Natasha Hemmingway is a successful sales coach, speaker, author and Mom to 7-year-old Kash, a student in the Elementary Bilingual Program at Guidepost Montessori in Lake Norman, North Carolina.
Five years after she enrolled Kash at Guidepost Prosperity, she sat down to tell us in her own words why Montessori has proved to be the best educational path for her son, the ways it manifests itself positively in his everyday life and the importance of sticking with it through Elementary and beyond.
Education has always been important in our house
I knew I only ever wanted one child. When our son Kash was born, my husband and I were determined to give him the best of everything. And education was a big piece of that.
My husband and I live in North Carolina and work full-time. My mother-in-law moved to be near us, in order to help with the baby. We knew we had the option to keep Kash at home for quite a while — he ended up staying at home until he was two. But the search for the right school and the right environment started well before he was ready to actually go in. It was crucial to us that we find the right place.
None of the traditional daycare or preschool options spoke to us
We started out touring local institutions, looking at faith-based, private daycares. I wasn’t really a fan of them. I didn’t need anyone to babysit — my mother-in-law could do that. Each place we went into, I felt like what I was seeing wasn’t enough. We were doing work with Kash at home — whether it was these videos that we’d put on every day, or teaching him how to sign, or teaching him about the alphabet, colors, numbers, phonics — we did all this very early on. And so, he was already picking up things. He had already started to read at three. And I just knew that I couldn’t put my son in a place where he was only sitting and playing with toys and memorizing ABCs. That's not what we wanted.
I didn’t attend a Montessori school as a kid. I think that’s pretty common for a lot of parents who send their kids to Montessori school now. But as I was going through this whole school tour process, I remembered that two of my best friends growing up went to Montessori school. And I remember them just being different. They just thought of things on a different, broader level. Even when it came to us being in high school and taking honors classes, I felt like things came easier to them, whereas for me, I felt like I had to really study and it was stressful for me to keep up.
I got on the phone and had a discussion with one of our really close friends who used to work at a Montessori school back in South Carolina. She was all in favor of it. And then I remembered also seeing one of my guidance counselors from high school’s daughter on social media — her daughter was in Montessori school and they were always raving about it. And so, all these things combined to make Montessori a really attractive prospect for Kash.
Touring a Montessori school in person was the game changer
We went to tour Countryside (now Guidepost Prosperity) and immediately, it felt different.
Upon walking into the classroom, the energy of the place was amazing. It was so calm and quiet. You don’t see that in a lot of traditional school environments. I asked the teacher “How do you do that with two-year-olds?” And I remember her saying, “Well, we don't yell across the classroom to a child. Because we don't want them yelling at us across the classroom. We give them the same respect that we want back.” And right away I thought ‘Yeah, you model what you want to see in that child and they will model it back, if they're given the space.’
By the time I left, it had moved me to tears. I told my husband “This is where [my son is] supposed to be. This is home.” I felt, not only comfortable, but excited about taking Kash out of our home and releasing him to someone else.
If you think about it, our kids spend more time with their teachers and in their school environments than with their parents. So, who you decide to turn them over to is a big, big decision. It wasn’t as simple as “Oh, my child is x years old? Ok, now it’s time for them to go to school.” No. Every little thing matters. And I felt like as soon as I walked into that Montessori school, I’d found what we were looking for.
If I had known about Montessori when Kash was born, I wouldn’t have even kept him at home. He would have gone straight to Nido.
At Guidepost Montessori, I can quickly get answers to questions whenever I need them
Another thing that has been a game changer about being at Guidepost, is that if there’s a problem or I have a question, there’s an open-door policy. I don’t need to email and schedule a meeting with the principal and then wait to meet the principal like I would at a regular school. It can take two weeks to get a meeting scheduled about something that my child is dealing with at a regular school! And you know, if there’s an issue affecting my child, I need it resolved sooner rather than later. We don’t have two weeks.
