What is Montessori?

This is not an easy question to answer in a few short lines. If I had to summarize, I’d say that it’s a wonderful, child-centered method of education that allows children to learn with ease, and in an environment that’s perfectly suited to each and every one of them. It’s a method of teaching that fosters independence, creative thinking, and self-discipline. A Montessori school is an environment that cultivates respect and compassion, and inspires children to love the process of learning.

But I must tell you more. Don’t you wish that you were fortunate enough to be able to learn to read at an early age, and in an atmosphere of joy and anticipation? What can be better than learning to add, subtract, multiply and divide in a place where it’s deemed to be fun!

One of the extremely important aspects of a true Montessori program is the mixed age groupings that you find in all Montessori classrooms, the toddler room (ages 1 ½ to 3), the CASA (ages 2 ½ to 6) and the elementary classrooms. The younger children watch the older ones and learn how to behave in a classroom. They learn that it’s polite to shake hands and say ‘good morning’ to your teacher when you arrive at school. They learn that every child can, and should, enjoy doing good work. They learn that learning is fun! They learn that they can be successful in whatever they choose to do. When they see the older children working with the more advanced materials, they can’t wait to do that work too. A good analogy would be to think about the younger child in a home environment. Why does the younger child always do everything so much faster than their older siblings did? The answer to that lies in our human nature. No one wants to be left behind. Maria Montessori knew enough to take advantage of that natural urge to excel and she made it a fundamental part of her educational philosophy. That’s one of the reasons why our elementary classrooms are so very successful. The other side of that same coin is the effect that the mixed age groupings have on the older children. Here you don’t need to worry about creating the urge to learn, because that’s firmly entrenched. It’s with this age group that you watch the self-esteem and the self-confidence bloom! They know that whatever the problem is, they can sort it out. They know that the younger children may need help, and in becoming the ‘helpers’, they learn compassion, patience and understanding. Our classrooms are a hive of positive energy and enthusiasm. It makes you feel good just to be a part of it.

Objectives of a Montessori Education

What do we strive to develop in our children?

• Independent thinking
• Creative thinking and a healthy curiosity
• A positive attitude toward learning
• High self-esteem
• Great confidence
• Initiative
• Persistence and good concentration
• Inner discipline
• Courtesy, thoughtfulness and kindness

As you can see, we are dedicated to helping your child develop into a complete person. We don’t just concentrate on the academics. That comes naturally for most children in a Montessori environment. We work on those all-important social skills, on the development of emotional strength and we work to help your child develop a strong body that will allow him to enjoy a life of physical activity and good health.

The Prepared Environment

Dr. Montessori understood that young children can function very successfully in what she called the prepared environment. Every morning your child will arrive at school knowing that her classroom will be ready for her. Her favourite work will be waiting for her. She can start the day ready to accomplish great things!

The Casa dei Bambini, or the Children’s House (We call it CASA.) should be ready for the children every day, creating a community which is structurally child-sized and ordered so that it can allow your child to unconsciously begin to organize both her mind and her body. It should be a safe and inviting room that allows your child to have a great deal of freedom. It is through learning to make good decisions within this environment that your child’s sense of self-esteem and confidence will begin to grow.

Private School MathThere are so many misconceptions about the Montessori method. I hear people say that the classroom is too structured. I also hear it said that there isn’t enough structure. The truth is that the Montessori classroom is a structured environment within which the children enjoy a great deal of freedom.

The teacher’s role is not so much that of a traditional teacher, but more like a directress who can help her children to move with purpose and joy through the various stages of our curriculum. Her job is to stand back as much as possible and allow your child to make great decisions and great progress. Her mandate is to watch ever so carefully and, as soon as your child is ready, present yet another new concept. Her task is to ensure that your child is never pushed too quickly (with the result that his day becomes unpleasant and he learns that school is drudgery), or forced to mark time while the other children catch up (resulting in boredom, and the knowledge that school is no fun).

