“We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself; this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit.”
Montessori encourages children to learn from each other. By having enough children in each age group, all students will find others at, above, and below their present level of development. This also makes Montessori schools economically more viable, allowing schools to attract teachers with far greater training and experience.
Some parents worry that by having younger children in the same class as older ones, one age group or the other will be shortchanged. They fear that the younger children will absorb the teachers’ time and attention, or that the importance of covering the kindergarten curriculum for the five-year-olds will prevent them from giving the three- and four-year-olds the emotional support and stimulation that they need. We can’t imagine teaching in any other way.
The Prepared Environment
Montessori classrooms tend to fascinate both children and their parents. They are bright, warm, and inviting, filled with plants, animals, art, music, and books. They are filled with intriguing learning materials, mathematical models, maps, charts, artifacts, scientific materials, a natural science center, and art.
Montessori classrooms are commonly referred to as a prepared environment. This name reflects the care and attention that is given to creating a learning environment that will reinforce the children’s independence and intellectual development.
You will not find rows of desks in our classrooms. They are set up to facilitate student discussion and stimulate collaborative learning. One glance and it is clear that children feel comfortable and safe.
The children tend to become so involved in their work that visitors are immediately struck by the peaceful atmosphere.
In her book, The Montessori Method, Dr. Montessori describes the transformation that took place during the first few months, as the children evolved into a “family.” They prepared and served the daily meals, washed the pots and dishes, helped the younger children bathe and change their clothes, swept, cleaned, and worked in the garden. These very young children developed a sense of maturity and connectedness that helped them realize a much higher level of their potential as human beings.
While times have changed, the need to feel connected is still as strong as ever. In fact, for today’s children it is probably even more important. Whether it’s an inner-city child or a child from an affluent suburb, the sense of community has all but disappeared from our children’s lives. Families regularly move from house to house and from town to town. Grandparents usually live in other cities or other states. Both parents work out of necessity, and when they are at home, they are very, very busy. The “latch-key” child, or children whose lives are over-scheduled by their families, have become the norm for this generation. Many children have the sense that they do not belong to anything or anybody, which is why gangs, which give a sense of belonging, have always had a certain appeal for some children.
Along with whatever else Montessori gives our children, it definitely gives them the message that they belong — that their school is like a second family.
Our Early Childhood Community
Our Primary Preschool Montessori classes are communities of 25 to 28 children from ages 3 to 6. They are led by certified Montessori early childhood educators. They tend to be rather stable communities, with just the oldest third moving on to the next level each year. With children growing together over many years, close relationships develop among the children and adults. Children’s Houses are close-knit communities.
Many preschools are proud of small group sizes, and parents often wonder why Montessori classes are so much larger. Schools that place children together into small groups assume that the teacher is the source of instruction, which is a very limited resource even in a small class. These schools reason that as the number of children decreases, the time that teachers have to spend with each child increases. In Montessori, we understand that children often learn best from other children who are a bit older and have mastered a skill. This process is good for both the tutor and the younger child. In the Montessori approach, the teacher is not the primary focus.
The classrooms are organized into several curriculum areas, usually including: language arts (reading, literature, grammar, creative writing, spelling, and handwriting), mathematics and geometry, everyday living skills, sensory awareness exercises and puzzles, geography, history, science, art, music, and movement. Each area is made up of one or more shelf units, cabinets, and display tables with a wide variety of materials on open display ready for use as the children select them.
Students are typically found scattered around the classroom, working alone or with one or two others. They tend to become so involved in their work that visitors are immediately struck by the peaceful atmosphere.
It may take a moment to spot the teachers within the environment. They will normally be found working with one or two children at a time, advising, presenting a new lesson, or quietly observing the class at work.
This is the children’s community. They move freely within it, selecting work that captures their interest, rather than participating in all-day lessons and projects selected by the teachers.
In a very real sense, even very small children are responsible for the care of their own child-sized environments. When they are hungry, they prepare their own snack and drink. They go to the bathroom without assistance. When something spills, they help each other carefully clean things up.
Four generations of parents have been amazed to see small children in Montessori classrooms cut raw fruits and vegetables, sweep and dust, carry pitchers of water and pour liquids with barely a drop spilled. The children normally go about their work so calmly and purposely that it is clear to even the casual observer that they are the masters in this environment: a “Children’s House.”
Montessori’s first “Children’s House,” opened in 1907, was made up of 60 inner-city children who largely came from dysfunctional families.
Our Two Campuses
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