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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.

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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.

The Montessori Children's Academy

Sing for Peace!: International Day of Peace Celebration 2016

September 21st may not be a date you recognize, but around the world and in our Montessori community, we look forward to celebrating the International Day of Peace on this day.  Established by the United Nations in 1981, the International Day of Peace began as a way to promote a time for people worldwide to “honour a cessation of hostilities…and to otherwise commemorate the Day through education and public awareness on issues related to peace” ().

The Montessori Children's Academy

The UN’s theme for the International Day of Peace this year is “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace”.  Youth from around the world have been invited to share via YouTube their video messages of peace with ideas related to this year’s theme.  Solutions related to ending poverty and helping the environment are evident in the concerns of today’s youth.  The videos can be viewed on the United Nations Peace Day 2016 YouTube Channel, and they include brief messages from young people representing many different nations.

To do our part to celebrate this special occasion, The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) plans to take part in a variety of activities leading up to September 21st.  Each class will choose its own special way to celebrate.  Some will be reading books about peace, making peacemaker necklaces, or learning how to say ‘peace’ in different languages, while others will recite peace poems or decorate symbols of peace.  Then, on the big day, we will all participate in a worldwide event called Sing Peace Around the World.  The goal of the project organizers is to have the song “Light a Candle for Peace” sung continuously over a 24 hour time period all around the globe.  The singing will begin in New Zealand and end in Hawaii 24 hours later.  Our designated time to sing “Light a Candle for Peace” in Chatham, Morristown, and Short Hills is 9:30AM.  Please consider joining the endeavor–wherever you are at that time, take out the lyrics and sing along!  To date, nearly 90,000 children from around the world are registered to participate in this event, including all of our MCA students.  We hope the sounds of children singing for peace will echo across every land on every continent, and that it will reach into the hearts of all people in every corner of the world.

Of course, peace education and awareness is not something MCA recognizes only for one day or by singing just one song.  It is an important component of the Montessori curriculum and an integral part of each and every day in all of our schools.  Everything you find in a Montessori classroom has an intentional meaning and an underlying lesson and goal.  For example, the manner in which Montessori classrooms are prepared aim to promote the development of self-discipline.  The Montessori materials are designed to provide students with challenges that spark their critical thinking.  There are countless opportunities in Montessori classrooms for creative problem solving.  Montessori students are exposed to Cultural Studies, where they learn about people, places, and traditions from around the world, gaining a global awareness and appreciation for similarities and differences among people in all nations.  The focus on ‘grace and courtesy’, as well as the modeling of respect by the adults in the classroom, helps children to, in turn, learn to exhibit grace, courtesy, and respect.  These are all intentional features which are carefully woven into the fabric of Montessori education.  Dr. Montessori developed her method of education to teach not only academic subjects, but also to instill important values in children.  Montessori education is intended to help students learn how to work cooperatively and in harmony, to discover how to solve problems peacefully, and to find ways to promote peace in their interactions with others throughout their lives.

As Dr. Montessori said, “The child is capable of developing and giving us tangible proof of the possibility of a better humanity.  He has shown us the true process of construction of the human being.  We have seen children totally change as they acquire a love for things and as their sense of order, discipline, and self-control develops within them…. The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind” (Education and Peace).  Maria Montessori knew the importance of education for the greater good of the world, and she insisted on providing children with many opportunities to learn and internalize their roles as peacemakers through educational experiences, which encompassed not only academics, but the development of responsibility and character as well.  As she is well known to have stated, “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.”  Dr. Montessori was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and her advocacy for peace has made a lasting impression.  We are proud to uphold her legacy for spreading peace throughout the world.

Below are the lyrics to “Light a Candle for Peace”.

The Montessori Children's Academy

Please feel free to share the song with others, and help us to promote peace in our schools, our neighborhoods, our towns, our nation, and all around the world.  We wish everyone a meaningful International Day of Peace!

