Preparation for Life
The second half of the school year begins fresh and full of promise. There is much to do before May but students have a sense of place within the school community, families give their full support and faculty have each piece in the process well planned. There will be long peaceful “work periods” (class time offering uninterrupted concentration on tasks paced at each child’s development level) stretching out before us, accented with school assemblies, field trips, parties and special projects. As each school year ends we look through the yearbook and are always amazed at what we have accomplished during the school year. There is so much involved in preparing a child for life.
Early in the school year we were startled to hear the comment “preparation for kindergarten” used in reference to our early childhood program. Montessori is an educational approach unlike any other. We notice our families have almost always done some research before enrolling and are eager to learn more as their children progress. We “Montessorians” (anyone involved in or interested in Montessori) love the philosophy because it is a continually unfolding source of inspiration involving every aspect of human development. It is the only educational method that involves not just teaching children, but also learning to apply the mindful, informed lifestyle to our own adult lives. This is referred to as the “spiritual transformation of the teacher.” It is a lifetime process that begins when we step in the door and it never ends. The Montessori goal is to support the development of the child’s, and the adult’s, highest potential. Rather than preparing children for their next school experience, we are providing the foundation, at each child’s unique pace, that will help them to live peaceful, purposeful lives.
The curriculum for our youngest students (birth to 3 years old) focuses on motor development, care of self and independence. Once the child has mastered dressing, toileting and basic self care, at around 2 years old, they begin to learn abstractions such as colors, shapes, quantities, vocabulary and the numerals and letters that represent them. The typical 3-year-old enters our early childhood program having mastered much of the public school kindergarten curriculum.
During the 3-year early childhood (3 to 6 years old) curriculum the child masters the self care, responsibility and developmental skills that were begun in the infant and toddler classes. Social skills are the primary focus during the second year of the early childhood program (4 to 5 years old), toward the middle of which the child moves into a new level of abstraction becoming fascinated with the challenges of reading, writing and math. During the third year of the early childhood program (5 to 6 years old) children are allowed to move at their own pace and typically master academic skills equivalent to those in traditional schools at 7 or 8 years. During this time the child also polishes her understanding of the progressive history, geography, science, art, music, literature and Spanish lessons in which she has been immersed since joining the early childhood class. Our SAT test results (https://soaringwings.org/academic-performance/sat-summary/ ) consistently show that our 6 year old early childhood graduates have typically mastered the national academic standards at a 2nd or 3rd grade level. This third year in early childhood class also provides the student with a sense of confidence and responsibility that will allow them to solve problems and seek out new learning wherever they go from here.
The elementary years allow the students to continue learning at their own pace, affording time for variations in practice of difficult subjects and progressing quickly through less challenging material. Elementary class is also a time for increasingly complex experiments, research projects and expeditions into the community. Students continue to learn new concepts with hands-on experiences and verify their lessons with experiences in the real world. These 1st through 6th grade years offer progressively more challenging opportunities for conflict resolution. The emphasis continues to be on independence with teachers offering support and guidance as students continue to make their own choices, running class meetings, planning class projects and solving problems along the way. Again, SAT scores (https://soaringwings.org/academic-performance/sat-summary/ ) show that students are progressing far above their peers in local and national traditional schools, both public and private.
The middle school years offer the student the opportunity to polish a world view of literature, math, engineering, science, history, geography and the arts punctuated by world expeditions and entrepreneurial projects. We expect to launch this program in the next few years including guest speakers at the high school and college levels, collaborative community projects and meaningful student-driven learning experiences. What we notice about Montessori middle school graduates is their sense of confidence, responsibility, resilience and their purposeful conviction toward life. At the International Montessori Congress in Prague in July of 2017 a contingent of 70 Montessori adolescents from around the world took the stage to state their conviction for creating a more peaceful future. There was not a dry eye among the 2000 Montessori teachers from 71 countries in the audience. Having practiced putting their ideas into action since they were small children, these Montessori adolescents have the education, motivation and self-direction to make real change as they wish to see it in the world.
Over the past 30 plus years of observing Montessori students and their families we consistently notice that a child who has had at least 3 years in a Montessori program differs from a child who has attended traditional schools in the following ways:
Mindfulness – Children who have been encouraged to make their own decisions and experience the ensuing results from a young age demonstrate careful consideration of their actions and their role in the world community.
Inspiration – The Montessori approach has a strong science base. Children who have learned to try different choices tend to possess a spirit of scientific adventure, delighting in learning new and unexpected concepts. A recent article in Scientific American (Shermer, 2018) pointed out that scientific curiosity inspires people to be more open-minded and even seek out new information that tests their pre-existing ideas.
Resilience – Children who are offered a myriad of possibilities with adult guidance rather than adult direction learn from failures and mistakes as well as from successes.
Confidence – Children who experience the self-acknowledgment of a growing mastery in a consistent, safe and supportive environment develop an inner confidence, having observed their own competence.
Respectfulness – Another unique aspect of the Montessori curriculum is the education for peace component. This begins at birth with the respect that is shown every child in how we hold and speak to a baby and how we prepare the environment with the child’s, rather than the adult’s, needs in mind. By the elementary years the student typically acknowledges strengths and challenges in herself and others, understands the important contributions of every living thing, the significance of non-living things and celebrates the diversity of cultures in our world.
Happiness – Ginny Trierweiler (2016) points out that supporting children in becoming autonomous also increases their happiness and ability to solve their own problems.
Montessori is much more than a learning philosophy for very young children. It’s a learning philosophy for people of all ages to help us better live our lives with success and satisfaction. Decades ago we knew that we were preparing children to go to high school, college and work at a good job for the next 40 years while raising a family in a comfortable home. Nowadays we are less certain of what exactly we are preparing our children for, but being resilient, learning from new experiences and solving problems while finding personal fulfillment will set them up for success no matter what the future brings. This is preparation for life. This is Montessori.
Shermer, M. (2018). For the love of science. Scientific American, January, p. 77.
Trierweiler, G. (2016). Let Me Do It Myself! Parker, CO: Books to Believe In
Duna Strachan, BS AMS MEd
Soaring Wings International Montessori School
Park City, Utah USA