The topic was "Why Montessori," and the staff presented some high level talking points about the Montessori educational philosophy. Then two parents each shared their "ah ha" moments in deciding to enroll their children in the elementary program at Pinewoods.
Lauren Walker is the parent of an upper elementary student started at Pinewoods in the primary program. It was with a good deal of hesitation that Lauren and her husband decided to keep their daughter at Pinewoods when she was ready for Kindergarten. They knew they had a great community of people. But was it the right choice for her academically?
Lauren's ah ha moment came in the form of a lesson she observed in her daughter's first month in Miss Jo Ann's lower elementary class. The children were given the opportunity to make construction paper pumpkins -- a typical fall activity for most Kindergartners. But this activity was different. The students were given budgets of pretend money to spend on their materials: 50 cents would buy orange paper; 25 cents would buy glitter, etc. At one point, even teacher help was a consulting fee that would need to be accounted for.
After the children made their pumpkins, they were then asked to write descriptive sentences. Of course, everyone made a pumpkin. But what kind? What could each child write about his or her pumpkin so that others could pick it out of a lineup?
This wasn't a math lesson. It wasn't art class. it wasn't a writing assignment. It was all three. And this was the ah-ha moment for Lauren and her husband, who had observed at public schools and knew this wasn't the kind of thing they'd seen anywhere else.
From teacher’s view to a parent’s discovery
Maria Finnegan came from a teaching background, having been a fourth grade public school teacher. And at the time she taught, 'manipulatives' were a new concept in teaching math--a feature that has long been integral to Montessori. A passionate teacher, Maria had students with a wide range of learning styles in her classroom, and lamented not being able to serve them all in the style that best suited them. Given the chance, she said, she'd become Montessori certified so she knew each child would have the education he or she needed in a classroom that embraced movement, self-determination and customization.
Maria now has three children enrolled at Pinewoods, from toddler to elementary.
A student's own story
Last to present was Davis Brown, an alumnus of Pinewoods and current sixth grader. Davis attended Pinewoods from the age of 2 to eleven years old. His foray from Montessori to middle school was something both he and his mother faced with trepidation. But his first day proved a success and he has been enjoying his transition ever since. The concept of grades was new to him, but hardly a problem as he felt his academics were on par or above his classmates.
And Davis even remembered the pumpkin project that Lauren had described: a project he did four years earlier!
Jo Ann Rubin, the Upper Elementary teacher at Pinewoods, shared that statistically speaking, Montessori children tend to outperform their public school peers in academics around ages 5 and 6. But by 12 years old, the performance is more or less equal. At that age, though, Montessori children tend to show stronger social skills, with more confidence in their work, their ability to deal with conflict and in themselves.
The choice: public school or Pinewoods?
Interestingly, parents of students in the primary program at Pinewoods aren't faced with a choice between one private school and another: they are looking at public school or Pinewoods. This is a tough choice for most families. On the one hand, public schools are already paid for by tax dollars. They have libraries, gymnasiums and bus service. Often, neighbors are all attending the school together. But they have real challenges: larger class sizes and less flexibility in curriculum development. Testing requirements that are suspect and detrimental to the overall quality of education.
All of this brings us full circle to the talking points the teachers discussed about "Why Montessori?"
1. Focuses on Key Developmental Stages
A Montessori curriculum focuses on key developmental milestones in children between the ages of three and five-years-old. Younger children focus on honing large muscle and language skills. Four-year-olds work on fine motor skills and completing everyday activities, such as cooking and arts and crafts. Older preschoolers broaden their learning experience to their communities, through trips and special events.
2. Encourages Cooperative Play
Because the teacher does not “run” the classroom, students guide the activities they do throughout the day. This encourages children to share and work cooperatively to explore the various stations in the Montessori classroom. Children in Montessori classrooms, by the very nature of the environment, learn to respect one another and build a sense of community.
3. Learning Is Child-Centered
Montessori preschool students enjoy a classroom and curriculum designed around their specific needs and abilities that allows them to explore and learn at their own pace and on their own terms. Everything in the classroom is within reach of the child, and furniture is sized for children to sit comfortably. In addition, older children in the class work with the younger ones, so mentoring comes as much from peers as it does from the adult teachers in the classroom.
4. Children Naturally Learn Self-Discipline
While the Montessori Method allows children to choose the activities they want to work on each day, and how long they will work at a specific task, there are specific “ground rules” for the class that are consistently enforced by the teacher and other students. This environment naturally teaches children self-discipline, and it refines important skills like concentration, self-control and motivation.
5. Classroom Environment Teaches Order
All objects and activities have precise locations on the shelves of a Montessori classroom. When children are finished with an activity, they place items back into their appropriate places. This sense of order helps facilitate the learning process, teaches self-discipline, and caters to a young child’s innate need for an orderly environment. When children work and play in an area that is neat and predictable, they can unleash their creativity and focus fully on the learning process.
6. Teachers Facilitate the Learning Experience
Teachers in the Montessori classroom are “guides” that are there to facilitate the learning experience, rather than determine what it will look like. Teachers take the lead from the children in the classroom, ensure the ground rules are followed, and encourage students to perform tasks at their own pace. However, teachers do not determine the pace of the classroom – that is strictly up to individual students, as teachers strive to remain as unobtrusive as possible.
7. Learning Method Inspires Creativity
Since children are allowed to choose their activities and work at them on their own terms, creativity in the classroom is encouraged. Children work at tasks for the joy of the work, rather than the end result, which allows them to focus more on process than result – a natural path to creativity. Exposure to a wide variety of cultures also encourages children to broaden their thinking about the world and address those concepts in a variety of ways.
8. May be More Effective in Developing Certain Skills
Research conducted by Dr. Angeline Lillard, a professor of psychology from the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, examined the abilities of children who have been taught in a Montessori school. Published in 2006 in the journal Science, the research studied Montessori students in Wisconsin and found that five-year-olds in Montessori classrooms had higher math and reading skills than their counterparts in public schools. In addition, the study compared 12-year-old Montessori and non-Montessori students. While math and reading skills appeared to be more on par with this age group, social development appeared to be higher in Montessori students by this age.
9. System is Highly Individualized to Each Student
Students in the Montessori program are allowed to explore activities and concepts at their own pace. This naturally encourages children to try more challenging areas, which accelerates their learning experience. Learning occurs at a comfortable pace for each student, rather than inflicting the same rate on every student in a classroom.
10. Curriculum Focused on Hands-On Learning
One of the greatest benefits of the Montessori Method, particularly during the early learning experience, is the focus on hands-on learning. The emphasis is on concrete, rather than abstract learning, as students work on activities that teach language, math, culture and practical life lessons. Teachers encourage students to concentrate on tasks, and they discourage students from interrupting one another, allowing students to focus on activities until they are properly mastered.