, and answer questions you have in the privacy of your home. While we are with you, we may offer up ideas on how to align your home environments with the Montessori approach your child will experience in his class—and we’ll provide you with a free copy of a great little book, In A Montessori Home, so you can read up on simple changes you can make at home, too.
  • A carefully coordinated transition to school.
    At some daycare centers, on the first day, you may come to the facility, drop your baby off, and depart for the day. Not so at LePort. We invite you and your baby to visit for an hour or so together. Then we’ll have him come for a partial day, and finally, for a full day when he’s ready. This transition allows all of us to get comfortable with each other.  Throughout, we’ll communicate regularly – with quick phone updates, chats at pick-up, and photos we’ll email to you.
  • A daily written update.
    Babies change so quickly, and so do their routines. Each morning, you’ll complete a quick report updating your child’s primary caregiver about his activities (sleep, eating, health.) Each evening, you’ll receive a form back with similar details, as well as with information on the supplies your child may need (diapers, underwear, sunscreen.)
  • An open-door policy and frequent informal communication.
    As a parent, you are always welcome to visit your infant at our schools. We especially welcome breastfeeding moms on breaks, too. You can also have a quick chat with your child’s teacher at drop-off or pick-up, or schedule an after-school meeting with her at any time.
  • A weekly logistical email.
    Every Tuesday, you’ll get a detailed email with updates about all upcoming events, deadlines and activities relevant to you child’s daycare experience at LePort Montessori. It’s a great way to stay on top of things like photo days, parent education events, holiday parties and re-enrollment deadlines.
  • Frequent educational information.
    You’ll receive email updates, handouts, and blog links about infant development regularly, on topics from sleep training to toileting, from feeding to language development. You’ll also receive frequent emails with photos of your child in class through our Transparent Classroom parent communication system; often, emails will contain links to a description of what your baby does, so you can learn how he/she is, in fact, learning and not just spending the day in traditional daycare. Finally, we offer parent education nights at school four times a year: please join, as these are great opportunities to learn more about Montessori, and to see your child’s classroom from the inside.
  • Regular conferences and written progress reports.
    Because we offer an education from the start, not just daycare, our infant teachers get together with parents twice a year for a formal conference. We also provide you with a written progress report that summarized your child’s development over the past year.
  • Parent-only school Facebook group.
    Each LePort school has a private, parent/teacher Facebook group. This is where we regularly post photos from school, and where you can interact and form a community with other parents at your child’s school.

Think about LePort not just as a daycare option, but as a dedicated partner in your child’s early years. Together, in regular communication, we can help your child take his first steps towards growing into that happy, healthy, flourishing adult you will someday have the pleasure of knowing.

The four key attributes of a great infant teacher

The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character; it is a preparation of the spirit.
Dr. Maria Montessori

The most significant relationship in your child’s life is his or her relationship with you. Your connection with your baby is uniquely special, and at some level your child is aware of that irreplaceable bond.

But after you (and your child’s other parent/guardian), the next most significant impact on your baby’s development will come from the childcare provider you choose. She will be a major role model for your baby, and will contribute to his developing view of the world. She will impact his use of language, his social bonds with other children, and other areas of his growth. When you’re not there, it is her he’ll rely on for understanding and nurturing.  When looking at childcare centers, this means that the type of people the center chooses as caregivers will determine how joyful and educational your baby’s time away from you will be.

In contrast to most childcare facilities, who look for caregivers, LePort specifically hires infant teachers. We believe the time we spend with your baby is too important to be viewed as mere childcare: we look for teachers who can nurture your child and help him mature cognitively and behavorially, in addition to comforting him and keeping him safe.

All of our teachers meet the base standards required at childcare centers: every teacher has completed her early childhood education units; teachers are CPR trained, and undergo a complete background check and health exam. What makes LePort different is that we go beyond this minimum standard.

We look for four key attributes in our infant teachers, both when we initially hire them, and as we develop them while they work with us:

  • A passion and love for working with babies.
    At LePort, we strongly believe that you have to be passionate to do a good job: we want students to be passionate about learning, and we only hire teachers for whom being with children is a passion, not just a job.  This is especially important for our infant teachers. In contrast to the typical childcare center, which often hires low-skilled caregivers, and as a result experience high staff turn-over, we hire people who are excited to be guides in a young child’s development; who view their role not as a temporary job, but as a career requiring thought, reflection, professional growth. We believe this passion is visible in their day-to-day interactions with the babies in our care: come and see for yourself!
  • Infinite patience and a calm, centered personality.
    Providing childcare to an infant is hard work, with many emotional challenges (and, of course, immense joys!). We have found that patience—infinite patience—is essential to working well with babies. Because our infant teachers love this age group, they delight in observing each baby, in discovering his unique temperament, and in responding to his individual needs. This focus on observation, and the knowledge of the importance of the early years, helps our teachers be unfailingly patient (and admirably more calm and centered than many of us are with our own children at home!)
  • An explicit, thoughtful approach to nurturing and guiding young children.
    Our Montessori-trained lead teachers love working at LePort, because we offer an authentic Montessori infant program. In many childcare settings, there isn’t an explicit approach to guide the day-to-day life with infants. What happens in one childcare room may be different from another one next door; and as childcare providers are often short-time employees, it often changes from week to week, or month to month. This can be very confusing for babies, who urgently need consistency to bring order to their world. In contrast, our program consistently applies Montessori ideas, such as following the child, encouraging independence, observing and individualizing instruction, and using positive approaches to discipline.Our Montessori-trained lead teachers guide those staff members new to the program, and help them to consistently implement this positive, respectful and loving approach to caring for babies and young toddlers.
  • A thoughtful, educated and intelligent individual.
    In her book, The Good School, author Peg Tyre quotes a preschool teacher who explains why intelligence really matters for teachers of young children:
    The best preschool teachers turn out to be ones who are very smart. “There’s a lot of things that you have to figure out. Preschool can be more difficult than the other grades because a lot of your teaching has to be embedded in other things. Understand that when you are playing with one child you’re working on their vocabulary, and with another child that you’re facilitating social skills and you’re teaching it through indirect ways.” Peg Tyre

