By Shawn Edwards
I have been working in Montessori schools for more than 30 years. Each year, in the fall, I engage in conversations with parents about the fact that a Montessori education does not stop after Primary or the Kindergarten year. “Education for Life” was used regularly in Maria Montessori’s writings and teachings about school. Specifically, her wise words were “if education is a protection to life, you will realize that it is necessary that education accompany life during its whole course.” Montessori Elementary is the natural progression to continue this love of learning.
Dr. Montessori was an engineer and a physician. She had a deep understanding of human development and it was this understanding, along with her observations of children, that informed her educational philosophy. While children in the first plane of development, between the ages of 0 and 6 are engaging in self-construction, children between the ages of 6 and 12 are social beings who have reasoning minds, powerful imaginations, incredible stamina and strength, and a deep sensitivity to morality and justice. They also have a deep need to understand the timeline of life and what humans have done to contribute to life as we know it. A Montessori Elementary curriculum and educational program are designed to align with these needs and tendencies so that students will love learning, and begin to take accountability for their own education.
Each year begins, for six years, with the “great lessons”. There are five: the creation of the universe, the coming of life, the coming of humans, the coming of language, and the coming of math. Each of these lessons is taught through the art of storytelling and complete with charts, science experiments, and always an invitation for the students to leave the lesson with a research plan. Everything these students learn, for the rest of their lives, can be referenced back to one of these stories.
Then there is the maintenance thread of the program. Teachers assess students at the beginning of the year and then develop lesson plans for them that will help them progress in all disciplines. The students record their lessons and are expected to follow up on the lessons. Weekly meetings with the teachers are focused around lessons given, work completed, and goals for the following week. These are the executive functioning skills that prepare them for the life that we know as adults – self management, responsibility and personal accountability.
Daily class meetings allow for students to complement one another, discuss ideas to better the environment, and brainstorm solutions to things that may not be going very well. Social and emotional intelligence is developed through such gatherings, as is the student’s ability to think critically.
Maria Montessori’s engineering mind is evident through the beautiful and purposeful materials created to help students understand concepts through multi-sensory, concrete engagement. Every lesson in every subject area (including art and music) begins with the use of concrete material where the student touches, explores, and uses the material to solve a problem or understand a concept. The passage to abstraction can happen spontaneously or the teacher/guide can assist the student in the process. The materials are meant to be meaningful keys to learning.
Assessment is a key component in a Montessori classroom. Many of the materials are self-correcting, and it is evident in the finished work if there is a lack of understanding. The remedy is to represent the lesson and help the student develop a clearer understanding. There is no shame in mistakes made; rather, the mistakes provide opportunities for deeper learning. Standardized tests are also given annually to all students to understand where to support their development.
The students are in a dynamic environment full of academic rigor and exploration. The classrooms hum and vibrate as students work in small groups that reflect science projects, timeline creations, story writing, solving squaring and cubing problems, songwriting, and mosaic creations all at the same time! They work in small groups according to ability level – not age level, and as they work, they absorb information from others who are engaging in equally stimulating activities. They plan their own field trips, their own trips to the store and they write their own musical plays. They are encouraged and empowered and they love to come to school.
Why wouldn’t you want this for your elementary-aged child?
Shawn Edwards is a Head of School at LePort Montessori in Solana Beach and received her B.A. in Psychology and Human Services, her AMI Elementary Montessori training and certification, her M.A. in Transformational Coaching and Leadership, and is a Positive Discipline Parenting coach and trainer. She began her Montessori career at the Post Oak School in Houston, Texas. In 2006, she moved to Chicago to lead the Alcuin Montessori School, followed by a transfer back to Texas as the Executive Director of the Community Montessori School in Georgetown, Texas. Ms. Edwards has also served as a consultant to various schools and organizations across the country. She has been involved in various leadership trainings including school leadership courses offered through Independent School Management and the National Association of Independent Schools.