Our growing understanding of brain development alone is a forceful mandate for tending to the education of our youngest. An individual’s brain construction project takes about 20 years to get all the basics in place, but those first five years are the physical foundation upon which everything else is built. For example, even by 24 months old the differences in a child’s amount of vocabulary is directly tied to the verbal environment that the child has experienced.
Economics is also a forceful mandate, with numerous studies showing that about $7 is saved for each $1 spent on early childhood education. As our federal and state governments move to invest in our future in this way, defining “high-quality” early childhood education has become a major focus. Obviously, there is a mix of opinions. Montessori educators have a rich history, wealth of anecdotes, and a growing pool of educational and neuropsych studies that support the principles of our practice. We know in our bones that the quality of the adults, the beauty, peace, and order of the environment, the mixed aged community, the child’s ability to be independent in their work cycle, are all elements of a quality early education environment. Yet it feels like moving a mountain when we work to bring these principles to the established bureaucracy of the conventional school system and agree upon their definition.
The Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) has been established during the last couple of years in Oregon (along with 40 other states). Childpeace has taken steps to be a part of this conversation of defining “quality” in Oregon by creating a QRIS Portfolio that documents our practice in great detail. We are in the midst of having it reviewed; observers have come to “rate” us and more will come in the future. It is fascinating to see the state standards for quality take shape. We have created statements of practice (e.g. about appropriate screen time, nutrition, and mixed-age groups) to help shape the conversation. Some colleagues have worked to articulate the Montessori teacher-training so that it is understood when the state quantifies the education level of our guides.
Investing in early childhood can take many forms. You yourself have given up a major chunk of income to stay home with your child and/or to have your child with excellent educators. It is a noble work to extend outside of our own homes to the neighborhood and society around us and invest in this fundamental tool for transforming our society. I am pleased that this is now a bigger part of our national conversation.
Merri Baehr Whipps, Assistant Program Director
Childpeace Montessori School