Light a Candle for Peace
by Shelley Murley

Light a candle for peace
Light a candle for love
Light a candle that shines all the way around the world
Light a candle for me
Light a candle for you
That our wish for world peace
Will one day come true!
(repeat)

Sing peace around the world
Sing peace around the world
Sing peace around the world
Sing peace around the world

Light a candle for peace
Light a candle for love
Light a candle that shines all the way around the world
Light a candle for me
Light a candle for you
That our wish for world peace
Will one day come true!

Sing peace around the world
Sing peace around the world
Sing peace around the world
Sing peace around the world

For more information about Montessori peace education and other peace initiatives, as well as to find children’s books about peace, check out the resources listed below, some of which were used as references in this article:

Duckworth, C. (2008). Maria Montessori’s contribution to peace education. In Encyclopedia of Peace Education. http://www.tc.edu/centers/epe/
Montessori, Maria. (1992; first published 1949). Education and Peace (The Clio Montessori Series). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.
Wolf, Aline D. (1996). Nurturing the Spirit: In Non-Sectarian Classrooms. Santa Rosa: Parent Child Press, Inc.
www.childpeacebooks.org
www.singpeacearoundtheworld.com
www.un.org/en/events/peaceday

Maintaining a Montessori Mindset Through the Summer

Summer is the time of year when schedules are a bit more relaxed, bedtimes push back a little later, and vacations and staycations abound.  Some parents worry about what to do with their children during the summer and about ‘summer learning loss’ (where students, not immersed in daily learning at school, lose a portion of what they gained during the school year).  However, this doesn’t need to happen at all.  Instead of summer being a vacation from learning, it can instead be an opportunity for your children to find new ways of channeling their curiosity and practicing and refining the skills that they have obtained throughout the school year.

To help maintain a ‘Montessori mindset” throughout the summer, there are a few things that parents can do.  A good place to start is by following the example of Montessori teachers who take great care in preparing their classroom environments, upholding expectations for everyone in the classroom community, and following the children’s lead as their interests and needs come into focus. With a little planning before summer vacation begins, you can create a bridge between your child’s school-year Montessori learning environment and your own home during the summer months.

First, prepare your environment.

Keep an assortment of activities available for your child to use during the ‘down times’ of the day when chores are finished and outings are not planned.  Items should be placed where the children can reach them, and a child-sized work area should be established.  This allows your child to make decisions about what to do with his or her free time and to be able to do things independently, without mom or dad having to participate at all times.  To help you begin, think about the places where you and your child spend the most time during the summer days.

In the Kitchen

You might consider designating a shelf in your kitchen to hold activities such as:

  • An art box with child-safe scissors, scrap paper, colored pencils, leaves, ribbons, buttons, glue sticks, and a tablemat encourages children to create imaginative collages.
  • Small pitchers and a collection of cups provide opportunities for practice with pouring dry ingredients (like beans and rice) or liquids.
  • A large, deep tray or dish filled with sand or salt along with seashells, a small rake, and pretty stones invites your child to design ever-changing paths in his or her own miniature Zen garden.

In the Family Room

  • A basket of books in a cozy corner with pillows and good lighting invites children to spend some time each day in the company of good books.
  • Recycled items in a basket become building materials where children construct rockets, sculptures, or skyscrapers. Save tissue boxes, oatmeal containers, paper towel tubes, empty water bottles and other ‘trash’ items for inventive uses
  • A collection of objects (marbles, coins, cotton balls) and number cards offer practice in matching quantities to the numbers.

Also, rotating puzzles, matching cards, counting activities, and favorite toys every few weeks keeps things interesting and fresh through the summer months, as children choose which activities they would like to do.

In the Backyard

Don’t forget to prepare things in a space outside, too!

  • A bucket with fresh water alongside sponges and paintbrushes might inspire your child to wash the deck or outdoor furniture.
  • A tray with bubble-making supplies and unusual bubble blowers such as funnels, rope tied into a circle, and a slotted spoon put a new twist on an old favorite activity.
  • A container garden with a watering can and weeding gloves helps your child take responsibility for the care of plants. Consider a variety of herbs that smell good and that may be used in cooking!
  • A butterfly net and bug viewer might be kept together for children to investigate how animals behave in your backyard.

