by Erin Darst Hein
Each month I write an article about my experience growing up behind the scenes of the funeral industry and about my family’s journey building Darst Funeral Home. This month my dad and I have decided to share a little bit about a different organization, Kingwood Montessori School, and why it means so much to our family. Just like the funeral industry, we know people have a lot of pre-conceived ideas about Montessori schools, and we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you get a behind the scenes peek.
If you follow these articles, you will already know that we do things a little differently at Darst Funeral Home. We believe that natural light and fresh air are more healing than artificial light. We believe that children should be allowed and encouraged to be a part of the planning process for lost loved ones even if that is as simple as making flower color choice. We know that no two people (especially no two children) follow a grieving path in the exact same way and that everyone’s own pace and needs must be respected. We believe that children cannot grieve if they are confined to pews (and that parents can’t grieve if you are focused on confining them). So we created space to breathe, space to move, fountains to soothe, and gardens to explore.
So what does this have to do with Kingwood Montessori School? A lot, actually! To be completely honest, I only scheduled the Kingwood Montessori School to check it off my list. I did not expect to like it. I had heard about Montessori schools before. People say they are chaotic. That they lack structure. That kids can do whatever they want all day. That only kids who can’t function in public school end up there.
What we found instead was a place that holds dear the qualities that I mentioned above. A place that believes in tons of fresh air and sunshine and getting your hands dirty. A place that respects each child’s pace and individuality. We found a place where every single staff member we encountered got down on my child’s eye level and spoke to them and listened to them. The classroom didn’t look like chaos. While it is definitely true that students have a voice in what work they choose, it is *guided* choice. Kids were in every part of the room doing different things but the room was filled with quiet focus and calm. The director explained that we all know children are hard-wired to be curious and to try things out, so the work materials are designed and laid out to attract that natural interest and that the teachers will limit and guide their choices as needed. Their natural self-motivation is amazing when that spark is not dampened by frustrations (such as work that is too easy and makes them feel bored or work that is too hard and makes them feel unsuccessful). I didn’t see any worksheets. They were reading on pillows and learning to count to 1,000 with a chain of 1,000 actual beads going down the hallway. There was a child making a giant map and a child practicing verbs by actually doing the actions. There was a toddler learning to button a jacket. There were older students working one on one with younger students. It was fascinating. It felt warm and happy and like a home away from home.
Ok, so they are loved, and engaged, and involved, and they get to spend a lot of time outside (and did I mention they have no homework until 4th grade and then very limited homework after that?) BUT doesn’t that mean they fall behind? Actually, in Spring 2018, Kingwood Montessori 1st and 2nd graders tested an average of one grade level ahead in standardized testing in Math and on-level over-all. 3rd and 4th graders tested as a group about one year ahead in both Math and Reading and 2 full years ahead in Thinking Skills. 5th and 6th graders tested an average 1.5 years ahead in Reading, 2.3 years ahead in Math, and 3 years ahead in Science, Social Science, and Thinking Skills. The oldest six-grader tested into “Post High School Level” in 7 categories.
We enrolled 4 years ago and we haven’t looked back. This place is so much more than just a school for us. It has changed the way my kids work and think at home. The way they settle conflict. The entire way they see and approach the world. I am delighted by how often I am surprised and challenged as a parent to raise the bar. If you are looking for day care for your toddler, or a pre-school or private kindergarten, or maybe you feel like your elementary student is not thriving where they are, go check them out. At press time, there are a few slots left in every level and if they get enough demand they will open a third pre-school classroom but HURRY. I don’t expect them to last long. Check them out at www.kingwoodmontessori.com or call 281-548-1452 to schedule a tour. I promise you will be glad you did.
Erin Hein is the daughter of John and Anne Darst of Darst Funeral Home. (www.darstfuneralhome.com | 281-312-5656 ) Erin lives in Kingwood with her husband Evan and her children Jack (7), Caroline (5), Ian (2) and one new little Hein on the way. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.