by Amanda Cease
Since he was three months old, our son has been in a structured environment and attended daycare daily, which we believe helped him develop in many ways. As we started to approach the age of “real school” we wanted to find a place to call home and feel confident that he would be encouraged, challenged and guided. As we started to ask friends and family about their school my brother and sister-in-law talked highly about Innovation Montessori Ocoee (IMO). Their kids have been a part of the school since 2012, even before it moved to Ocoee and got its new name.
My brother and his family described the school as, “Different than what we grew up in, but a place they love and feel good about sending their kids.” What does that even mean? – ‘Different than what we grew up in.’ We took a tour of the school and quickly realized what it meant – no desks, no homework, a place that focuses on child-centered learning and provides both individual and group work opportunities. It is different than the school system we grew up in, but different is okay and we were ready to give it a try. We were ready to enroll our son in their pre-school program – the Casa program.
As the teachers hosted a meet-the-teacher and provided documents about the school we quickly hoped the underlying focus of ‘grace’ and ‘courtesy’ would be ones to trickle through the home life as well. No desks – because they move about the room to different stations. No homework – because they are encouraged to do outside activities in the evening and spend time developing other interests. Could this school really be one that teaches the kids during the day but also makes them a more understanding, compassionate and caring individual? We were ready to find out.
Immediately we were excited to see a list of suggested responsibilities for a child at home based on their age. We’re first-time parents. We probably baby our son too much and it was nice to see some of the things that we should be asking him to do on his own. And guess what – he can do them! The sense of responsibility has grown so much with him in just the few months we have been at the school.
One of the biggest differences we saw right away was the mixed grade levels. He is in a class with 3-5 year olds – pre-K through kindergarten. Our son is four. Would he be too advanced for the work they’re doing? Will he not be able to catch on because he’s not in kindergarten yet? These fears quickly went away as we learned about their child-led learning. Learning at the level and the way the child learns best. If they don’t seem to catch on, the lesson can be taught to them again. Are they mastering it already? Then they can move on.
Our son would come home and talk all about the friends he was making in his new school but didn’t talk too much about the specifics of the work – though we knew he was learning about the solar system and would tell us all about the planets he wanted to visit, and which ones would have which climates. To be honest, we were learning something too! What he hadn’t mentioned was his new-found love for not just hearing stories but reading them. During the first check-in with the teachers they told us how he was reading, and we couldn’t believe it. They suggested books we could get that mirror what he’s reading in class and we have loved encouraging the reading at home based on his progress. Don’t get me wrong, we still enjoy reading to him too, but it’s fun to see him reading to us and his little sister. It’s another example of how if you encourage them to do something on their own, they likely can!
As a part of the community, parents are required to volunteer to support the school – whether it’s on site or from home – and I was able to see the child-led learning in person as I volunteered to read with the kids. Each kid I read with was on a different book and different level, but it didn’t matter. They were reading, and they were proud of themselves for where they were and I was able to encourage them at the level they were at.
We feel like we’re being encouraged to be better parents through the school too – learning ways to talk to them differently, asking them different questions about the work they’re doing, motivating them to do things differently, disciplining differently. All things that should help our son grow and become a well-rounded, responsible citizen of the world.
All parents want what’s best for their kids, and in this season of life, we believe we have found it. We look forward to continuing to grow with our son, the IMO community and as parents through being a part of this Casa.