Considering Summer Camp

Students everywhere are already feeling the itch that begins as summertime nears. Parents, too, anticipate this time of year, and can sense the change in the air and in the attitude of their children. For some, summer is a respite, a breath of fresh air, a welcome change from the scheduling demands of the school year. For others, it is a time to worry about how to keep the kids occupied and how to balance not having a school schedule when the demands of a continuing parent work schedule still must be followed.

Whether or not parents’ career schedules continue as usual during the summer, there are some great reasons to consider signing your child up for camp during the summer, even for just a week or two. In addition to providing working parents with a child care alternative, summer camp provides kids with fun and beneficial experiences.  Here are just a few reasons parents might consider summer camp for their children this summer:

  1. Camp provides continued structure for a child’s day. Just as with school, summer camps adhere to a regular daily schedule. Arrival and dismissal times are set, and while activities may vary, generally, summer camps have a predictable routine for their campers to follow. Children thrive on routines and most feel a sense of calm when they know what to expect on any given day, from arrival rituals to snack time, organized activity to free play opportunities, lunch to water fun, children often do best when their day is set up in a predictable pattern.
  2. Children have the opportunity to make new friends and learn from new adult leaders. Even if your child attends a camp affiliated with his or her school, there will likely be new faces among the campers as well as the staff. While sometimes a transition to a new teacher or caregiver can make some children apprehensive, children who participate in summer camp or other out-of-school activities learn to adapt to social situations with new people when given these opportunities. They may form bonds that continue even when summer and camp are over, and they will have grown in their ability to interact with others.
  3. Your child will undoubtedly learn something new while at camp. Camps are set up to offer experiences that are different from what children are used to doing in school and at home; therefore, camp provides children with the opportunity to try something that might be out of their comfort zone, and who knows, even find a new passion. At the same time, as children try new things and discover new interests, their self-esteem grows, and they gain confidence when faced with something unfamiliar.
  4. Summer camp can reduce the effects of ‘summer slump’. The American Camp Association has enlisted educational and psychology experts to research the many benefits of camp. They report that educationally speaking, “Camp is a natural extension of the classroom. Research indicates that by participating in strategically planned, structured summer experiences, children reduce summer learning loss. Camp challenges children, keeps them engaged, develops creativity and their talents, and expands their horizons” (acacamps.org).
  5. Camp can be cost-effective. When parents work full-time, camp may be the most cost-effective solution for child care during the summer months. Especially today, there is a wide variety of camps from which to choose in most communities.  From township camps to church camps, school camps to sleep-away camps, there are options for every budget, scheduling need, age, and interest. Local parenting magazines and newspapers often feature a special camp issue in the spring as parents begin to plan for the summer months. Some camps even provide financial assistance if there is a need.  Given the wealth of choices, there is sure to be a camping opportunity to suit most families’ needs.
  6. Camp is fun! No doubt about it, camp is fun for everyone. With an entire day devoted to active, creative, and leisure pursuits, children can enjoy their summer vacation by doing a laundry list of fun things. Even if families do not need to use camp as a childcare solution during the summer, they might want to consider enrolling their children in even just one week of camp to experience some of the benefits of this summertime rite of passage. And did you know? There are even camps out there for adults, so as you consider signing up your child for a fun week at camp, you might find the perfect fun camp experience for yourself, too!

The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) offers summer camp experiences for MCA enrolled students, ages 3 through 8th grade. For more information, please contact your Campus Director.

Montessori Elementary

Moving on from Montessori

The Montessori Early Childhood model promotes children joining the classroom at age three (or younger in some schools) and staying through the end of the kindergarten year (or age six). There are many benefits to following this course, as children become part of a school-family community, build on and develop new skills each year with the Montessori materials that grow with them, and gradually take on leadership roles in the culminating third year, all in a familiar, safe, nurturing environment. But what happens to these Montessori children after the kindergarten year? Ideally, these students will continue on in Montessori Lower and Upper Elementary, and hopefully even Montessori Middle School – all of which are available at our MCA Short Hills campus. However, if they are not able to continue with Montessori after kindergarten, how do they fare in local public or private schools? The majority of Montessori alums and their parents would answer that question very quickly and easily by saying, “We fare very well, thank you!”

