It is not uncommon for many parents to associate the word Montessori with preschool. While it is true that many Montessori schools focus on Early Childhood Education, it is important to note that what makes a school “Montessori” is not its name, but rather the practice of the Montessori philosophy. Although there are not as many as one would hope, it is possible to find schools where Dr. Montessori’s philosophy of hands-on, independent learning is successfully applied to programs serving students all the way through middle school, and occasionally even high school.
As most American public schools increase their focus on test scores, oftentimes at the expense of deeper, more meaningful learning, families have begun to explore educational options that allow for independent, child-centered learning and real life experience. Parents of kindergarteners more frequently are seeking programs that inspire and value learning over those that teach to attain test results. Montessori elementary programs are a natural progression for those students who have benefited from the Montessori early childhood cycle.
The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) launched its Elementary Program in 2002. Many of our MCA Early Childhood parents felt their children were thriving in a Montessori environment and wanted to explore the benefits of a Montessori elementary option. To these parents, there was a great deal of value in both the academic and personal development opportunities presented in a Montessori environment. The innovative and unique MCA Elementary Program thus was born. For the 2016-2017 school year, MCA’s Elementary Program expanded to include middle school and now serves children through the 8th grade. Our Elementary Program promotes academic excellence, critical thinking, cooperation, and civil responsibility in its students. Our dynamic program, guided by a team of passionate and experienced teachers, makes learning meaningful in all of the core subject areas of Language, Math, Science, Social Studies, Geography, and Culture. We also nurture our students’ growth in the areas of Technology, Health, Spanish, Physical Education, Music, Theater, Visual Arts, and Peace Education. In addition, MCA Elementary includes lessons and programs that are unique to our school. For example:
- MCA Elementary’s on-site outdoor classroom provides students with a natural multipurpose learning environment. It is here that students have added opportunities for hands-on lessons in science, art, journaling, and conservation. This unique outdoor space allows our students to interact firsthand with their environment and to apply skills and learning from across their academic disciplines.
- Our Elementary students utilize both their language and leadership skills as they mentor Kindergarteners in our Early Childhood Programs through pen pal correspondence, and they partner with the Millburn Senior Citizens for the Reading Buddies Program, as well.
- Students are exposed to exciting S.T.E.M opportunities via the use of a 3-D printer and special enrichment programs in robotics.
- Each year, MCA teams up with the Paper Mill Playhouse to expose our Elementary students to the beauty and culture of the theater through acting workshops and visits to the theater for professional performances.
- Our Elementary students work within the larger MCA community to support outreach programs such as Girls on the Run and Pennies for Peace. They learn about the importance of giving and help to raise awareness about these causes in the local Millburn-Short Hills community.
Our students have been “Estuary Explorers” at Liberty State Park, budding chefs at a local culinary school, and photojournalists at the Jersey Shore. Field trips into the local community, as well as partnerships with local and international organizations, provide unique experiences to MCA Elementary students who learn their important role as active and contributing members of their communities and the world.
Hallmarks of a Traditional Montessori Elementary Program
What does Montessori elementary or middle school look like? There are a few important hallmarks of a traditional Montessori elementary program:
- A focus on the “whole child”: Montessori’s work focused on the development of the “whole child”. She believed that incorporating a student’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive needs was the key to educating students for success first in school and later in the workplace. Montessori environments attend to all of these needs by providing students with hands-on materials, multiple opportunities for academic and social engagement in mixed-age classrooms, an emphasis on individual motivation, student-led projects, and experiences outside the classroom.
- Independent learning and individual pacing: Every child learns at a different pace. Respect for this diversity is manifest in a true Montessori environment. During the three hour work cycle, you can observe students engaged in various forms of work. Some students work independently or one-on-one with a teacher, while others work together in a small group. Daily lessons span different subjects and attend to different levels of difficulty. Some lessons may be completed before the end of the work cycle, while others may be left in the workspace incomplete for a student to return to after a break. You will rarely observe a Montessori environment in which a teacher addresses the whole class from the front of the room; and seldom is there assigned seating. Teachers move around the room to observe and collaborate with students on lessons individually, addressing their personal needs to achieve satisfactory completion of their work.
- No “grade level” restrictions: The Montessori tradition of a mixed-age classroom lives on through the elementary years. From an academic standpoint, students are able to work with materials that complement their level of ability. They are not inhibited in their exploration by rigid grade-level standards: if your daughter is ready for algebra, she doesn’t need to wait until 7th grade to jump in! In terms of social-emotional development, important opportunities for peer learning and leadership manifest in a mixed-age environment that are otherwise absent among peers in a confined age group.
- Progressive learning in traditional Montessori curriculum areas: Building on a child’s experience in a Montessori primary environment, a Montessori elementary environment involves curriculum areas delineated by physical manipulatives and learning materials. As lessons progress, relationships are drawn among the curriculum areas, and understanding moves from the concrete to the more complex and abstract. Work is scaled up in terms of difficulty. Collaboration between teachers and peers becomes necessary and “intangible” skills like critical thinking are employed to solve problems and complete projects.
- Peace Education, or “Service Learning,” projects: Another intangible, but critically important, part of the Montessori curriculum is its incorporation of Peace Education. In a traditional Montessori elementary environment, students are presented with “real” experiences for involvement in their communities. From singing holiday carols with local senior citizens to washing cars to fundraising for a local charity, there are numerous ways for elementary-aged students to give their time to help others. Montessori students become positively contributing members of their local communities. They also become more globally conscious citizens as they learn about the needs of those in faraway communities. As the students gain awareness, they are charged to support causes and raise funds and awareness throughout a variety of charitable efforts. Such opportunities gift children with a sense of civic responsibility, tolerance, and empathy, traits that are not easily obtainable in a standard academic classroom.
If you are interested in learning more about MCA’s dynamic Elementary Program, please consider attending our Open House on Thursday, December 15th from 7:00-9:00PM. For more information about this event, please call (973) 258-1400 or email our Senior Director, Jeanine Christiana, at firstname.lastname@example.org.