    That’s one of the reasons we look to hire smart, university-educated individuals to become teachers, even in our infant classrooms. Yes, childcare providers for babies don’t have to demonstrate mastery in algebra—but they have to be able to think on their feet, to be creative, and to be able to observe and respond to each baby’s needs and personality. They also are one of baby’s key role models, which means they need to speak in simple, yet rich and grammatically correct sentences.


Hiring the most talented and dedicated teachers, and maintaining a 1:3 ratio isn’t the cheapest way to run a childcare center. To the contrary, it’s expensive. But our goal at LePort Montessori isn’t just to run a childcare facility. Our aim is to offer an enriched, Montessori educational environment as your baby’s home away from home.

This means only intelligent, high-energy, passionate yet patient individuals can qualify to work in our program. Hard to find? Yes—we review scores of resumes and conduct dozens of multiple-round interviews. But then that’s our responsibility: finding the best possible individuals to guide your child during his critical early years. Lucikily, with our reputation as the highest-quality, most authentic Montessori school in Orange County, and one who provides an excellent, supportive work environment for teachers, we usually have our pick of applicants!

Montessori infant care or nanny? How to choose which childcare option is right for you.

Finding the right childcare for your baby is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as the parent of a young infant. Often, the choice is between childcare in your own home—a nanny or an Au Pair—or care in a childcare center or home-based childcare setting. Here is a list of pros and cons, as you consider whether to opt for LePort’s Montessori infant program, or a childcare arrangement with a dedicated provider coming to your home.

Advantages of the LePort program over a nanny or Au Pair:

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  • A trained professional to guide and nurture your child. Most in-home childcare providers have little if any formal training in guiding young children. They may have completed a few courses, and taken CPR training, in the case of younger sitters or Au Pairs. Or in the case of some nannies, they may have had years of on-the-job childcare experience. But few full-time nannies are college graduates, and even fewer have completed a rigorous course of study in child development. LePort’s lead infant teachers, in contrast, are college-educated, intelligent professionals, who have completed a year-long, advanced program in Montessori education for children ages 0 months – 3 years. They have studied child development, practiced working with infants under the careful supervision of experienced AMI teacher-trainers, and have completed teaching internships in a Montessori infant or toddler pogram. And they’ve been evaluated by LePort on a range of criteria, from expressive vocabulary to genuine warmth and caring for children. As a result, our infant teachers are not mere childcare providers: they are trained guides and teachers for babies.
  • An environment that is optimized around a baby. A home is a beautiful place, but unless you are able to set aside an entire room for your baby and equip it with special furniture and a wide range of materials, it remains a space designed primarily around the needs of adults. There will be many things baby can’t touch; many things baby can’t reach; many objects that are hard to child-proof perfectly and still be useful for adult purposes. In contrast, LePort’s Montessori infant environment is designed entirely around the needs of babies. Mirrors go to the floor. Special small stairs with rails invite babies to crawl and climb. Soft floor mats cushion falls. Low shelves abound, and on them are placed materials carefully selected to help babies explore safely with all their senses. Miniature tables and chairs allow children to have a meal together; and even the toilet is baby-sized.

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  • A valid, consistently implemented, transparent approach to child rearing. Most new parents don’t have a well-formulated approach to all the many challenges of raising a newborn. When a nanny or other childcare provider comes in the house, her approach often becomes the de-facto standard for handling the baby. Unfortunately, what the nanny does may not be in line with best practices: for example, few childcare providers understand all the many ways in which an infant’s independence needs to be developed, and do things to the child (feeding, dressing, diapering), rather than helping the child do for himself as soon as he’s capable. Of course, a parent who knows exactly how she wants to bring up her baby, and who has a lot of time, can select and guide a childcare provider (nanny, Au Pair) to follow the right approach. But unless you have that knowledge and the willingness (and time!) to provide this coaching, you may be better off finding a program like LePort, where you understand and agree with the fundamental approach.
  • Socialization & community building. When your child is home alone with a nanny, his opportunities to observe and interact with other children are limited to excursions to the park or an occasional baby class with the nanny or with you. In contrast, in the Montessori infant program, young toddlers learn how to interact with each other in a civilized way. If socialization is one of your goals for your child, a nanny as childcare is probably not the best option.