You see, the skills gained in a Montessori Early Childhood Program help these children wherever they go. By having the opportunity to make choices about what work to do during the school day, children learn decision-making skills. After having been given the time to focus on their chosen work during the course of the school day, the children develop concentration and become persistent in completing tasks. They take ownership of their work and are held accountable, learning responsibility at a very early age. The cross-curricular connections throughout the academic disciplines ignite a fire within students to discover more, boosting their growth as eager, enthusiastic learners right from the start of their school experiences.

We reached out to a few Montessori alums to inquire about their Montessori and post-Montessori experiences. Meet Emily, a Montessori graduate of Early Childhood, as well as Lower and Upper Elementary programs (or preschool through 6th grade), in the Midwest who is the mother of 2 soon-to-be Montessori children, and Victoria, Jamie, and Evan, three Montessori Early Childhood (3-6-year-old program) graduates from the east coast who are now high school and college students.  Here are some of their reflections:

MCA: Can you describe what you remember and value most about your Montessori experience?

Emily: I started in Montessori at age three and continued in Montessori through 6th grade. I remember my Montessori school feeling like an extension of home. What stands out the most is the collaborative learning that took place. We never really paid attention to how old our classmates were—students worked in groups together formed by their interests and abilities.

I struggled early on with math, but I was never made to feel like I couldn’t achieve success in this academic area. I simply worked at my own pace, and eventually succeeded in completing my math studies all the way through Calculus. Math was never something to fear. Even though it was difficult, I had the materials and adult support to work through my lessons until I understood the concepts.  I think that’s what helped me when I left Montessori for public school.  I wasn’t afraid if a subject was hard because I knew that I was able to overcome difficult things in school before.

MCA: How has a Montessori foundation helped you in all of your other educational environments beyond Montessori?                                                                                                                             
Victoria:
  Starting in a Montessori preschool really helped me when my family had to relocate.  First, we moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania.  While I was sad to leave my preschool classroom, my teachers, and my friends, it was very easy to transition to my new school because it was another Montessori school.  The materials were the same, and it felt very much like home.  Of course, the people were different, but having a familiar environment made the switch much, much easier.  I also was able to pick up from where I left off in my math, language, and map studies.  I knew the work cycle routine, and it made this transfer to a new school almost seamless.

Later, when my family moved overseas after my Montessori Kindergarten year, I went to an international school.  I think the way I learned how to ask questions and follow my interests in Montessori classrooms helped me with this move, too.  I had a strong foundation in math, language, geography, and science, so  I found it easy to add to this strong academic base. Montessori really fostered a love of learning about everything.

Also, in Montessori, we all had the opportunity for leadership roles, especially in our Kindergarten year.  That made it easier for me to work with others, help others, and take on responsibility and feel confident in my abilities especially when I had to get used to being in a new school with new people.

MCA: What was difficult about your transition from Montessori to a non-Montessori school setting?

Evan: Overall, I think my transition went smoothly after I left Montessori.  However, I know that I really missed having some control over my education.  In Montessori, I had the freedom to choose the work I wanted to do. That didn’t mean that my teachers didn’t move me to all of the different areas—they did. However, I was allowed to make my own work choices, and I learned how to choose and complete my work myself. I gained a lot of independence through my Montessori experience. I really missed that when I went to public school first grade. Everyone was doing everything together at the same time. And if I was interested in something we were doing, I had to stop and switch gears if the teacher said it was time for a new subject. I found that frustrating, especially when I was doing something I really liked. I didn’t have that opportunity—instead, I had to move on to the next thing with everyone else.

Jamie (Evan’s sister):  Yes, I agree. It was a little bit difficult to lose that long work cycle where we could do things at our own pace.  In my new school, I very quickly came to dislike the bell that rang between classes.  Still, the one thing I carried with me from Montessori was that drive to discover more, so at least I knew that when I came home, I could ask my parents to help me get more information about whatever subject it was that we’d started in school but didn’t get to finish.

