Responding to Student Interest and Readiness
Montessori’s method is designed to address the needs of the child according to his plane or stage of development. Children at different stages absorb specific types of learning at a rapid pace, with joy and determination. Awakenings to new interests and capacities are monitored constantly through the well-trained observation of the Montessori faculty.
A brief overview of these stages:
From Birth to 6 years, children are sensorial explorers, constructing their intellects by absorbing every aspect of their environment, their language and their culture.
From 6-12 years, children become conceptual explorers, They develop their powers of abstraction and imagination, and apply their knowledge to discover and expand their worlds further.
From 12-18 years, children become humanistic explorers, seeking to understand their place in society and their opportunity to contribute to it.
From 18-24 years, young adults become specialized explorers, seeking a niche from which to contribute to universal dialogue.
Not only does each level’s curriculum cater to an age-specific stage of development, but our communities give individual students room to move at their own pace with faculty support. If your child is driven to pursue a certain subject, new lessons and challenging materials are made available to meet that interest. If your child needs more time to focus on a difficult concept, he will have the time and the help necessary to work on it until he is satisfied with his mastery of the subject.
Children in our school environment take their education seriously in part because they have the power to choose their own work, focusing on what fascinates them for up to three hours without interruption – and moving freely from one lesson to the next as they complete each activity.
We call this the uninterrupted work period. This key concept is one of the most important distinguishing characteristics of Montessori education. By letting students revel in what interests them for long periods, and not forcing them to loiter when they have lost interest, Montessori not only preserves but expands each child’s love of learning.
This philosophy is supported by the carefully designed Montessori materials in our classrooms. Montessori materials were created to be self-correcting; when a child going through a Montessori lesson makes a mistake, he gets immediate, impersonal feedback to let him know that something is amiss. When he then discovers how to correct himself, a number of great things happen: the triumph is his (not an adult’s), his concentration has not been interrupted, and he will think of future setbacks as steps along the way to success.
Some of the results of this work within our school are immediately obvious in the politeness of our students. When you visit a primary classroom, for instance, one of our four-year-old students might approach you to introduce himself and welcome you. You are also likely to have doors held for you and to hear “please” and “thank you” consistently from students who are unusually young, in our society, to have internalized these behaviors.
There is depth to these lessons that might not be immediately apparent as well. Each Montessori classroom features a Peace Table, or a space dedicated to conflict resolution among students. Students ask each other to accompany them to this space when tensions or disagreements need to be worked out among them, and are coached by faculty in how to speak to each other to bring about a peaceful resolution.
Also, starting in our youngest classrooms, students are taught to respect each other’s personal and work space. This creates an early awareness of others’ bodily autonomy and the importance of consent in social situations.
In a mixed age classroom, the Montessori faculty has an opportunity to get to know each student over the course of several years. She also has a much larger curriculum to present a child who is devouring one subject at a rapid rate, giving students a substantive opportunity to learn at an accelerated pace.
Also, Montessori classrooms provide the incredible opportunity for students to learn from and teach their friends. In looking up to older students, they become eager to learn the lessons they have not yet reached. In seeing younger students working, they have a chance to reinforce their expertise on concepts they have already learned through repetition. All students benefit from older students mentoring their younger classmates.
There is also an established classroom culture, shaped by the returning, older students. This culture easily absorbs new students and minimizes the adjustment and community-building period for the entire class at the start of each new school year.
Montessori observed that students are more likely to engage with their work in a prepared environment created to suit their needs, and that this prepared environment worked best when it was both home-like and beautiful to students.
Each classroom has furniture specifically scaled to the size of its students. Pictures are framed and hung at student eye level. Shelves are within student reach. Spaces are made engaging, comfortable, and inspiring to children as they determine how to spend their time. Sometimes, this makes these environments less hospitable to adults – but a Montessori classroom is designed, above all, for its children.