A Casa in Every Neighborhood

I’ve been thinking about aspects of Montessori education that can be a competitive edge over traditional education.  Here is one that I think is particularly promising… A casa in every neighborhood.

The past several decades have demonstrated a trend in traditional education towards larger facilities with specialized rooms.  Personally, I believe that this trend away from small neighborhood and one room school houses originates and is perpetuated by the factory model of education.  If a school system is administered like a factory seeking maximum efficiency at minimum expenses, the answer is to consolidate operations into a minimum number of facilities thus reducing overhead costs such as heating, staffing, and specialized equipment.  If the factory requires heating or airconditioning, than one large factory will have less energy loss than many smaller factories due to shared internal walls and less total exposed surface area.  (one large ice cube melts more slowly than many smaller ice cubes).  If each factory requires certain staffing needs such as accountants, expenses may be saved by having fewer staff members oversee the large factory, similarly if each factory requires a special machine, savings may be had by consolidating into one facility.  Furthermore, shipping raw materials in and product out to the consumer saves expenses because the cost of shipping is tax deductible.

Thank you for patiently reading through my metaphor set up, I will now attempt to bring it home.  Schools require heating and airconditioning, and it is more effiecient to heat an enormous school for 500 kids than a small school for 30.  Schools require adminstrators, accountants, guidance counselors, nurses, etc… and often feature specialized facilities and teachers such as gymnasiums, music and art rooms, cafeterias, and large outdoor play areas.  If one assumes, as the traditional education model does, that all these things are necessary, then it makes compelte sense to consolidate schools into larger and larger learning factories. 

Montessori education developed very mcuh apart from the factory model.  The very name of the first classroom, the Children’s House, explicitly names its model, the home.  Here is where I think the Montessori community can return to its roots.  In my admittedly limited experience, Montessori schools are still following the same growth trend as traditional schools.  A successful school adds additional classrooms attached to the existing school.  Why?  This strategy does little to help a Montessori learning environment which is by definition self contained with everything it needs to function in one room with an attached outdoor environment.  Almost every Montessori school I have visited with multiple classrooms from Connecticut and Minnesota to the Philippines, has its own outdoor environment area, even if it is adjacent to another.  Montessori schools have no need for cafeterias (we often eat in our classrooms), art or music rooms (these curriculum areas are infused in the classroom), or specialist teachers (we are trained in all areas).

Imagine a casa in every neighborhood. A residential home, purchased and remodeled for small children, with a backyard and toddler environment.  The upstairs could have an office and maybe an apartment for a guide or assistant to rent.  The basement would have ample storage.  Administration, payroll, and a medical staff could operate on a regional basis, supporting a dozen such casas.  Regional elementary facilities could absorb children graduating from the casas.

In my opinion, this vision furthers the ideals of Montessori education, but I also think it is a practical way to further the Montessori movement because I have the sneaky suspicion that parents choose a preschool like they buy coffee. 

In my conversations with parents in the US and overseas, I have noticed with growing concern, that the most significant factor in choosing preschool education seems to be convenience.  Dr Montessori has written extensively about society’s misconceptions regarding young children, especially regarding the best educational environment for children.  I would like to say that this has changed greatly in the century since she began her work in earnest, but it is has only changed incrementally.  Most parents I talk to mention location, hours of operation, cleanliness, toys, and personality of the caregiver as the primary concerns when choosing a preschool.  Few mention pedagogy, curriculum, or teacher training as important, and if they are mentioned it is often a secondary factor.  (I would like to test this empirically, but I am not clever enough just yet to design a survey that will encourage honest responses.  Parents may be inclined to incorrectly report the actual weight of convenience vs educational concerns in a survey because it may be percieved as “bad parenting” to favor convenience.)

If parents chose preschool the way they buy a car, more people would send their children to Montessori schools.  Unfortunately, most parents choose a daycare or preschool like they buy coffee, asking what is close and convenient.  I believe that a casa in every neighborhood could lead to a Starbucks effect. 

Personally, I don’t much like coffee, so I will ask forgiveness from any coffee conneisuers and ask readers from the pacific northwest to contain their contempt.  I don’t think Starbucks is the best coffee in the world.  I think it has an amazingly successful business model that taps into impulse and convenience buying patterns to establish a brand loyalty.  Consider this…

Starbucks A Casa in Every Neighborhood
Fill high traffic retail and business areas with stores Start a school in residential neighborhoods
People choose Starbucks coffee due to convenient locations People choose Montessori schoools due to convenient locations
After repeatedly enjoying Starbucks coffee, it becomes a trusted name  After seeing the positive results of Montessori education, it becomes a trusted pedagogy
The Starbucks brand helps sell coffee beans, ice cream, and pre-packaged coffee drinks Trust in Montessori preschool education increases interest in Montessori elementary and secondary education


Maybe this dream will never come to fruition, but it was nice sharing it.  Thanks for reading.



One thought on “A Casa in Every Neighborhood

  1. Yes! This is a reminder to myself and to you that I want to talk about lack of good administrators out there. How do we recruit, train, and retain quality Montessori administrators who are well-versed in Montessori education but also have the skill set required to sustain good schools. Running a classroom and running a school are two very different things…

    As an aside, if there’s a Casa in every neighborhood, does that mean there’s an elementary campus in every neighborhood, too? What happens if there’s not? How do we facilitate a natural flow and transition between third year Casa students and the lower elementary classroom? Ideally, they get to decide to for themselves when they’re ready.

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