MCA:  How did Montessori contribute to who you are today?

Evan:  I think one of the greatest benefits of my Montessori education was how I learned to work as part of a community. When I became the older student in the class, I had a leadership role, and I remember taking that very seriously.  I was proud to be able to help the younger kids in my class with their lessons, and it felt great to give them lessons on things I had mastered. This trickled into my home life, especially since I am the oldest of four children. This leadership role also taught me the importance of passing on skills, not just orders. Because I enjoyed learning, I think I helped the younger children by being an example of that for them. Montessori taught me independence, confidence, and leadership skills. I learned that learning is enjoyable and that I have the power to further my learning myself.

Jamie: I remember that my Montessori years were fun. And even when school is hard now, I remember that when you can get past having to memorize things for a test, you can find ways to participate in real, deep learning. Montessori gave me a great outlook on education because I know I have some control over my own education, and that education is more than taking tests and memorizing things. Montessori opened up my interests and showed me how the things that I learn are connected to so many different parts of life and the world.

Victoria: My Montessori years helped me see the value in being part of a community and see that each of us has a role to play, not just in the classroom but in society. I learned from both the younger and older kids in my class.  I know that it’s important to participate in the things I think are important and things that contribute to my community, and that began when I was in Montessori at an early age.

Emily: I think what I took away from my 10 years in Montessori is that learning is not a race, and it’s not about grades and tests. Instead, learning is about discovering new ideas, finding answers to questions, and using knowledge to better the world. That’s what I want to instill in my own children as they begin their Montessori experiences, and I think that’s what has helped to shape me as a student and now as a parent.

While not everyone is able to complete the full 3-year cycle like Victoria, Jamie or Evan, or continue in Montessori throughout the elementary years and beyond like Emily, it is clear that Montessori makes a positive difference that is long lasting. Moving on from Montessori may be necessary for some children, but the lessons and skills gleaned from being a part of a Montessori environment remain. For these alums, they may have left the Montessori environment, but Montessori remains forever a part of them.

For those interested in further exploring Montessori education after kindergarten, please call 973-258-1400 to schedule a tour of the MCA Elementary Program at our Short Hills campus, where we currently serve students in 1st through 8th grades.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and Other Good Reads for Empowering Young Women

During the month of March, MCA celebrated Women’s History Month with a special series of Facebook posts that shared different stories of women who have left their marks on history, both in America and around the world. As we were researching these amazing women, we happened upon the book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. One of our Elementary teachers discovered a video about the origin of this wonderful book, which we’d like to share with you:

After viewing this video, we realized that Elena Favilli and Francesa Cavallo, the authors of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, were right. There was a lack of literature for young readers that featured strong female characters.  It was at that point that we decided to take action. We began researching books that would empower the girls that populate MCA’s classrooms, and our greater community. For families who are looking to open this door for their own children, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is a perfect place to begin to introduce your children to the many important contributions made by women.

A Short Review of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

Favilli and Cavallo are rebels in their own right, having taken a leap of faith in moving from Italy to Silicon Valley, California, to start their media company, Timbuktu Labs. They have put together an anthology of 100 stories of remarkable women who challenged gender stereotypes and made a positive impact on human history. I first heard about Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls in August 2016, when the authors were raising funds to publish the book online. A former classmate who works on women’s issues in Washington, D.C. shared the crowdsourcing page with me in an email. She wrote, “Maria Montessori’s story is in the book. You have to buy this book for your school!”  When I found out that this book was already on MCA’s radar, I was ecstatic. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow it from our Elementary Program’s library in Short Hills.

As I opened the book, I was met with bright, beautiful pages. Each story is accompanied by a striking illustration, with 60 different artists contributing portraits to accompany the biographies in this collection. I randomly perused the pages, admiring the artwork and stopping to read the stories of some of my personal heroes, women whose portraits I would recognize anywhere. Simply flipping through the pages of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is an experience that I am grateful that the students and teachers at MCA can have for themselves since the book is available for them to borrow from the Elementary library.

