Sunday, October 7, 2012

Montessori Journey

Aidans school provided a workshop for parents this weekend titled "The Journey". It was a two day event to learn more about the materials and methods of the Montessori education THEY provide. I say 'they' because  as it turns out there is no trademark on Montessori so every school is different. Schools can throw in just a small amount of Montessori principles and and call themselves a "Montessori School".  You can have what I call "hard core" Montessori that does everything the way Maria Montessori did a hundred years ago. This is what Aidan's school was in the beginning. It took Maria Montessori over 40 years of research to come up with the materials and the lessons that accompany them and our school wanted to stay true to this. Over the years they have changed with the times and now have things like computers in the classroom and Spanish education. They stay true to "Montessori" but our kids are also being prepared for the "Real World". Other "Real World" things they do include state and national testing starting in the first grade. There is no pressure put on the kids (like public school)  but it is a more "let's see what you know" type of attitude. Our students also receive a small amount of homework beginning in the 1st grade ( known as 1st level at our school) and more in the upper grades so they have the "real world" experiences of time deadlines and accountability. Let's face it, they won't always be in Montessori educated ( at least around here but I did find out yesterday there is a Montessori middle school about 30 minutes away :) ). At some point they have to move on to middle and high school. I like the happy medium that our school provides. The Montessori philosophy is they want kids to fall in LOVE with learning and become life long learners. I can only imagine how my schooling would have been different if I saw education as a " get to" and not " have to" type of thing.

Now on to my experience of this weekend. I wanted to write this post because I think it would have been really useful for me when we were considering Montessori education. Before we enrolled Aidan I did the research but still wasn't entirely sure what Montessori education was or if it was going to be the best thing for him. I was kind of  "hoping for the best". I knew that it "felt right" when I toured the school but wasn't sure of the program. NOW I have an understanding of WHY it did feel so right when I did the tour. :0)

It started Friday night with a silent tour. We walked through a primary class " ages 3 through 5", lower elementary class " 1st through 3rd levels ( or 1st through 3rd grade as we traditionally know it), and upper elementary " 4th and 5th levels". We were instructed to look at all the materials but we weren't allowed to touch anything. We were asked to stay silent as we walked around. We then discussed our experiences at the end of the night. I have to tell you- it was VERY difficult to keep my hands off the materials. They were so inviting and I just wanted to explore them. The other thing that really stuck with me is what "higher level" things they are doing in the upper levels. I saw microscopes, chemistry tubes and chemicals, atom models, book reports on Warren Buffet, and even research on Obama and Romney for the upcoming election. It was things that I really didn't get into until high school and college.

Saturday morning was all about actually exploring the materials. Materials were layed out with instructions on how to use them. We were able to ask for "lessons" if we felt we needed it. The children receive a lesson before they are able to use the material.  The way they teach math is brilliant! It always starts with concrete models and moves to the abstract. The materials are consistent at every level, so the same materials they are using to learn addition and subtraction in Aidan's class are the same materials they are using in upper elementary to learn algebra. There are obviously some additions, but the concept is the same. If I would have been taught in this manner , math would have made more sense and been so much easier for me! I will admit I actually found myself getting frustrated when working with the materials in the upper elementary because of the level of difficulty. I asked the directress if the students got frustrated and she said no because everything is taught in steps and one skill builds on another and they don't receive lessons that they aren't ready for. So basically they are being prepared for algebra at geometry at age 3! By the way the students are ALWAYS given lessons before they are allowed to use the materials. This has been one of Aidan's complaints. There are things that he really wants to explore but can't yet because he hasn't been given a lesson. Now that he has been in school for a month I don't hear this complaint anymore. :)
Another thing I really liked is they way they teach grammar in the 1st through 3rd levels. Everything is color coded so for example the nouns are always on black cards, the adverbs on red cards, articles on pink cards, etc.... It makes it really easy to learn the parts of speech. The children are able to manipulate the cards to make sentences and then write the sentences down. I was happy to see books starting in level 1 that had Lexile numbers on them. I forgot to ask  how they monitor reading levels but I would assume since the books were broken down by Lexile numbers that it means they assess the kids. I  also loved that starting at age 3 the kids learn about botany, zoology, geography,etc... Aidan told me today on the way to church that he knew the reason that trees and plants are green is because of the chlorophyll. Thank you Montessori!

What I experienced in my initial observation of the school back in April when we were considering Montessori were classrooms that were calm and kids that were engaged in their activities. I knew I loved the feeling of the classrooms and  I now know why! It's because of the fascinating things they were learning! They were truly enjoying their experience and falling in love with learning. Isn't this every parents dream?

O.K. it is official. I have tasted the "Montessori Juice" and now I don't think I will ever go back. :)

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