Welcome to Morningside Montessori School
Welcome to Morningside Montessori School
What will my child learn? And how will s/he learn it?
What does this mean? The term “Child Centered” is thrown around quite a bit. At MMS it means that the child is the center of our curricular planning. We pride ourselves on our expertise of the general developmental expectations for our students. And we start there. The work that we introduce, the thematic units that we cover are organized by the varied interests of our students as well as by specific activities that promote the next level of development- whether that be fine motor development, vocabulary development, number sense, drawing figures or skipping in a circle. When we design the children’s daily schedule we consider the learning goals, we alternate active lessons with sedentary ones and design activities that foster the children’s successes.
Learn by doing:
Both Montessori philosophy and other more recent philosophies know that children learn best when they actively work with a concept or a material. When we learn about light versus heavy, we use our bodies to feel the difference. We might jump lightly on the ground, stomp with heavy feet, float scarves in the air to see them land softly or drop a small rock to see it land heavily on the ground. We might lift up light objects and compare that experience to lifting heavy ones. Everything in a Montessori classroom is designed to be used, moved around, touched, and experienced. Montessori materials are created to provide enthralling sensorial input. They are made of wood, metal, ceramic, and glass. The demise of any material is t the very end of June or begininevitable. We see the potential for their fragility as another valuable learning opportunity- how best to take care of the materials.
Learn by Practicing
In order for a learner to internalize a lesson, multiple interactions with a concept or a material are needed. Each interaction enriches and deepens one’s understanding of a material. It can be hard to remember this as an adult, particularly when you watch children work. The learning they are doing is old-hat to us, it is hard to remain connected to how much work it takes to learn something new, and learning how to turn a paintbrush the right way (when your hands are still not sure of themselves) is work. As early childhood educators, we are earnest in our awareness that this is work for children. We are also earnest in reminding parents that this is all new to them. Even when it is not new, there is still a lot to learn. Each time a child uses materials for collage, she might learn how to manipulate the glue better, how to use less glue, how to make one paper bleed into another with glue as the medium, or how to collage scraps into an identifiable figure. It is through repeated work with materials that children become intimately familiar with that material. They then extend that internalized learning to other situations. This is the crux of what makes people good thinkers, not simply rote ‘rememberers.’
Teachers as guides not ‘bosses’
Montessori teachers are not the purveyors of information; in other pedagogies, teachers are just that: teachers. This implies that the learners are only there to learn. Here at Morningside Montessori, we are facilitators, or scaffold builders. Conversations about the adults in the room changing from being ‘teachers’ to being ‘guides’ changes the power structure dramatically. Children bring their own bank of knowledge, own personalities and interests. Helping children develop an awareness of their interests, and valuing them, is the foundation of maintaining children as engaged members of education. Montessori guides are also engaged in learning. We are engaged in observing our children so we can learn everything we can about that child: Likes/dislikes, motor development, vocabulary development, turn taking, play skill development, everything. Once we have observed the child in his/her natural state of learning in the structure of the classroom, we know what to offer as a next step ‘learning’ activity. The guides then bring learning opportunities to the table that grab children’s interest, thereby, feeding a child’s natural interest in learning. Children are then in charge of their learning. How liberating and invigorating for them! As a parent myself, I am well aware that the next question is what if my child is working with one material over and over? What if s/he is not taking on a challenge? Firstly, repetition is learning. Practicing is learning. Secondly, if a child seems reluctant to try a challenge, we come to know this by observing and we begin a conversation. We tell them what we have observed, we ask what they think of our observation. We listen to the response. We remind them that we are here to help them, not do it for them, but help them along the path to growing. Then we guide them to the next level of work.
Montessori education has a reputation of creating independent learners. Why? And what does that mean? A Montessori school-even a modified one such as MMS- organizes the environment so that freedom to move around is available to the children. This is not an afterthought, it is by design. The thinking is that if children are in a neat, organized environment, the organization will train their brains and thinking to become organized. We know this to be true from neurological research that postdates Dr. Montessori. Presentation of information in logical formats, helps people encode the information, building connections between information helps children associate ideas and make additional cognitive connections. Being organized in your thinking helps you to become aware of your thinking and learning process. Being able to think about yourself thinking (metacognition), is an enormous part of executive functioning, which is a very high level of cognitive associations and includes the ability to inhibit oneself in the face of a very enticing activity because one knows it to be a less than desirable choice. A Montessori classroom, fosters independence because children choose their work, how long to stay with it, how one work might be used in conjunction with another work. They also make sure that they return these items in the way that they found them so that someone else can have the same opportunity to learn. The child takes responsibility for what s/he wants to learn about that day, takes social responsibility in returning work, and has a great deal of personal satisfaction in being the master/mistress of the learning world. Pedagogies that require children to sit and ingest, breed passivity and a lack of engagement in the learning.
If you did things that you knew you could already do, what would you be learning? If you don’t take a risk, you do not learn anything about the world or yourself. So doing something ‘right’ is not the goal at MMS. Trying and continuing to try, until the child is satisfied is the goal of learning. Therefore very little can be considered a mistake. Dropping a water work on the floor is an opportunity to learn about wet spills and how to clean them up, seeing how being careful is important when you are carrying fragile things is invaluable. Children are concrete- they have to live to know it. Next time you see that your child might have gotten something ‘wrong’, ask yourself, did s/he really try? Because if so, that is to be applauded, the mistake can be a learning experience if it is not criticized.
There is so much to learn today that the goal of education is to find out how to identify and learn about is salient at that point in your life. Young children have no idea what they want to learn about, so a huge portion of early childhood education is to help them develop fluency in what turns them on as learners. This means that teachers initially set up the environment with topics that we know speak to all children. Additionally, children need to know some basic information (content) about the world. For example, that we live in a city, in a state, in a country, in a continent, on a planet is basic information we should all have. If some children want to pin down all the countries on North America, we go with that. If other children are interested in what animals live in Africa, we go with that., As our children learn about themselves, they can request what they would like to learn more about. We strive for a balance of presenting information that all kids should have at least heard about by the time they are 5 or 6 and personalizing in depth content according to what individuals care about.