Here are a few of my favorite selections:

Intended for “Rebel girls ages 4-101,” the pages adjacent to the portraits contain one-page biographies of each of the 100 female subjects. These short biographies begin with the classic line “Once upon a time…”, indicating that the story that follows is to be cherished in a time-honored fashion. However, these stories are not fairy tales. They are the true, stirring stories of scientists, athletes, writers, and more. The collection represents women from various points in history, different parts of the globe, and across a span of ages. As a ‘bedtime story’, readers may choose to read one or several of the biographies, as they can be consumed and accessed easily in whatever amount of time is available and whenever inspiration is needed. These brief excerpts of the highlights of these women’s lives are the perfect launching pad to inspire young people to learn more details about the women and their achievements.

Empowering Reads and Where to Find Them

MCA enjoyed our Women’s History Month initiative so much, that we decided to expand the project beyond our own classrooms and our Facebook audience. We have since shared Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, as well as five other titles that celebrate the accomplishments of women throughout history, with a number of local libraries. By sharing these books, we hope that all young women in the communities that MCA serves will come to understand that they can accomplish anything they dream of doing.

The five additional “Good Reads for Empowering Young Female Readers” donated by MCA include:

  1. Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
  2. Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History by Kate Schatz
  3. Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh
  4. Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History by Kate Schatz
  5. Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs

These titles now can be found in the public libraries in the towns of Chatham, Florham Park, Livingston, Madison, Maplewood, Millburn, Morristown, South Orange, and West Orange. We hope that you’ll visit your local library and share and enjoy these books with the young women and the young men in your families.

Thinking “Outside the Box” in the Outdoor Classroom

With the arrival of spring, everyone is anxious (and happy!) to spend more time outdoors. Longer daylight hours and warmer weather inspire us to break out from our winter hibernation habits and get outside for walks, early gardening, or just a bit of fresh air!

However, the Elementary students at The Montessori Children’s Academy have been enjoying the outdoors all year long. Their unique Outdoor Classroom provides them with opportunities for learning outside throughout every season and in any type of weather! It is a place where our students go to explore science, math, art, culture, and language—in essence, the Outdoor Classroom is an extension of their indoor classroom environment, as it is a place filled with a wealth of learning opportunities!

The Outdoor Classroom is the ideal environment for Science and nature studies. Botany is often a focus of study when our Elementary students visit this space. They observe the trees, leaves, and plants in their outdoor environment, making sketches and diagrams of what they see, and digging into the earth to identify root structures and the parts of plants. Students are given the opportunity to watch both the growth and deterioration of plants. They witness how plants respond to weather, pollution, animal inhabitants, and human interference in the natural world. They also identify animal tracks and listen to birdcalls, learning their unique sounds.

When discussing ecology, the Outdoor Classroom became home to a “Food Web” created by the students. As the children used yarn to create a web among the tree branches, they saw how interconnected the different parts were. When one piece of yarn from their web was removed, the entire web started to fall apart. This type of visual, hands-on learning brought home a very important lesson on how there is interdependence in a variety of aspects of their world. These nature studies promote a sense of responsibility and respect for the natural world around them.

However, nature studies are not the only studies done in this special space. The Outdoor Classroom provides learning across disciplines. Recently, as part of their Cultural studies, our MCA students were learning about the Copper Age. They brought copper to their Outdoor Classroom and hammered it to flatten it and create tools in the same manner that early civilizations might have done. The students learned that even though the copper was malleable, it was very difficult to flatten to create the shape they needed for their homemade tools. This gave them greater insight into what early civilizations dealt with when making discoveries and inventions that today’s humans take for granted.

The Outdoor Classroom is also a place for Math studies. For one particular lesson, the students learned about Pi and the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter by creating a circle in the ground using their own bodies, a stick, and yarn. They had the physical space they needed to create their circumference projects, and it became a meaningful lesson as they could put the different mathematical concepts together in a very prominent manner. By learning in this way and in this space, our students remember their lessons and can make important and lasting connections.

