“A-ha” Moments in Early School

IMG_2357by Sharon Vanella, Head of Early School

Recently, our Montessori Early School faculty had the privilege of hosting the monthly full-faculty meeting. In keeping with our One Prep theme, we shared our Montessori philosophy and classrooms with our peers from the other divisions.

We started with an overview to share some basic history of Maria Montessori and how she came to develop her education philosophy during the early twentieth-century. Here is what we shared:

Dr. Montessori was the first female physician in Italy and ended up observing children who were institutionalized – likely for what we would today identify as having different learning challenges. She found that given the instruction and specific materials, along with the opportunity to practice and learn at their own pace, these children were able to succeed on par with other “typical” children. Dr. Montessori was so successful that she was asked to take on the task of creating a facility in a Roman tenement in which to keep preschool-aged children during the day while their parents were at work. Thus, the first Casa de Bambini, or Children’s House, was begun.

She soon learned that children of this age were eager to learn and absorbed information and experiences like a sponge. They preferred practical life and meaningful learning activities over donated toys, and soon formed a community of young learners. Dr. Montessori continued to study how children learned, and over time developed her method to educate children by meeting them where they are, giving them purposefully engaging activities in a beautiful, child-centered environment. Dr. Montessori’s work spread worldwide and went on to encompass education from birth through young adulthood. Today, scientific brain research is proving the effectiveness of many of her theories and methods, and Montessori schools continue to grow and thrive.

Following this introductory information, staff members divided into two groups, each of which went to explore one of our Pre-Primary classrooms. Our intent was for our colleagues to learn by doing as our students do. In those rooms, the adult learners had the opportunity to try out some of the toddlers’ activities and discover the purpose for themselves. The two groups then proceeded to one of our four Primary cycle classrooms. Faculty members participated in a scavenger hunt to find and identify certain features within the environment. (The Primary cycle classrooms encompass a 3-year plane of development, from ages 3-6. Montessori classrooms are organized into several main areas, including Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, Language, Geography/Cultural Studies, Science, and Art. Each area complements and balances the other, and many overlap. For example, a tweezing activity in Practical Life will develop the pincer grip and left-right motion students will use in future writing work in other areas of the classroom. Materials are arranged sequentially from left to right, top to bottom on the shelves, from the simplest and concrete to the most complex and abstract. As children master one skill, they are shown the next step in the sequence.)

During their experiences in the Early School classrooms, we heard interesting remarks reflecting the discoveries the adult learners were making as they gained insight into how our youngest Prep students learn. It was fascinating to see how the adult learners explored and analyzed the work, such as the purpose of a simple pouring activity – which is either to gain concentration and precision of movement or, simply, to get a drink of water! There were many “a-ha!” moments as well. The adults practiced a number activity that demonstrates a topic such as Odd and Even in a concrete way, or the gradation of a set of 10 prisms from thickest to thinnest. We overheard the following comments:

  • “I didn’t realize the Montessori classroom works that way.”
  • “This is all very interesting!”
  • “This is amazing – I want to come back and observe it all in action.”
  • “I had no clue what went on in a Montessori classroom.”

The biggest challenge, however, was just getting up and down from the tiny chairs! In all, the consensus was that it was a positive step in uniting our divisions as One Prep – an enlightening way to experience and gain a better understanding of our school’s Montessori foundation. We look forward to experiencing the Lower School and Middle School in the coming months!

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