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  • A reliable childcare solution, independent of one person’s health or family issues. If you work full time, and your nanny calls in sick, you may have to take time off. In contrast, with LePort’s program, we guarantee childcare for your child: when one of our teachers is sick or has to leave on a family emergency, we have floaters on staff, so you don’t need to stay home from work to cover your childcare provider’s absences. Plus, our floaters give your child’s primary childcare provider regular breaks, so she can be cheerful and patient all day long, instead of getting tired by being on duty for 9+ hours without breaks.
  • A guaranteed spot in LePort’s highly sought after preschool program. LePort’s preschool programs are in high demand and usually have long waiting lists. At some of our locations, the only way to get into the preschool program is by starting early. Enroll your baby now for childcare, and you’ll have priority enrollment, for preschool and beyond!
  • Much lower cost than a nanny, for 5 full days of care. LePort’s infant program pricing reflects the quality and care that have gone into the program design, the 1:3 ratio, and the highly qualified teachers who guide our youngest students. Still, for 9+ hours of childcare per day, five days a week, the LePort program is about half to two-third the cost of an experienced nanny or other in-home childcare provider.

When a nanny or Au Pair may be the better childcare solution:

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  • If you work from home and can see your child regularly throughout the day. If you work from home, and have a flexible schedule, a nanny gives you the ability to see your child during the day. Those breastfeeding breaks together, a quick stroll in the neighborhood or the opportunity to read a book together are great daily joys that a childcare center setting just cannot provide.
  • If the lack of a commute is more convenient given your particular situation. For instance, if your home and work are far from one of LePort’s infant program locations, it may just be more convenient to have a childcare provider come to your house, rather than having to drive to our schools to drop-off and pick up your baby every day.
  • If you don’t share LePort’s approach to early childhood education, and want a nanny with a different style of childcare.
  • If you want your child’s primary caregiver to speak a language other than English with your child. (In this case, you may also want to look into LePort’s language immersion programs, which begin at 18 months old.)
  • If you have two children to care for, a nanny may be a significantly cheaper childcare option. This is especially a factor for families with twins—although LePort does offer a sibling discount!

Five differences between LePort’s Montessori infant program and traditional daycare

If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them into those kinds of activities which they can perform themselves and which keep them from being a burden to others because of their inabilities. We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down the stairs, to pick up fallen objects, to dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs in a way that is clearly understood, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts. All this is part of an education for independence.

Dr. Maria Montessori

Although Montessori schools serve a daycare market, we do not think of our Montessori infant program as a type of daycare. The difference is just too significant.

If you visit any mass-market daycare chain, and then spend 20 minutes observing in our Montessori infant rooms, you’ll vividly see and feel the difference between the two. If you can’t make that comparison to daycare yourself right now (or are just struggling to find words to capture the difference you experienced!) here are five things that set the LePort Montessori infant program apart from typical daycare:

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  1. A carefully prepared Montessori home-like environment, not a daycare center. At most daycare centers, plastic materials dominate, from toys to furniture, because they happen to be easy and quick to clean. We want more for your child: our infant environments are beautiful by design. They are open, bright spaces, with high-quality, wooden furniture and comfortable chairs for teachers to snuggle with babies. You’ll see soft floor mats, lots of pillows of different shapes and sizes and soft sheepskins to rest on. There’s art on the walls, at baby’s eye level, and mirrors along the floor. On first sight, this room may look more like your living room than a daycare center. And shouldn’t it? LePort’s Montessori program will be your baby’s home way from home, after all!
  2. Love and respect for each individual child and family. Often, daycare centers feel too regimented: strict sleep schedules, mass-feedings in high chair line-ups, and parents not welcome at school. At LePort, we treasure each baby as a unique individual, and do everything we can to tailor the routine of feeding, active time and nap to his needs. We never confine your child to a high chair; instead, we cuddle with him in comfortable seats with a bottle, until he’s ready and excited to transition him to a low table and chair, where he can participate in eating with his own spoon. And, of course, moms are always welcome to join their child for a mid-day breastfeeding break!
  3. Freedom to explore at their own pace: a follow-the-child approach. Walkers, cribs, play pens: in many daycare settings, children spend much time in these and other containers. At LePort, in contrast, our mission is to liberate your child. We recognize that being encouraged to move is critical for infant development. Soft floor mats in front of mirrors encourage tummy time and self-discovery. Low bars mounted to the wall and soft furniture entice children to pull up. Stairs with low steps, a railing and a slide just call for practice climbing up and down.Because of our individualized approach, each child progresses through the stages of movement—rolling over, crawling, cruising, walking—at his or her own pace. In contrast to most typical daycare centers, we never force 12 infants to conform to a group, not for feeding, not for sleeping and not for anything else. As part of our overall follow-the-child approach, we customize your child’s activities to his or her unique needs. Socialization, in our environment, happens naturally; being with other little people thus is a joyful experience for your baby, rather than something that becomes associated with forced group activities for which babies just aren’t developmentally ready.
  4. Nurturing guidance for growing brains. A baby’s brain grows more during the first two years of life than any other subsequent two-year period. Our trained teachers recognize that education starts at birth, and work to provide an environment that will foster the child’s natural process of exploration. From beautiful, captivating mobiles for babies to observe, to immaculate materials on low shelves demonstrating simple cause-effect relationships, our environment and activities are carefully designed to facilitate and encourage self-initiated learning, exploration, and growth.montessori-shelf-supplies-day-care-huntington-beachThe first two years of life are also a “sensitive period” for order. Babies have a natural need to follow routines, to understand sequences, to know where things in their environment belong. As Montessori educators, we actively support your baby’s need for order: there is a special place for each material, and even children as young as 14 months delight in being able to put things back where they belong on the low, open shelves (something they rarely can do in other daycare settings, which often are cluttered, and have toys stored by staff in boxes or out of babies’ reach.)Our teachers are also masters at stimulating your baby’s language development. As Montessori educators, we know that the “sensitive period” for language acquisition starts at birth. Our teachers provide vocabulary at timely opportunities in response to their emerging interests: we observe and identify what your child focuses on (a blue mobile, a wooden chair, a soft, green, furry ball), and give her the language that goes with her interest. This responsive, individualized approach to fostering language skills has been shown to advance toddlers’ language development by up to an astounding six months!
  5. Highly trained teachers, and a ratio that supports lots of individualized attention. Childcare regulations require a 1:4 ratio of daycare staff to babies. We think that 1:4 is too high a ratio to maintain all day long: four awake, active children is too many for a teacher, even a well trained teacher, to consistently provide the level of individualization we think is optimal. That’s why while we always maintain the 1:4 staffing ratio, we aim to have a 1:3 ratio of awake children to staff for most of the day. In part, this is possible because in our mixed-age (3 months to around 18-24 months) infant rooms, children nap on their own schedule, and typically a few are asleep at any given time. mirror-montessori-infant-childcareRegulations also require daycare staff to have 12 ECUs (early childhood education units.) Often, that’s the extent of the education and training you’ll find at daycare facilities. We again do not think that’s enough! Research shows that the education level and intelligence of your baby’s primary care provider has a huge impact on his intellectual, social and physical development. You know from your experience as a parent that you often need to think on your feet; that parenting is easier if you have a clear idea of your goals, and the approaches to childrearing you want to follow. That’s why each LePort infant room is led by a university-educated teacher who has also completed the rigorous one-year, Assistant to Infancy training at an AMI training center, or an equivalent MACTE-accredited training program. In addition to this training for the lead teacher, most of the other infant teachers in your child’s room are also college graduates—and all of them are intelligent, observant, and nurturing individuals whom we’ve handpicked for our program! Click here to read more about the attributes we look for when hiring your baby’s first teacher.