With Guidepost Montessori, there's this intimacy and an intentional involvement from everyone. It’s a culture, it’s in the guides but also in the administration. Any time I’ve had a question, an issue, their door is open.
The Montessori Method really starts to manifest itself in Elementary
It can be difficult for parents to conceptualize the Montessori Method or really understand what’s going on in a Montessori classroom. We know on a surface level that our child is in there, learning this and that, but it’s not like we can ask, “Johnny, which worksheets did you do? Where’s your homework?” That's not how it works.
There are all these materials and everything is intentional. They’re there for a reason, the work cycles are there for a reason. And you start to see a lot of the things that they learn here start to actually truly manifest when they get to Elementary. And I can say that with full conviction because my son has been in Montessori since Toddler and now, he’s in Elementary.
There are also the relationships that are built in these mixed age classes that are so, so valuable. The longer we can keep our kids together, the more comfortable, the more consistent they grow up to be. For me, once Kash was in Elementary, one of my first thoughts was Okay, we have an elementary school, is there a middle school coming? What's coming because once we go to elementary, then we want to go to middle school. What does that look that? [Side note: Guidepost does offer middle and high school education via the Academy of Thought and Industry.]
Kash has been at Guidepost since he was two
He started in Toddler at Guidepost Montessori at Prosperity, then moved to Children's House. And then he was only in a regular class for the summer because we were given the option of joining a new Spanish immersion classroom, which we took. He was there from the age of three to six, then he moved to Elementary. We ended up moving to a Guidepost sister school, Lake Norman, because we wanted Kash to have the option of doing the Bilingual program, which wasn't offered at Prosperity. That’s how important it is to us to have him there. And it’s not easy, but how can we not? Remember, it’s my child’s future. So we do what we have to, we pay for a toll pass lane and drive two hours round trip so that he can go there.
Montessori doesn’t only happen in a classroom — the thinking spills out into other life areas
Think about when you go to a child’s birthday party and see a Montessori kid sitting at the table? I mean let’s be real, these are still young, silly boys, all having fun. But the Montessori kids know about respect, they know about manners.
Montessori approaches the child as a whole human. It asks big questions: How do you show up in this world knowing that you are a greater part of it and that what you do matters? How do you respect other people and teach them conflict resolution skills? How do you respect other people’s space?
Kash is so respectful, thoughtful and curious. He will check in on us and he will check in on other kids. Sometimes he will say to me “That’s not respectful.” Actually, just this morning, he said, “Mommy, that's my emotion.” Tell me when was the last time you heard a 7-year-old boy even use words like that? Or there’ll be times where he’ll tell my husband and I to visit the peace table and say, “Can I share my feelings with you?” Honestly, it shows up so much and that’s all Montessori. And other parents notice it too. Kash gets compliments. And I tell people all the time, I say, “Listen. Yes, we’ve worked with our son, but if you really want to know where it’s coming from, it's Montessori. This is the product of a Montessori child.”
We’re ride or die Montessori. There’s no other place we’d want Kash to be
I’m aware some parents pull their kids out of Montessori when they get to kindergarten or Grade 1. I can certainly empathize with that — let’s be honest, Montessori is not the cheapest option. I hear parents start saying things when their kids get closer to the Elementary level, things like “Oh, we can put them in public school now.” For us, we just knew we wanted to keep Kash in Montessori to see the full benefit of going beyond kindergarten.
I recall one conversation I had with a parent. They’d moved their kids to a public school for Elementary but were second-guessing their decision, because one of their children was just not thriving in that world. And all I said was “What is best for them? Because if they're going to suffer, it’s going to cause you more headaches down the road and then everybody's going to suffer in your house.” To me, Montessori is an investment that has positive effects in so many other areas. I’m happy to say, the parent ended up returning to Guidepost and their kids are so much happier.
I always say jokingly, we are ride or die Montessori. We're going to be here until forever. I’m already talking about ATI.
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