Naturally, just as many of the world’s greatest writers have found inspiration in nature, our MCA Elementary students use their Outdoor Classroom to enhance their Language Arts curriculum to inspire their journal writing activities. They write poetry and prose pieces, personal reflections, essays, and impromptu thoughts. With so many sights and sounds surrounding them, they can capture feelings and compose descriptive passages based on what they see and hear in this natural setting. Similarly, they engage in art activities in this beautiful space, making sketches and using the natural setting as their inspiration for their artwork. This year, students learned about how clay comes from the earth, and they used it to create birds’ nests.

The learning opportunities in the Outdoor Classroom are endless. They also are an integral part of Montessori education where the whole child is addressed. Students need space, movement, and connection to the world around them, and this environment fulfills each of these needs. The Outdoor Classroom is the place where students engage in team-building activities at the beginning of the year to build a strong sense of community. It is the place where they hold their annual Peace Picnic and celebrate their friendships and relationship with nature near the year’s end. Dr. Montessori once said, “When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers itself to him. Let us take the child out to show him real things instead of making objects which represent ideas and closing them up in cupboards.” Further, she commented, “The land is where our roots are. The children must be taught to feel and live in harmony with the Earth.”

Certainly, our MCA Elementary students are making connections and opening up their minds as they explore their Outdoor Classroom and their world beyond the classroom. They come to see that they are indeed citizens and caretakers of the world—part of a greater whole—and with this understanding comes the awakening of a sense of respect and responsibility for the people and things inside the classroom, outside in the Outdoor Classroom, and beyond the classroom in their world at large. Through the Outdoor Classroom experiences, students grow and begin to internalize that sense of harmony in each aspect of their lives.

montessori childrens academy

The Importance of the Montessori Kindergarten Year

I had the pleasure of running into a recent graduate of The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) and his family at breakfast last weekend. I asked him how he likes first grade. He told me, “First grade is awesome,” and launched into an impressive monologue about his math class, his soccer team, and how he had just borrowed a chapter book from the school library.

I could tell that his excitement about school had not faded at all since he left Kindergarten at MCA. I couldn’t wait to tell his Kindergarten teacher. When I did, she replied simply, “That’s why I love Montessori Kindergarten.”

The Kindergarten year in Montessori early childhood education, is an incredibly important one, as it is the third and final year of the 3-6 cycle. In her extensive studies of children, Maria Montessori observed and classified four “Planes of Development”. These six-year phases of growth are demarcated by cognitive achievement. In her early work, Dr. Montessori focused on the phase that includes children ages 0-6 years. She termed this Plane of Development “The Absorbent Mind” because she found that young children “absorb” learning from their environment naturally and spontaneously (AMS 2017). Her book, The Absorbent Mind, focuses on this Plane of Development and informs much of MCA’s Early Childhood curriculum.

The oldest children in this phase, 5- and 6-year olds, represent our Kindergarten program. The Kindergarteners are the oldest, most experienced students among the MCA Early Childhood Programs at each of our campuses. This final year of their 3-year cycle provides them with many advantages, from having the opportunity to be classroom leaders and mentors, to stretching their learning with the Montessori materials in the most complex of ways, all while remaining in the warm, familiar, nurturing classroom community they have grown to be a part of over the course of three years. This capstone year of the MCA Early Childhood Program provides the Kindergarteners with great benefits in their academic, as well as their social-emotional development.

A Day in the Life of a Kindergartener at MCA

During the morning work cycle, Kindergarteners have a special role in their mixed-age classrooms. As the oldest members of the class, Kindergarteners have a de facto role as leaders. According to MCA’s Director of Montessori Development, Camilla Nichols-Uhler, Kindergarteners are seen as role models for the 3- and 4-year-olds. Sometimes Kindergarteners even give lessons to their younger classmates. This not only provides the Kindergarteners with an important mentoring role, but it also allows the Kindergarteners to reinforce their prior learning as they teach their younger friends. The 5- and 6-year-olds take their role as classroom leaders very seriously. The cultivation of leadership skills in the mixed-age setting is one of the key benefits of a Montessori Kindergarten year.