The Home / School Connection

Informing yourself about school events and important dates is vital for you and your child to get the most out of your time at LePort and to feel connected with the school community.

We’re constantly working to communicate with families in a variety of ways. Here’s how you can stay informed:

    • Make sure you have the most up-to-date school calendar easily accessible. It’s highly recommended that you add the calendar to your own personal calendar system. Calendars are available in a one-page pdf summary (sent out via the Tuesday email, and included in your enrollment documents), as well as in Google Calendar format, so you can easily access the calendar and load it into your own calendar system.
    • Read your Tuesday emails. Every week, important information is included in your campus’s Tuesday email, especially regarding Minimum Days, holiday care, the hot lunch program, and field trips. Look at your child’s Tuesday Folder. At some of our elementary and middle school locations, you will also receive a hard-copy folder with key information, once a week.
    • Sign up for and get updates via Transparent Classroom. Transparent Classroom is our online record keeping system, where our Montessori Head Teachers keep track of all of the individualized lessons each child receives. This system allows us to ensure that each child progresses through the entire Montessori curriculum, at their own pace. It also allows your child’s teacher to communicate with you: he/she can easily share photos of your child with you, as well as to let you know of specific lessons she wants you to be aware of. You’ll receive typically one message a week from Transparent Classroom, so you can watch your child grow in Montessori.
    • Join your school’s closed Facebook community. Here, we’ll post the most current pictures of in-class events, field trips, etc. It’s also a great forum for getting to know other LePort families or arranging play dates.
    • Be on the lookout for Watch Me Work Wednesdays. Each year, starting around October, you’ll be invited to sign up to observe in your child’s Montessori classroom (for preschool, kindergarten and elementary school). Come see first-hand how your child spends his/her time in class!
    • Touch base with your child’s teacher at drop-off or pick-up. Teachers are happy to share anecdotes about your child’s day at drop-off or pick-up, as time permits, but it’s not possible to have in-depth conversations at these times of day. If your child’s teacher isn’t available to talk for long, leave a message with front office staff and she’ll get back to you as soon as possible, or email him/her to coordinate a time for a meeting.
    • For full-day infants and toddlers, pick up your child’s “daily reports” every day. These will keep you up to date about basic information from your child’s day, such as eating, napping, and toileting.
    • You’re always welcome to ask front office staff to look in on your child or give you an update if you’ve had a tearful goodbye. They are there to help and answer any questions you might have.
    • Parent-teacher conferences happen twice a year, with a back-to-school conference typically in September/October, and a mid-year conference around February. Some teachers and schools may send out a get-to-know-you questionnaire before conferences, for new parents, so your child’s teacher can better understand the goals you have for your child.
    • You’ll receive comprehensive progress reports of your child’s Montessori experience in February and June. These detailed reports are available online, in the Transparent Classroom system, and contain information both on the progress your child has made in the Montessori curriculum, as well as commentary about your child’s life in the classroom.
    • Finally, be sure to attend parent info events throughout the year. These will help you better understand what your child is doing at school. Parent info events can take a variety of forms–everything from casual morning coffee chats with a school leader, to hour-long late afternoon or evening meetings, and even weekend multi-hour workshops. Some of our schools make these events accessible via Facebook Live broadcasts, so busy working parents can join, too.

