Category Archives: Montessori Elementary

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.

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.