On a regular basis, most often in preparation for our Wednesday Weekly, I sneak into all our classrooms to snap a few candid photos of each environment. I will start downstairs in Toddler, move up to Children's House and end with Elementary. The impression of this "walk" can be very impactful and I realize what a unique honor it is to have this perspective. How valuable it would be for all parents to get to walk through the school this way! So please join me in this virtual walk through the school and let me show you some very special things.
First, lets head downstairs. I know this time of year they often have a healthy dose of
boot-mud, but lets overlook that for now. Now that we are at the bottom, take a peak to the right. Just our luck ! Often there is an Elementary student down here looking for a book. He would have had to sign himself out of the classroom on the chalkboard in class showing he will be in the library. When he returns he will erase his name, therefore signing himself back in. If he can't find what he is looking for, he may plan a Going-Out to the local library.
Okay, onward to Toddler. As we pass the laundry area we spot Ronda. Ronda supports our Toddler community and spends a lot of quality time here too. Did you know we do at least 10 loads of laundry every day? It can be up to 14 loads on nap day (once a week we wash all the nap bedding)! Thank you for your laundry soap donations at the start of every school year! Interesting fact: residential washer/drier units have a lifespan of about 2 years when used for commercial purposes.
Let's get into a classroom. Hello Toddler 1! Some children spot us and are excited for visitors, "Hi!", "Look at me!" There is one in this room who will always hug my legs. Others are more reserved and stare at both of us (you actually), wondering why we are here. We don't want to linger too long so I'll quickly point out what we see.
Do you spot the child doing banana work? This may be his contribution to the community snack. Snack time must be close because Nicole and a friend are putting the table cloth on and will soon set the table. Did you know that table cloths are folded in a very special way in order to allow these young children to successfully pull it across like they are doing here? Maria Montessori really did think of everything when it comes to setting up a space where our youngest can be successful, even down to how to fold table cloths. Brilliant!
Now let's scoot across the hall and see what they are up to in Toddler 2. Quick! Look towards the bathroom! Here one of our oldest Toddlers is helping out one of our youngest. It looks like she is helping him wash his face. It is just amazing to witness these young children develop not only care for self, but care for others. I see Children's House in her very near future! Thanks for letting us stop in, Toddlers!
Back in the hallway we hear some clanking coming from the kitchen. Pop your head in! Marilyn stays very active with 2-3 carts of Toddler dishes in the morning, 2 carts of Children's House dishes in the afternoon, Elementary and then Aftercare. The sanitizer we have is the same model that many fast food restaurants use and generates a wonderful steam facial. We look for the positive in everything.
Alright, back up those muddy stairs (really, we do try) and on to Children's House 1! When we step in the first thing we notice is that 26 children are all doing different things. In the foreground is one of our just-turned-5 year olds cutting stems for flower arranging work. Flower arranging is shown to children between the ages of 3 and 4 and is part of the Practical Life area of the classroom. There are ten different materials that go into this one "work" and the results are delivered around the room, to other classrooms and often to the office.
There seems to be a small crowd in the back! Let's walk further in.
We see a kindergarten child making a water color map of the world. This is really exciting work because the children have to wait to do this until they know all the names of all the continents, which is usually in their Kindergarten year. He has generated quite the following; notice how respectfully his friends are watching with their eyes? Traditionally geography is taught by starting with home town, state, country, continent. We do the opposite in Montessori by teaching the whole before teaching the parts (this applies to many other topic areas as well). Map Making is a work presented towards the end of a long series of geography presentations that begin as early as age 2.5 with the introduction of our world with a globe. This child has worked a long time building up to be ready for this day!
Let's continue our walk and head over to Children's House 2. They have all the same materials in that room, so lets keep an eye out for some different things.
This is one of the newest children to CH2 who came up from Toddler this winter. He is working with the Cylinder Blocks. This is one of my most favorite materials as there are a number of different ways to use them, they introduce language such as thick and thin, large and small, tall and short, and they also train the hand for the proper way to hold a pencil. Preparation for writing while doing a "puzzle"? So clever! To see the extension exercises for this material, click here.
On the other side of the room we see two boys working with trays from the Geometric Cabinet. Can you tell the difference between a pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, octagon, and a nonagon? With more time, these boys will! Montessori introduces these shapes in a very sensorial way before giving the language to the shape. Children will use their fingers to trace along the outer edges of each blue shape and also the inner edges of the yellow form, giving them the sensorial impression of each shape. Not only is this an introduction to geometry, it is also another material that prepares the hand for writing! Genius!
Oh look! Just behind you! This kindergarten child is building the Decanomial Square. The what? Maybe you know it as the Table of Pythagoras? No? Let me explain. It is a hands-on representation of all the math fact tables from 1 to 10 and preparation for future math, specifically squaring. The child doesn't necessarily know all this though. They just know it takes a lot of time and concentration and we know that spending time with this material (and others) is one of the reasons we consistently have early Elementary students who are capable of figuring square root.
Speaking of Elementary, we should get going and see what they are up to. Did you know this is our largest mixed-aged classroom spanning the ages of 6 though 12? Montessori originally designed Elementary environments as one whole classroom and schools are now starting to merge their separated lower and upper Elementary rooms back to this arrangement. This recent favorite topic of mine would make a great future blog post.
The first thing we notice inside the class is that the room is louder than the others because most of the children are working collaboratively small groups, which is unique to this age group (6-12 is what Montessori describes as the Second Plane of Development). There seems to be just as many children working at tables as there are working on the floor. These children still need to move! Three children just approached you to welcome you into their classroom. Now you know who to ask if you have questions during our visit!
Just our luck! This first year Elementary student used the Peg Board to try to figure the square of 15. Hummm...I wonder what prepared her for this work at such a young age? Looks like she is really proud of her accomplishment!
In Elementary, lessons are given by the Guide in small groups, rather than individually as done in Children's House. The Guide will present material to new children as well as ones those who may need a follow up. Depending on the lesson, the Guide may also pull in at least one who has mastered the skill so that this child can be a source of answers for the others during follow up work. This arrangement also helps the Guide confirm the understanding of those older children.
The sky is the limit as children seek new challenges. The Guide has to keep one step ahead of them, predicting what they will be ready for next.
A wonderful example of this is the math currently displayed on our lobby doors.
This math is Statistics (for those of you like me who had to have it explained). The children that did this work are 11 years old. Will every Upper Elementary child learn Statistics you turn to ask? Great question. No. Not every child progresses the same and certainly 5th graders don't need to learn Statistics, but in Montessori, this is exactly what we mean when we say we "follow the child". Just like Children's House, not every child will embrace the Bells and learn to play music. But is the material there for them to do so? Is the Guide ready to show them? Oh yes indeed!
After our walk do you see how it is possible that our children are prepared to do great things? It started years ago, by mastering Banana Work and setting the table in Toddler. Their hands and minds developed by using cylinder blocks, cutting flowers, building geometric impressions on the brain by touching shapes and building colorful squares. It was reinforced in early elementary with Peg Boards, and lessons spread out all across the floor.
It is so difficult to put into words what happens under our roof every day. The progression of development from 16 months through 6th grade, challenges introduced at just the right time, unique to each child, over many years, is breathtaking when you stop to think about it.
I am so glad you took this walk with me. We should really do this again.