Thank you for staying connected!

A sneak-peak into the nido, your baby’s home away from home


Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.
Dr. Maria Montessori

Your baby’s most common waking activity is exploring the wondrous world around him. In this exploration he uses all his senses—touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, and above all, seeing. That’s why we take such care to create the ideal home away from home. In this newsletter, we share some features of this environment, and invite you to learn more about the LePort Montessori infant program.

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Babies are visual beings. A child’s environment should a tranquil, beautiful place, full of natural, appealing materials. If you visit, you’ll notice that our infant rooms seem more like a comfortable home than a typical daycare center! Nowhere at LePort will you find noisy plastic toys or flashing TV screens.


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One of the major goals of a baby’s first year is mobility.  Through exploration, children learn to roll over, crawl, pull themselves up, and eventually walk.  Our infant environments encourage such movement: mirrors make tummy time fun; pull-up bars over soft floors just call for children to stand up, over an over again; stairs invite climbing. We believe infants need to be free to move, and that containers such as jumpers, highchairs, playpens or walkers, which are very common in many daycare settings, have no place in a high-quality infant environment.


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When it comes to feeding, daycare centers often feel like assembly lines: we’ve seen some with six highchair seats around a table, with six infants strapped to their seats while their caretaker feeds them one by one! We think that’s a horrible mistake: eating is a individually paced activity. Babies need to enjoy the eating process, and move at their own pace as they learn to self-feed. The right start to eating habits can help prevent many food issues later on. That’s why our older infants steadily transition from cuddling with a teacher and bottle, to sitting at a low table and chair and enjoying eating with a spoon.


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Diapering is too often something done to a child at daycare, long after he’s capable of participating in the process. In contrast, at LePort we foster early toilet learning and independence. Our changing table is low to the ground, so the child can climb up on it. As soon as a child is able to stand, we change his diaper standing up, in the bathroom area. Low benches help children learn to undress and dress. And we even begin actual toilet training in the infant room!


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During the first two years of life, a baby’s brain will grow dramatically. Our Montessori environment is designed to offer your baby an array of stimulating materials that support his natural cognitive growth. We offer beautiful, captivating mobiles to observe and admire. Low shelves are filled with wooden and fabric materials that encourage fine-motor coordination and cause/effect experimentation: puzzles, balls, rings on a post, containers to open and close, and more.


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Research shows that one of the most important predictors of a baby’s language development is the frequency and quality of the communication with teachers. Our highly educated, engaging teachers are masters at providing high-quality language models for your child—they love talking to and with your child. And they know the importance of offering a lot of vocabulary in the right way—tailored to your child’s interest of the moment, to capture his interest and optimally support his language development.


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Sleep schedules can be a nightmare if not managed thoughtfully. We believe in following the child: we customize a consistent routine of eating, activity and naps to each child’s rhythm. None of the enforced group naps that are all too common in other daycare settings! As children start to walk, we transition them to low cots, so they can learn to search out a quiet place when tired, and acquire the self-soothing skills they need to be good sleepers, well-rested for all the exploring going on in our infant rooms.


We’ve created an environment we’d love to see our own babies in every day—one where an infant will find warmth, stimulation, and safety, and where a parent will be informed and respected,  We hope you agree, and that you’ll allow us to invite you to tour one of our schools, and see a Montessori infant classroom at its best, in action.

The Montessori Preschool Difference, In A Nutshell

“What is Montessori? How does it differ from other preschool approaches, such as day care centers or play-based and developmental preschools?”

I often get this question from parents I meet, both at LePort events and when I am with my two Montessori preschool-aged children at local playgrounds. I love this question, and it usually leads me to start talking about the many differences and wondrous benefits of Montessori preschool.

Unfortunately, not everybody has the time for an hour-long explanation. So to make sure I could answer quickly, I distilled my answers to the 3+3 of Montessori preschool, the three obvious differences in how a preschool classroom is run, and the three top benefits a Montessori education offers to children.

Since the parents I shared this with found it illuminating, I thought I’d post it online, so other parents looking into preschool options can benefit from it too.

THREE MONTESSORI PRESCHOOL DIFFERENCES: HOW WE TEACH

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Multi-age, family like communities.
Most play-based programs segregate children by age into the 3’s, 4’s, Pre-K and so on. Montessori preschools instead group 3- to 6-year-olds into one class. A child stays with the same teacher for three years. This builds a strong, family-like community, with lasting relationships between child and teacher, and friendships between children of different ages. Young children look up to and learn from older ones; while the 5- and 6-year-olds gain confidence as they become classroom leaders and mentors for their younger peers.

montessori preschoolUninterrupted 3-hour “work periods.”
Most preschools follow tight, adult-led schedules, with a new group activity every 30-45 minutes. In contrast, authentic Montessori preschools offer long, uninterrupted work periods that allow children to fully engage in tasks that they have chosen for themselves, under the careful, individual guidance of their teacher. Montessori children thus have repeated opportunities to get really engrossed in their activities, and experience regular states of concentrated focus. Visit a good Montessori preschool, and you may see a 3-year-old spending 30 minutes carefully arranging color tablets in a rainbow pattern, or a 4-year-old tracing, coloring and labeling a map of the world. As adults, we can’t focus when we know we’ll be interrupted soon; neither can children. Unstructured, child-led time is key in building concentration skills at the foundation of all learning!

