I observed in Montessori classrooms and it doesn’t seem like there is an opportunity for pretend play. Is this true?
Starting in her first “Children’s House” in 1907, Dr. Montessori found that children did not choose pretend play when given the opportunity to do actual, meaningful work instead. Her first classrooms contained dollhouses, for instance, where children could pretend to serve tea to dolls—and real, child-sized tea sets, where children could prepare real tea and serve it to each other. Invariably, the children would choose to do real work with real utensils, which is why we enable our children to do the same in our classrooms. This is not to say that pretend play should be eliminated from a child’s experience. If a child engages in pretend play at home, parents should support the child’s choice. But in the school environment, we’ve found that children themselves prefer to be engaged in meaningful work—and find it fun!
Why is Kindergarten included with Pre-school?
Our program, like most Montessori programs, has multi-age classrooms. Children aged 3-6 are in one class called “Children’s House” because of the pedagogical benefits of such an environment. Dr. Montessori found that children in this age range follow a similar developmental pattern—and so she tailored the materials in the classroom specifically to their needs. Indeed, the third year of the program, the “kindergarten year”, is critical: in the 3rd year, primary students cash in on all the preparatory work they have done up until that point in the Montessori program; by the 3rd year, they are fast becoming proficient writers and readers, and are mastering the basics of arithmetic. The kindergarten year also serves a psychological purpose. Students benefit from being the oldest children in class, as they mentor their younger peers and deepen their own skills by showing them to the younger students. They develop a sense of accomplishment and confidence that makes them yearn for, rather than fear, the challenges ahead. Children graduate to the elementary class when they are ready, generally sometime in the year after their 6th birthday.
I saw a child upset in the classroom, but the teacher did not comfort him right away. Why not?
Our teachers observe children carefully and provide targeted support, such as a kind word, a short hug, and by being present near the child to reassure him, rather than holding him for extended periods. This is particularly true in the case of children new to the class, who tend to quickly develop a sense of comfort in the classroom setting. In a case where such an approach is not working, a teacher will offer a child continued support. However, there is sometimes an initial period where a teacher will observe a student in order to give him a chance to calm down on his own, and so the teacher can assess how best way to help him; during this time, a crying child may not be immediately comforted. We understand that young children can have strong emotions and need support in coping with them, especially as they transition into a new environment. Our teachers are trained to do so with utmost care: they focus on enabling the child to recognize his emotions, and guiding him as he slowly learns to become more emotionally independent—all while ensuring that each child knows that his teachers care deeply about him. In general, we believe that children develop greater self-esteem and independence if they discover that they are not entirely dependent on adults for handling emotional situations. We have found that with proper nurturing and support, our students grow to be better prepared to thrive in the less controlled environments of elementary school and beyond.
Do children find it difficult to transition into a traditional classroom?
No, our children have no problem transitioning to a traditional classroom. During their time in our Montessori program they acquire skills equivalent to, and often above, grade level—and they learn how to learn. They start out with concrete materials in 1st grade, and then transition to more abstract content over the three years they are with us. For example, in math, they start with the beads and end up doing 4th or 5th grade math with paper and pencil by the end of 3rd grade. They have developed long attention spans; they have learned to solve their own problems and to edit their own work; they are organized, and can keep track of deadlines and work towards them. We purposefully develop these skills, so that our students can sit, listen and work with more abstract ideas.
The children seem to choose their own work in Montessori classes. Do you provide any curriculum to ensure they still progress in all subject areas?
Montessori schools differ in how much guidance they provide in the elementary grades. At COMS we believe in freedom within limits: our teachers have a clearly defined curriculum that each child is expected to master over the three years in lower elementary, and they offer children a lot of choices in the particular way they master this curriculum. For example, every week the child agrees to a “work contract” with her teacher, which outlines the works she needs to complete over the course of the week. This required work typically can be done in four days, leaving the equivalent of one day a week for the child to dive deeper in areas she is most interested in. It also leaves the child much freedom of choice: she can decide when she wants to do which work. One week she can spend a whole day on math or writing; the next week she can decide to do a few hours on each subject every day for variety.
What happens if a child does not do the work he should be doing for his age level?
Because of the individualized, self-paced approach of our classrooms, we have a wonderful ability to tailor what a child works on according to his needs. A student who is weaker in writing, but strong in mathematics, for instance, may find that more of his weekly plan focuses on language arts to ensure he gets the practice he needs. And because of the many different types of activities available among the Montessori materials, we can adapt to many different learning needs. If a student struggles with long multiplication, for example, we can offer him the basic bead materials, to re-ground him in the basic requisite skill; he can work with a simple multiplication board, then progress to the checker board, then to the small bead frame, and ultimately learn to do the operation abstractly. By combining a wide range of carefully-designed activities with a very individualized approach, our nurturing teachers are able to ensure that each child masters the core skills and acquires the knowledge he needs to succeed in further schooling.