Learning Garden School offers two half-day/five days per week programs, but does not offer a full day program or a part time program.
This is why:
I have been teaching, directing and running Montessori schools for twenty six years. I opened my first school in 1997. During this time, I tried all possible variations in instruction schedules. My first Montessori School, Sundance Montessori, offered a full day schedule, with variations from five days/week to lesser attending days. Schools that I directed later in my career had possibilities of part time of half days or part time of full days.
By the time I opened Learning Garden Montessori School in 2008, (on the day the market crashed, from all other possible days), I had a lifetime of professional observation, knowledge, education of two graduate degrees, and extensive experience about how children navigate preschool schedules.
I want to describe to you how preschoolers navigate a half day/five days a week school schedule, versus a full time or a part time schedule.
Children attending preschool five half days per week walk in our school with such an extraordinary eagerness for learning! They are fresh, rested, curious, and ready. They are ready to internalise any knowledge coming their way.
Attending five half days ensures a continuity in their schedules that allows them to build a strong level of trust with their teachers and peers.
The children navigate the separation anxiety of the first days (or weeks) of school, and they learn emotional tools to trust themselves and their new school. With a five half-days program, the children get to practice these skills, and they become more and more confident.
In parallel, they start learning concepts, practice social skills and build successful experiences, new skills built on top of previous ones. “Learning” is only not the act of internalizing a single narrow concept- such as one letter for example- but a sum of concomitant acts: fine motor skills, comprehension, independence, problem solving skill, social skills, regulating emotions, building confidence etc, all acting in unison. This sum leads to knowledge, understanding, self trust and a kind interaction with the world around them. All this take practice: the brain builds new neural pathways with each utterance, with each new experience. A five half-days program offers the continuity, the platform for this practice, resulting in self trust and the child’s success.
The half-day program five days /per week is long enough for the children to practice new skills, learn new concepts, and short enough so they don’t burn out. The children leave school each day with a joyous enthusiasm for “tomorrow”, with plans for what they will work on “tomorrow” and they return the next day with a renewed zest for learning. I sometimes receive texts from parents on weekends telling me that their little one “wants to come to school today” because they miss school. Our students walk in the school the next day with such self assurance and eagerness, presenting themselves with “I am here, let’s learn!”
I describe this self assurance, this zest for learning, as ” the children own the school.”
The children are are more tired in full day programs, the long hours of instruction seem to lead to children losing their energy and some of their love for learning. It is very much like grown ups after full days of work, day in and day out. The preschoolers are still so little and so much of their energy goes into growing up! Full day schedule seems hard on them. They will manage in a full day program, because people, even little ones, adapt. But overall during my career, I observed a lesser engagement with the school environment for the full time students compared to five half-days/week students: less eagerness of being at school, less excited about school, less willingness to participate and more tiredness when navigating social interactions, as hard as the teachers try to engage them.
In full time preschools, children spend most of their time with the teachers and at school, but much less awake time at home and with their parents. This is hard on them.
In programs with part time schedules, children go through a constant process of readjusting to their school, which seems to give them overall a harder time adjusting their emotions and building trust in their school. Time does not make sense to them in the way we, grown ups, understand it, so they are in a constant uncertainty, at a time in their development where they most need order, structure and consistency. They practice different skills in a fragmented way, which is giving them less time to practice them.
I know that within these two models I described above there are a multitude of variations and exceptions. With love, our children grow up and learn skills, even in less than ideal schedules.
As an educator, my commitment is to advocate for the best possible school for my little preschoolers, thus why I am offering them a school structure of five half days per week, which I observed to be the best schedule for this age group.
Our today’s world, where most of us grown ups have to work long hours, is a reality I cannot discount. This is why my suggestion for parents working full time is the following: if you can, think of your children’s preschool years as a combination of a five half-days of preschool and a part time nanny. This way the children benefit from a school structure that helps them thrive and down time at home, which allows them to rest.