A carefully sequenced, activity-based curriculum that engages hand and mind.
While most play-based preschools have the same type of toys you already have at home—think legos, dress-up corners, coloring pages, trains and blocks—Montessori preschools offer something different to montessori preschoolyour child. Displayed beautifully on low shelves, you’ll find dozens of scientifically designed learning materials: a Pink Tower, Color Tablets, pouring activities, a Movable Alphabet, math materials that teach the decimal system and arithmetic into the thousands, and so much more. Each activity has been selected because children at hundreds of Montessori preschools chose it freely, repeatedly. Each one teaches multiple skills and enables the preschool child to problem solve, to use his hands and all his senses, to repeat an activity and achieve mastery.
By progressing at his own pace through these activities, a Montessori preschool child joyfully refines his gross
and fine motor skills, and, ultimately, progresses to reading, writing and arithmetic into the thousands, all
while in preschool.

THREE MONTESSORI PRESCHOOL DIFFERENCES: WHAT CHILDREN LEARN

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Independence, self-confidence and a growth mindset.
Montessori children acquire a level of physical and intellectual independence rarely seen in other preschool environments. From day one they learn to take care of their own needs (dressing themselves, preparing snack) and their environment (cleaning up after lunch, taking care of classroom plants and animals.) This daily experience of being trusted with real responsibility for meaningful tasks—and rising to the occasion by successfully meeting that responsibility—results in children who have the earned self confidence that comes from actual mastery (against shaky self-esteem based on empty praise by others.) And because we acknowledge that mistakes are necessary for learning, because we greet spilled water or a broken glass with a calm, constructive attitude, children discover that it’s ok to make mistakes, and that we can and should learn from them. Our preschoolers acquire a growth mindset, a fundament attitude about the world that is invaluable
to a joyful, successful life.

montessori preschoolJoyful acquisition of reading, writing and arithmetic in preschool.While many preschools pride themselves in their “pre-reading” or “pre-math” curriculum, Montessori preschool children actually learn to write, read and do arithmetic into the thousands, while in preschool. They do so joyfully, with activities they choose, such as drawing pictures and writing stories about them, or participating in a small group addition exercise with the Golden Bead materials. The work Montessori 6-year-olds do is astounding: look at our work samples, or click here to see the type of book a typical 3rd year Montessori preschool student can read independently.

Executive function skills, from attention span to graceful social interactions.
Recent research shows that executive function skills (self control, organization, time management) are more highly correlated with school and life success than even IQ. Montessori preschool purposefully montessori preschooldevelops these skills. When a child has to wait for a material another child is working with, or when he stands calmly to observe a friend at work, he practices impulse control. By executing multi-step processes, such as table washing, and by always completing a full cycle of work—from taking a material from a shelf, to doing the activity and replacing it in its proper spot—the preschooler learns organization and problem solving. Grace and courtesy lessons and a daily emphasis on respecting the rights of friends and teachers foster a benevolent environment where pro-social skills emerge naturally.

Will my child thrive in Montessori preschool?

A Montessori preschool class is a place of beauty: 24 preschool-aged children, each engaged in meaningful activity, forming a community of individuals.  Look around and you’ll discover faces in deep concentration, or smiling delightedly at a task well done, or conversing warmly with friends. Here a boy reads in a quiet voice to a younger classmate; there, a girl stands respectfully, hands behind her back, observing a lesson the Montessori preschool teacher gives to a slightly older student. In the back of the class, an older boy is showing a friend how to scrub a table, carefully demonstrating the use of the scrubber, the sponge, showing the proper way to pour water from a big pitcher into a bucket.

“Wow”, the visiting mother thinks to herself, as she observes the Montessori preschool environment. And, reflecting on her daily life with her own preschool-aged child: “My child couldn’t possibly do this!”

Are the children you see in a Montessori school special? Do they have super-parents who have somehow helped them mature more quickly than other children? Or can any child attain this level of independence?

Dr. Montessori believed that children need a certain type of environment to thrive, one that enables them to be self-sufficient. Children need to be offered specific types of activity that engage hand and mind and lend themselves to be perfected by repeated practice. Writes Dr. Montessori: “The essential thing is for the task to arouse such an interest that it engages the child’s whole personality.”

Decades of practice in Montessori preschools around the world clearly demonstrate that preschool children can do much more than we normally give them credit for. They can act mature beyond their age, focusing intently on a task for long stretches, helping each other kindly, following their teacher’s guidance eagerly, and displaying a wonderful benevolence toward each other. They can enjoy the profound pleasure and self-esteem of work well done.

As Montessori educators, we are convinced that the prepared environment is the key piece of the developmental puzzle.  Children need a carefully –designed learning environment for their cognitive and personal growth as much as they need nutritious, regular meals for their physical growth. As Dr. Montessori put it:

Children need to work at an interesting occupation: they should not be helped unnecessarily, nor interrupted, once they have begun to do something intelligent. Sweetness, severity, medicine do not help if the child is mentally hungry. If a man is starving for lack of food, we do not call him a fool, nor give him a beating, nor do we appeal to his better feelings. He needs a meal, and nothing else will do. The same thing applies here. Neither kindness nor severity will solve the problem. Man is an intelligent being, and needs mental food almost more than physical food.

