Is a Montessori School Right for Your child?
Is a Montessori School Right for Your Child?
When Sarah Outwater of Cranford was looking for a pre-school program for her 2-½ year old son, several friends recommended a Montessori school in Westfield. “I went to visit and loved the Montessori philosophy and the atmosphere it provided,” Outwater recalls. “I was able to observe a classroom where a group of about 25 students were sitting in a circle, content and peaceful. I knew it was the right environment for my son.”
Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori developed her educational philosophy in the early 1900s based on her observations of how children learn.
Dr. Montessori described a child’s mind between the time of birth and age 6 as “absorbent”, with a tremendous ability to learn. Although Montessori-based programs are available for children up to age 18, many parents choose Montessori schools for their young children precisely because of Dr. Montessori’s emphasis on the early years.
Catherine McTamaney, EdD is the Director of Curriculum at Christopher Academy, the oldest Montessori school in New Jersey, and author of several books on Montessori education. She describes Montessori as a unique program that treats children as individuals. “We don’t generalize that all 3-year-olds are the same, or that they should learn the exact same thing at the same time,” she explains. “In stead, the teaching philosophy is developmentally responsive to the individual child. Children are given the resources at the time to learn at their own pace to gain confidence in their abilities.”
Another part of the Montessori philosophy is that classrooms comprise children of mixed ages so younger children learn naturally from older children – and vice versa. This setup, says McTamaney, “allows children the opportunity to take on a wide range of social roles.”
Wendy Frantz of Voorhees went to a Montessori preschool and sent her daughter to one as well. Frantz says, “My daughter learned how to read at age 3 by watching the older kids in her class read aloud. Now she is one of the older kids in her class and loves taking care of the younger kids.”
Areas of Learning.
There are five general areas of “work” in a Montessori classroom; each area includes materials with which children can work independently and learn through hands-on exploration:
- The Practical Life area is where kids learn a variety of practical life skills such as carpentry, food preparation, sweeping, how to host a party, etc. These life skills teach them how to navigate their day and gain independence.
- The Sensorial area is geared toward senses and sensorial perception. By exploring their five senses kids learn how to classify the world and how the world works.
- The Math area teaches concrete mathematical skills from simple addition to complex multiplication.
- The Language area fosters a child’s natural interest in learning to read.
- The Cultural Matters area helps to connect children to their community, to society and to the larger world they live in.
Nicole Murphy of Westfield, a former Montessori student, has been a Montessori teacher for ten years. She appreciates the child-directed learning approach that doesn’t adhere to a traditional classroom schedule. Ms. Murphy says, “We do not have a set schedule where math is from 9 to 9:45 and then we move on to reading,” she explains. “If a child wants to read for an hour or build with blocks, they can.” Children can chose to work alone, with another child or in a group, moving freely from different areas of the classroom. Classrooms typically have multiple teachers to facilitate this individualized attention.
“I remember very little about my teachers at Montessori, which makes sense because the environment is student driven,” Murphy notes. “Everything in the room is child size; there is no big teacher desk. Teacher circulate and help children with their individual learning, rather than teaching a set lesson from the front of the classroom.”
Some parents might fear that given freedom to choose what they want to do, children might gravitate toward one area and not learn important skills in others According to Murphy, there is little need for concern. “It is our job as teachers to guide the individual student, observe how they are learning, and entice the child to want to work in all areas of the classroom.”
This kind of educational structure encourages social and emotional growth according to McTamaney. “Children who attend a Montessori school learn the necessary basic skills they need to function in a traditional classroom in addition to other life skills such as respect for others, cooperation and self-confidence. “
The benefits of an early Montessori education can last long into adulthood. Children learn to be peaceful, cooperative and collaborative – skills that translate to other settings in life. Murphy attributes her orderly manner to her Montessori education. “Order is a big part of the philosophy. Everything in the classroom is set up the same way every day. Everyday the children are greeted at the door and shake hands with the teacher. Knowing what to expect has a calming effect on the students.”
Fiona Rosenthal of Westfield, a former Montessori student who is currently in ninth grade at Westfield High School, attests to the lasting benefits. “I gained a love of learning and a desire to know more that began at Montessori school and has stuck with me ever since,” she says.
The Montessori Classroom
Individual schools implement the philosophy slightly differently, the basic elements of a Montessori classroom are:
· Mixed age classroom
· Student choice of activity (selected from the five general work areas)
· Learning from materials and hands on exploration, rather than a teacher driven lesson
· Uninterrupted blocks of work time
· Cooperative, peaceful environment with an emphasis on community
· Individually tailored curriculum based on each child
By Randi Mazzella for Family Magazine. Novemer 2012 Issue - Union