In the afternoon, the Kindergarten class is separated from the mixed-age classroom for work in an exclusively same-age peer environment. This afternoon time provides a great deal of subtle preparation for first grade expectations students would find in a traditional school setting. In the afternoon, the students at times will work as a whole group and receive focused instruction in each of the five Montessori curriculum areas. When observing a Montessori Kindergarten classroom at MCA, you may see children working not only with traditional Montessori materials, but also with supplemental educational materials that closely resemble those found in a traditional classroom, including the McGraw-Hill Reading Literature Program, the Primary Phonics Reading Series, and the Handwriting Without Tears resources. The beauty of our Montessori Kindergarten is that the children continue to work and progress as they are ready. They do not need to wait for or catch up to the rest of the group—instead, they work at their own pace, making great academic strides and gaining confidence along the way. The Kindergarten year helps to build a bridge for the children so that they may easily transition from a Montessori early childhood program to whatever elementary program they may enter the following year.

Kindergarteners at MCA receive many benefits in addition to this special daily schedule. During their last year in the 3-6 program, Kindergarteners are granted some exciting privileges, and the opportunities they are afforded in the Kindergarten year increase in this culminating year of the MCA Early Childhood Program.

Benefits of a Montessori Kindergarten Experience at MCA

  • Full-Day Schedule: Many local preschool and Kindergarten programs only offer half-day programs. MCA’s full-day classes help prepare children transition to full-day elementary school programs beyond graduation.
  • Character Building Component: It is difficult to deny the social and emotional benefits of a Montessori Kindergarten program. Building leadership skills, fostering resilience, and developing empowered and responsible members of a classroom community are just a few of the character-related benefits of a Montessori education. In a Montessori Kindergarten program, lessons like these remain with students well beyond their Kindergarten year.
  • Specials: In addition to MCA’s weekly Spanish and Music classes with Mr. Vergara, our Kindergarten students participate in two additional specials. These classes help students develop additional skills for elementary school.
    • Technology: Most elementary schools use laptops, tablets, and other technology in one form or another these days. Our Kindergarteners thus need to be prepared to navigate such devices. We introduce this technology in productive, academic ways. Mrs. Kochanik, MCA’s technology teacher who is a certified Montessori Elementary teacher herself, is an expert in using technology in a Montessori-friendly way, and our students come to understand the use of technology as a tool.
    • Gym: Twice a week, our Kindergarten class gets an extra opportunity to exercise as well. MCA’s Physical Education Program, headed up by Mrs. Larsen and Mrs. Turiansky, teaches Kindergarteners the basic fundamentals of team sports. From dribbling a basketball to learning how to pass a soccer ball to a teammate without using their hands, our Kindergarteners learn the skills they need to stay healthy as they participate in a variety of team sports.
  • Kindergarten “Extras”: During the spring, our Kindergarteners participate in many special events. These include activities which combine Kindergarten students from all three of our campuses, such as a Kindergarten field trip and Field Day, and of course campus specific activities, such as our annual Bake Sales and Kindergarten graduations. This year, our Kindergarten students will have the opportunity to visit the beautiful Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick for a spring-themed celebration with hands-on, outdoor lessons in Science and Culture.
  • Community Outreach Projects: As leaders in the classroom, the Kindergarten students take on more responsibilities in the charitable endeavors sponsored by the school. They learn how to plan, prepare, and execute a variety of outreach service projects, from bake sales to speaking with community members about the charities they are supporting.

montessori childrens academy

MCA’s Kindergarten Program is an excellent alternative to public or other non-public Kindergarten options. Our full-day Kindergarten provides our students with immeasurable social and emotional benefits in addition to academic rigor. MCA may accept students from other preschool programs to join its Kindergarten classes after a “Kindergarten Interview”, if enrollment space allows. As Dr. Montessori said, “The Absorbent Mind is indeed a marvelous gift to humanity”, and giving your child the opportunity to complete the 3-year Early Childhood Cycle with a Montessori Kindergarten year, is a gift that will be carried with them throughout their educational journey.

If your child is a member of one of MCA’s 3-6 classes and you have further questions about the Kindergarten year, do not hesitate to reach out to your Campus Director to learn more about the benefits of completing the 3-year cycle at MCA.