All of this probably sounds rather abstract, and you may not be not sure if it would actually be a good fit for your child. So what should you do? Should you take a leap of faith and just enroll your child in a Montessori preschool?

Choosing a preschool is a big decision. If you find the Montessori philosophy compelling, but aren’t fully convinced, use this summer as an opportunity to learn more. Let your child try out Montessori by enrolling him in preschool summer camp.

Montessori preschool summer camp is a great way to test the waters. It allows your child to attend a toddler or preschool Montessori program for a few weeks. And at a good Montessori school, it ensures that your child’s first taste of preschool is positive:

  • Expert preschool teachers. In an established Montessori summer program, experienced Montessori preschool teachers lead camp classes. They understand children, and have much more training than a typical summer camp counselor.
  • A real Montessori preschool community. Many of the children attending Montessori summer camp are students who also attend during the school year program. This means that summer camp classes have a great mix of ages and backgrounds. Seasoned Montessori preschool peers delight in helping new summer camp students get settled into class!
  • A normal Montessori preschool day. Summer camp is Montessori preschool: summer camp children have the opportunity to freely explore the Montessori materials, with extended work periods in the morning and afternoon. By enrolling her in summer camp for several weeks, you enable your toddler or preschool child to adjust to the Montessori preschool routine, and you may be surprised how much she can develop in a month or two!
  • Added summer camp activities. To make summer special for children, we apply Montessori preschool principles to typical camp activities. Bi-weekly themed projects enable students to explore the world with all their senses, as they discover the wonders of rainforests, learn about the desert environment and relate to these themes with arts and crafts activities especially developed for summer camp. “Montessori in Motion”, LePort’s unique summer program, offers bi-weekly sports activities: camp students learn the vocabulary and key skills for kickball and soccer, baseball and square dancing. It’s like attending a summer sports camp without having to leave!
  • Summer camp water play, in-house field trips and pizza Fridays. A visit from reptilian friends, a bubble show, a full aquarium of marine creatures coming to class: summer camp in-house field trips add safe, educational fun. Splash Fridays: children + water—need we say more?!

If you decide you like Montessori summer camp, and want to stay for the school year program, your child will have a leg up. He’ll return to a familiar Montessori preschool environment. If he isn’t fully toilet trained yet, a summer camp experience in the Montessori toddler room may just be what he needs to become fully toilet independent and ready for the Montessori preschool class.

And, importantly, summer camp enables you to see your child at school, to observe how he adjusts, and to get a feel for the Montessori preschool community your family may later join full time.

What do you have to lose? Just give it a try: you can download the summer camp applications and a detailed summer camp calendar right here!

Heike Larson



*Please note that summer camp enrollment does not guarantee immediate enrollment for the fall school year program. Many LePort preschool campuses have waitlists for fall enrollment. If you are considering enrolling your child for preschool, please inquire with the campus you are interested in about future program availability.

Healthy eating starts with knowing foods

 

private schools irvine

In a recent segment of ABC’s Food Revolution show, host Jamie Oliver hypothesizes about the poor food choices made by children and adults alike. Oliver holds up common vegetables—tomato, cauliflower, potatoes, eggplant—and asks elementary school-age children to name them.

Read more

At LePort, the “passion for learning” is kept alive

montessori preschool

What does medieval history have to do with a juicy steak from a modern, upscale restaurant? Read on, watch the video and find out!

In a recent LA Times article, education reporter Karin Klein reflects on her experience at her children’s back-to-school nights:

Read more

The Power of Play

I recently came across a not-for-profit group called “Playworks.” This group provides coaches to public schools in underprivileged neighborhoods to help make recess a better experience. Here’s what they write on their website:

For many elementary school principals, recess is the toughest part of the day. That’s when all the trouble starts—the teasing, fighting, bullying, injuries, referrals and suspensions. This video demonstrates the “before and after” effect when safe, fun playtime is introduced in the schoolyard. A trained Playworks coach teaches and runs games designed to build leadership and foster teamwork. As a result, kids are more physically active, and principals and teachers consistently credit Playworks for transforming not just the playground and but the entire school learning environment.

Playworks is to be commended for its innovation. While Playworks focuses on underprivileged neighborhoods, the problem they address is present in many elementary and middle schools. When young children who have not yet learned mature interactions are left alone at recess, their worst tendencies come out. Uncorrected, recess can easily degenerate into a dreaded period of bullying, harassment and free-for-all. Many students who transfer to LePort, even those from reputable public elementary schools, comment on similar bad recess experiences. Read more

Choosing a School

Before I started working with LePort, I once had the following encounter with a friend who was getting ready to send her daughter to school. She excitedly told me that her daughter had been admitted to the Kindergarten class of a private school in the Oakland, California area. Curious to hear more, I asked her how she chose the school. She told me, in great detail, about the school’s beautiful classrooms, the artist-in-residence program, the new auditorium, and the emphasis placed on diversity in the classroom.

I nodded along, impressed. Then I asked her about the curriculum: what her daughter would be taught in Kindergarten and later grades, how the teaching would happen, the content and method of the school, etc. She didn’t know and hadn’t thought to ask about it.

