Tag Archives: Elementary School

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 NJ

A Word of Welcome from MCA

By: Alex Chiu and Hannah Ferris

“Montessori Education” 

For some, those two words might not mean very much.  For others however, they bring about many misconceptions of discipline, pedagogy, or purpose. But for those who have become familiar with the Montessori Method and have seen the beauty of its effectiveness as a model for educating children, those words conjure up a kaleidoscope of feelings ranging from joy, relief, and excitement, to an urgency to spread the news and create more Montessori opportunities for children everywhere.

This is how The Montessori Children’s Academy came into being.  In 1999, The Montessori Children’s Academy opened the doors to its first school in Madison, NJ.  Serving 45 families, the school became a place where the essence of the Montessori Method came alive.  With the vision of its founder and president, the school transformed physically from a typical concrete and stone structure with a basic outdoor play yard to a warm, family community in which teachers welcomed children into a home-like and beautiful environment.

Our classrooms came alive with the highest quality Montessori materials – Pink Towers for children to construct as they absorbed the meaning of order and size, colorful Puzzle Maps to construct the continents of the world and countries from each continent, Practical Life areas where children learned simple food preparation and daily life skills with materials that caught their attention because they were not only pretty, but also just the right size for little hands.  And the outdoor play yard was transformed into a safe, attractive outdoor learning and playing environment with a top-of-the-line climbing structure, shade area, and little garden patches.

But even more than the cosmetics, it was the devotion of the administration and the teachers who brought their love of and confidence in the Montessori Method to the school each and every day. Nick DiGiacomo, MCA’s founder, recalls: “I remember opening the doors that very first day and wondering if anyone who walked through them would understand why I was there, and why it was so important to me to make a difference in the lives of their children.  I wanted them to think of our school as a special place, a place that was warm and inviting, with friendly and caring teachers who were passionate about educating their children in a very special way.”

“That first day was a long one,” Nick remembers, “with all the glitches that you would expect to occur on the first day of any new adventure.  It was toward the end of that day, when I sat all alone at the front desk, waiting for the last few children to be picked up, still wondering if I did the right thing, when it happened… One of the moms stopped by on her way out and said, ‘Thank you. My son doesn’t want to leave. He just loves it here.’  Those simple words just made all the difference in the world to me.  All of a sudden, the never-ending preparation, the planning, the hard work, and those endless hours, didn’t seem so difficult any more.”

Fast forward to 2016:

The Montessori Children’s Academy has grown to serve over 450 families on three campuses in Northern New Jersey.

Our oldest operating campus, which opened in 2003, is found in Chatham, NJ. Chatham is a residential enclave for families with children. Its tradition of being a tight-knit, family-friendly community made it an obvious choice for the expansion of our family of schools. Our Chatham campus is within close walking distance of the Main Street business district and we love that many of our families are beginning to walk to school again; a sure sign that spring is coming! MCA has thrived in Chatham and our Chatham school serves families from Chatham Borough and Township, Madison, Summit, New Providence, and Florham Park. MCA is a proud member of the Madison/Chatham Chamber of Commerce and we have recently worked with the Library of the Chathams and the Chatham Newcomers & Social Club to share the benefits of Montessori education in the Chatham community.

Our Chatham campus serves families with children ages 2½ - Kindergarten.

Our Chatham campus serves families with children ages 2½ – Kindergarten.

In 2007, we opened our Short Hills campus. This campus is incredibly diverse and serves families from many suburban Essex County towns. The Millburn/Short Hills community has been incredibly accepting of MCA. We’ve recently welcomed members of the Millburn Seniors Club to campus as guest readers and our students have seen many productions at the Paper Mill Playhouse. What makes our Short Hills campus truly unique is our Elementary program. In addition to our preschool and Kindergarten programs, we offer Montessori classroom settings for children ages 6-12 years. The Elementary program expands on the foundation of learning that we provide in our 3- to 6-year-old classrooms. It includes many opportunities and academic projects inspired by a wide-ranging curriculum, activities in the community, and our beautiful outdoor classroom.

Our Short Hills campus serves families with children ages 2½ - 12 years.

Our Short Hills campus serves families with children ages 2½ – 12 years.

Our newest campus is located in the Convent Station neighborhood of Morristown. This school (which relocated from Madison in 2010) lies in the heart of Morris County and serves families who reside in the county or who come to Morristown specifically for work and school. The Mayor of Morristown, Tim Dougherty, recently recognized MCA as he officially proclaimed February 28 – March 5, 2016 as Montessori Education Week. Our Morristown campus has much to offer both children and adults, as our Montessori teacher education program, Montessori Center for Teacher Development, has its home on the Morristown campus. Additionally, our youngest students have been learning the ways of the classroom on our “youngest campus”. In the fall of 2015, we launched Montessori, My Child, & Me, a class for 18-30 month old children and their caregivers. It’s been an absolute joy to watch these little ones grow and begin to test their own independence.

The Morristown campus serves families with children ages 18 months -Kindergarten.

The Morristown campus serves families with children ages 18 months -Kindergarten.

MCA and Beyond!

As you can see, MCA has a lot to offer and we’re continuing to grow. That’s why we decided to start The MCA Blog! We want to use it foremost to stay in touch with our current, alumni, and prospective families. You’ll hear from MCA’s Director of Montessori Development, Camilla Nichols-Uhler, MCA’s Senior Director, Jeanine Christiana, our support staff, teachers, and maybe even some of our students. We’ll use this blog to share detailed information about our programs, our expertise in the ways of the Montessori Method, news from our classrooms, and other unique insights on early childhood education and development.

Please leave us a comment and let us know what kind of topics you’d like to see on The MCA Blog and how we can better educate you and your child for tomorrow’s world. We’re glad that you’re coming on this Montessori journey with us!