At Headwater Hills Montessori, each trained teacher can have at least twelve children at her table. You might wonder how one teacher can look after twelve or more children who are at different levels of achievement. This is the beauty of a Montessori classroom! Each child has individual attention from the teacher each and every day, but only when they need that attention. Much of the time, the children are working independently and with great concentration, be it with a pouring activity or working with fractions. There is a great deal of activity in a good classroom. It is seldom quiet and still. It has a feeling of purpose, energy and motion. It is alive.

Parenting a Montessori child

Our students live in two main places during their early years; at home and at school. It is always easier for the children when the expectations are similar in both environments. It is always best if we can work together. When you have questions or concerns, please come and ask. We want to be of help and we are happy to offer support whenever we can.

Here are some important things to keep in mind if you would like to parent in a ‘Montessori’ way.
• Show your love and caring by acting in a calm and respectful manner. Expect the same from your child.
• Establish some rules that must be followed.
• Observe, and try not to always direct.
• Allow your child to fail, and to learn from his failures. At this age his failures are small and inconsequential. It’s a great time to learn about the concept of consequences. This is an integral part of growing and maturing. We tend to shield them from failure, and we shouldn’t. We all learn from our mistakes. Allow your child to learn from his.
• Discipline (consistent and fair) is good and absolutely necessary. Punishment is something to be used rarely and with great care.
• Be very clear in your directives and give your child clear choices.
• Try never to compare your child to other children.
• Organized activities are wonderful as long as there are also opportunities for free play. Children learn different skills when they play without adult interference.

Leaving your child for the first time

It can be very difficult to drop your child off on the first day of school. In fact, it is far more difficult for the parent than it is for the child! Please remember the following:

The children who are dropped off, with a very quick hug and a loving, confident “I’ll see you later” will suffer far less than the child whose parents stay, with worried looks and anxious body language.

Please understand that your child may cry when first dropped off at school. It is normal and natural, especially if there hasn’t been much opportunity for him to learn that he can be apart from Mom and Dad, and still be happy and safe. Please note also that the crying usually lasts for about 1 minute. As soon as you leave, he has lost his audience. There is no longer any point, so he may as well go and have some fun!

Make sure that the Principal knows, before the first day, if there’s anything important about which the teacher should be aware. In fact, this is something to remember throughout her school days. Recent family changes or upsets can affect your child’s view of the world. Sometimes we just need to know that an extra hug may be in order that day.

Prepare your child for school using positive statements and emphasizing the fact that there will be new friends and fun activities.

Don’t pretend that everything will be perfect. That wouldn’t be honest. He should understand that he may feel sad, but he should also understand that it’s OK to feel sad. You can mention that you’ll miss him and that you’ll be so happy to pick him up and hear about his exciting day.

Make sure that both parents are on the same page about this new transition. Your child will be able to sense uncertainty, and this can cause him to be anxious and confused.

Once your child has made a successful transition to the school environment, we will welcome you to come in and observe. Ask your child’s teacher to let you know when he’s ready. If you come too early, your little one will be focused more on you than on his work, and your observation will only create difficulties for him. Once he’s become really comfortable in this new environment, you will be amazed at his confidence and happy sense of purpose.

When it comes time to leave the Montessori classroom

Parents often express concern about what comes after the years spent in a Montessori environment. They worry that our students are going to be too advanced to fit in with the regular system. They worry that the children will not have had to socialize, and suffer the consequences of socializing, with large numbers of children. They are sometimes concerned that our ‘too structured’ or ‘too unstructured’ classroom will make it hard for the children to adjust.

I have been fortunate enough to keep in touch with many of our graduating student’s families. Our experience has been that the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Children who have been in an authentic Montessori school are generally very capable of moving with ease and confidence into any other school, be it another private school, or a public school. Our students have learned how to communicate effectively with their peer group. They have wonderful problem solving skills and seem to be excellent caretakers of both their physical and social environments. Their academic skills enable them to transition easily into their new classrooms. Their independent research skills allow them to continue excelling at their own pace and they tend to carry within themselves a sincere wish to learn.

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