It may take a little time and creativity to collect household items to use for the activities, but this preparation of your home environment is worth the effort.  And it needn’t be expensive.  You can easily use items you already have available around the house.  After you have your prepared environment set up, show your children what activities are available, where they may do their work, and what to do when they are finished using the materials, just like their teachers do at school.  Then, let them enjoy the freedom to choose their work and play!

Second, uphold your expectations that your children are contributing members of daily family life.

In a Montessori classroom, children learn to respect themselves, others, and the environment.  They know that everyone has responsibilities and that the classroom community relies on everyone contributing and doing his or her job.  Parents are fully aware that just because it is summertime doesn’t mean that families are on a vacation from the usual day to day responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc.  So, while your children are at home this summer, be sure to include them in these necessary daily chores.  They will be happy to show off the Practical Life skills that they have been developing all school year!  Have your children help with age-appropriate tasks such as:

  • Setting the table
  • Sorting laundry
  • Sweeping the front walkway
  • Assisting with mealtime food preparation
  • Scrubbing the back deck with sponges and soapy water

Not only does upholding your expectations allow them to practice their skills, but it also confirms that your children (and the work that they do) are important.  That is a very motivating feeling!  Patience on the part of the parent is essential for helping your child to grow in his or her mastery of these skills, but summer is a season to give your children time to complete their work to the best of their ability, resulting in a great sense of accomplishment (and in all likelihood, a much more willing little household helper!).

Finally, challenge yourself to “follow the child”:

In Montessori classrooms, teachers learn to ‘follow the child’, and summer is an opportune time for parents to try to do the same.

But first, what does it mean to “follow the child”?  At its essence, it means to observe your child and to open the doors that your child is knocking on with his or her questions, interests, and behaviors.  As your child chooses activities around the house, you might pay attention to which ones he or she chooses over and over again and which ones are left to collect dust.  The toys and games being used most often are certainly drawing your child’s attention, and you can try to uncover just what it is about these things that intrigue your child.  Maybe he or she is drawn to everything decorated with bugs and dinosaurs.  Well, there’s the door waiting to be opened—summer can be the time to collect books on those subjects or to visit local museums where together you can learn more about them.  Or maybe you observe that the most repeated activities are those where your child feels most challenged or most relaxed, and that is what keeps him or her coming back again and again.  Stand back as your child works and plays.  What do you notice?

Equally important are those children’s items around the house that are collecting dust.  Is your child-size easel always clean and bare?  Maybe your child doesn’t know what to do with it.  Perhaps a fresh supply of watercolors or different sizes of paper or brushes might inspire a new or renewed interest in art.  Or a visit to a local gallery might open up a new door to artistic expression for your child.  By quietly observing your child, you can get some great insights into his or her interests and as well as his or her needs.

Following the child doesn’t mean that you can’t also offer suggestions for activities you might do together this summer.  And if you have a special interest, share it with your children.  Astronomy?  Gaze at the summer nighttime sky and try to identify different constellations.  Read the myths behind their names, and visit a planetarium to learn even more.  These experiences nurture your children’s natural curiosity and provide them with ways to extend their learning beyond books and into the ‘real world’.

Other ideas for following your child’s interests and expanding your child’s summer experiences include:

  • Exploring the outdoors–look for animal tracks, build fairy houses, and learn what types of trees and plants are growing in your backyard.
  • Going on local ‘field trips’ in your neighboring towns. This area is rich in culture, art, nature, and so much more!
  • Using public transportation (trains and buses) and having your child try to map your routes or log how many miles you travel.
  • Inviting your children to brainstorm what charitable acts they could do this summer—a used toy or book sale on your front lawn or a lemonade stand with the proceeds going to a local charity?

Together you can choose do-able options from this list.  Then let your child outline a plan and put it into action.  But remember to stand back and observe all of your children’s efforts—you will be amazed by what they think and at what they can do when you trust yourself to follow their lead!

With a little preparation, patience, and a “Montessori mindset”, you can provide your child with fulfilling activities that reinforce the skills he or she has gained during the school year.  You will find yourselves sailing smoothly through the summer months and right back into the new school year when it begins again before you know it in September!