I often remember this encounter when I think about how difficult it is as a parent to figure out how to choose a school. We as parents aren’t education experts. Because we aren’t always sure what to look for, we sometimes get carried away with positives or negatives we observe in one category (e.g. facilities, the appearance of the school, or extracurriculars). We can forget that there are whole other categories that we aren’t considering or factoring into our decision.

It would be as though you went house shopping, saw a house with a gorgeous kitchen that just knocked your socks off, then bought it at once on the basis of the kitchen. Only later you might realize that the plumbing needed to be ripped out and replaced, that there weren’t enough bathrooms to suit your needs, and that the layout was inconvenient, so that you wound up not using a good portion of the house.

If you had catalogued in advance all of the different categories of things you wanted from a house—perhaps made yourself a checklist before visiting—you might not have been so immediately sold. You might have kept investigating and found a house that not only had a gorgeous kitchen, but that met all of your other needs as well.

It’s the same when shopping for schools. Fancy auditoriums and stimulating extracurriculars are valuable and important, but there are other factors that may be even more important. I now know that one of the most important factors that most people don’t consider is the curriculum.

The curriculum is what your child will actually be learning, and how (by what teaching method) he will be learning it. The curriculum is the difference between whether your child learns what he needs to learn or not. Parents should reserve a place of honor for curriculum on their checklist when they evaluate a prospective school.

My guess, though, is that even when parents try to assess a school’s curriculum and teaching methods, they find themselves stumped—hence the need to rely on more visible markers like facilities and extracurriculars. Curriculum is a complex, intangible value that is difficult to evaluate when you visit the school. This is particularly true as it is often communicated in “education lingo”, such as “constructivist math”, “whole language”, or “arts-integrated curriculum”. Having spent some time looking at the websites of other schools, I was surprised at how little information they generally provide on the “what” and “how” of their teaching. (Though most do offer a lot of detail about buildings, athletics and arts programs.)

To help demystify the intangible of “curriculum” and enable a parent to judge for him or herself, I like to break it down as follows (this is the advice we give to prospective parents at LePort, but it would apply to any parent who is trying to evaluate a prospective school):

  • Does the school have a clearly defined, written curriculum?
  • What core subjects does the school expect all children to succeed at?
    • Language arts—including spelling, vocabulary, writing and grammar as separate courses
    • Literature—with a focus on classics of today and yesterday (as against basal reader collections or adolescent fiction) 
    • History—taught as a chronological story which children experience (as against the disconnected grab-bag typically taught in Social Studies) 
    • Geography—taught as the fascinating study of different cultures 
    • Mathematics—taught with a dual focus on skill practice and conceptual understanding (as against rote facts memorization or “constructive math”)
    • Science—as the exciting discovery of the world, not a memorization of disconnected words and jargon
  • Does the school integrate personal development into each child’s day-to-day experience (as against a dry sermon on virtues)?
  • Does the school offer a wide range of extracurriculars, field trips and special events to build a community and to celebrate life?

Heike Larson

Knowledge for Life

Those readers who have been following LePort for a while may notice a new look: a new tagline, new colors, and a new logo. As we celebrated our 10th Anniversary in Orange County this year, we decided it was a good time to reflect upon what makes us different, and to create a consistent look and feel for our schools.

We are very pleased with the results. Our new tagline of “Knowledge for Life” captures the essence of what we do at LePort: our goal is to help students acquire the essential knowledge, thinking skills, and strength of character required to flourish as joyous children today, and as successful adults tomorrow. We seek to equip them with Knowledge for Life: real knowledge they can act on as they pursue their goals, knowledge that isn’t forgotten when they leave LePort, but lives on in their minds and helps them for a lifetime.

You can read more about the LePort essence—our mission, our guiding principles, and our standard for success—on our redesigned website.

Our new logo goes well with our tagline, and with our name. A boat made of books, three closed ones for the hull, and an open one for the sail. The books represent knowledge, the boat represents the journey of life. And, of course, LePort is French and means “The Harbor”—that is, the place where young minds acquire the knowledge they need to successfully live their lives!

Ray Girn

Excellent Test Scores—For What They Are Worth

Recently, we received the annual standardized test scores for our Mission Viejo Campus: we are happy to report that as a school, we scored in the top 10% nationwide. Our 3rd graders scored in the top 2%!

As a private school, we are not required to participate in standardized testing. We also don’t believe that these types of tests are very meaningful: like most assessments, they focus on basic skills in mathematics and language arts only. The questions test rote memorization and blind process repetition, rather than real understanding and broader skills. In contrast to many public schools and charter schools, we don’t spend much classroom time on tedious test preparation exercises. Instead, we teach real, meaningful content and skills. But, apparently, our approach pays off even on such multiple-choice tests.

Why do we have our students take these tests at all? Two reasons: first, because of society’s focus on standardized testing, our students have to learn to take tests like these—think ACT or SAT tests required by many colleges. Participating in annual testing allows our students to get some practice, and as we don’t spend much time preparing, they don’t lose much. Second, many parents do look to test scores to select a school. While we don’t think that’s a valid standard, we need to ensure that they don’t screen out our school, just because test scores are not available.

With that as context, I do want to say “Congratulations” to our amazing students: you did wonderfully—because you worked hard at learning real skills and knowledge. You should be excited about learning so much, and keep up the good work!

Ray Girn