Mama Madison: It's time to mull over Montessori

Isthmus Montessori Academy holds a festival and open house

There are many different criteria parents use when evaluating which pre-school programs will be right for their children. Some parents might be looking for an educational philosophy that stresses creativity and community. Others may desire an option that revolves around learning through play or is more academic in approach.

But I employed a very different set of measures when deciding where to send my kids for their pre-elementary school years. At the time, I was working a somewhat unusual 9 a.m.-2 p.m. schedule Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. So I used what can best be called the "convenience model" when evaluating programs.

In a nutshell, if a preschool offered a three-day-a-week, three-quarter day schedule coupled with ample parking for easy pick-up and drop-off, I was sold.

No, it probably wasn't the most thoughtful way to approach early childhood education. But we were very fortunate that the University of Wisconsin Preschool Lab, the only program we found that could accommodate my schedule (they no longer offer partial week options),turned out to be a fabulous choice for my kids. I still have extremely fond memories of our Bear, Dolphin and Wolf Room days.

If I had to do it all over again though, I might be a little more mindful in developing a preschool shopping strategy. Again, not because I was in any way unhappy with where my kids ended up. But because Madison is clearly a cornucopia of excellent options.

There are terrific community center-based programs located all over the city. There are religiously affiliated preschools representing all three Abrahamic faiths. There's a Waldorf school. And a preschool that uses a curriculum inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to the early childhood years.

I especially wish I'd done a little more research on all the Montessori options our city has to offer. According to the Wisconsin Montessori Association, Madison proper, not even including the surrounding areas, has seven programs that offer instruction based on the famed Italian educator's work from the early 1900s. At its core, a Montessori education is characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child's natural development.

So if you are in the market for preschool, you may want to consider wandering over this weekend to Isthmus Montessori Academy second annual Artists and Artisan Foods Festival taking place at the school's Sherman Avenue location on Nov. 8-9.

The fair will it be a great place to begin shopping for holiday gifts, as well as a chance to partake in the raffle, silent auction and bake sale. It will also though be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about what the fairly new school, established in 2012, has to offer, not just for little ones, but for elementary school and summer, as well. And all of the proceeds from the sale will go to the IMA initiative, the school's annual fund established with the goal of placing Isthmus Montessori Academy in a larger building with expanded programming -- including a potential high school.

What seems to set Montessori apart from other philosophies is the emphasis on the importance of choice. And it's pretty darn nice, as parents, to have such a grand choice of preschools in town.

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