“Fasten your seatbelts. This twenty-two hour Quantas Airline flight to
Melbourne, Australia is about to take off!”
Thus began the Elementary class’s multidisciplinary study of Australia. For the past few weeks, our Elementary students have been surfing near Bondi Beach, touring Tasmania, studying Australian cartography and landforms, speaking in Aussie slang, creating Aboriginal-styled artwork, eating Vegemite, pumpkins scones and Brisbane oranges, and avoiding (and studying) large Australian insects. Children have been so busy they haven’t had time to snorkel around the Great Barrier Reef, listen to the didgeridoo or observing the crocodiles at Crocosaurus Cove yet. All while developing reading, writing, math and social studies skills.
This amazing unit was designed and implimented by our awesome Elementary teachers, Mrs. Hannon and Mrs. Hatziyannis, whose creativity, enthusiasm and passion for their classroom make their program unrivaled.
Why are children so enthusiastic? This type of multidisciplinary, integrated continent study brings all forms of intelligence—linguistic, emotions, musical, movement and spatial reasoning, and logical mathematic together to create rigorous, relevant, and engaging learning. The ‘virtual’ field trip provides the context for our students to make connections across disciplines in a meaningful way. Students see a purpose to their learning, even though Australian is on the other side of the globe.
So if you see an Elementary student this week, be sure to say, “G’day, Mate! Have a ripper of a trip!”
The Montessori approach to educating children is based on what we understand about children’s cognitive, neurological, and emotional development as shown to us through years of research. Some of the key aspects of our program include:
- Montessori is focused on teaching for understanding. The Montessori materials give the child concrete sensorial impressions of abstract concepts.
- The approach promotes organization and focus as being just as important as the academics.
- The mentor/mentee is a critical feature. The mixed-age class allows older children to be leaders and teach the younger children.
- In Montessori schools, children from different neighborhoods who share common values have come together to create the school community. Children who grow up in a Montessori environment often speak of close-knit relationships with classmates and their families.
- Montessori supports personalized learning. Children learn at-their-own pace without unhealthy stress or artificial competition. The child can move as slowly or quickly as needed to understand a concept.
- Montessori students study other cultures creating the foundation for global citizenship.
- Children are treated with a deep respect as unique individuals. The school is keenly focused on the child’s intellectual, social, and emotional development.
- Montessori teaches kindness, peacefulness, grace, and courtesy.
- Montessori children learn through their five senses. Materials are hands-on, allowing children to explore, investigate and research. They become actively engaged in their studies rather than being spoon-fed information.
- Montessori addresses different learning styles and helps children learn how to study.
- Montessori challenges children and sets high expectations. Children develop self-discipline and an internal sense of purpose and motivation.
Montessori children are typically engaged, and curious learners who look forward to going to school. They have a high level of self-confidence and independence, a lifelong love of learning, and feel close bonds with friends and teachers.
Over 250 current and alumni families, past and present faculty members of Evergreen Montessori School in Silver Spring, Maryland dedicated a new custom-designed Tree House play structure in honor of the 30-year career of Primary Division Director Marilynn Liotta. The dedication of the Tree House took place at the school’s annual Spring Festival and featured a violin recital and choral concert. Guest speakers included Mrs. Lynn Pellaton who served as Head of School from 1972 to 1996.
The Tree House is all natural and was constructed from sustainably harvested Black Locust logs and Osage Orange branches. The Tree House is a permanent part of the school’s award-winning rain garden and was built by local craftsman Marcus Sims. Ms. Liotta is retiring at the end of the school year.
The words we use ought to make sense.
One of my great joys at Evergreen is pointing out that in a Montessori environment words like “play” and “work” don’t make a whole lot of sense. Children are born makers, doers, touchers and learners. I frequently say that working and playing are merely adult constructs. To a child, there is only the imperative: figure out the world around him. Such activity is stimulating, gratifying, and vital. It can’t quite be called work, and it can’t be called play.
Imagine your life if you found work to be satisfying and meaningful. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. In the Montessori world, all children are confronted with compelling tasks, challenges and puzzles just at the right level of difficulty. We need a new vocabulary to describe what children do here.
Likewise, words like “materials,” “objects” and “toys” don’t make sense at Evergreen. Should an interesting mineral in the rock jar a called a toy? Is an anatomy puzzle a toy? A map puzzle? A button frame? Or a paint brush? These are things to be touched, explored, considered and mastered— enjoyed like toys and used like tools of learning.
In the same vein, two other terms that don’t add up at Evergreen are “structured” and “unstructured” learning. In a traditional classroom, there is a great deal of obvious structure. Every child has an assigned seat at a desk that faces in the same direction as all other desks: toward the teacher and the whiteboard. There is one lesson (or learning objective) for all children. The classroom structure is as psychological as it is physical. Uniformity is valued.
What about at Evergreen? At first glance, our classrooms look unstructured. A few children here using alphabet letters to build words and sentences. A few children over here making landforms with water and clay. Children over there counting or sewing or tracing or painting. Here, difference is valued. There are many different activities happening at once—does this mean there is no structure? Here structure is found in the classroom norms, procedures and rules. Learning is child-centered and child-directed, but follows a logical progression set up by the teacher. For example, learning letter sounds proceeds learning initial word sounds.
For us, it starts with our faith in each child’s natural desire to learn and understand. As Maria Montessori said, “Above all it is to be noted that the child has a passionate love for order and work, and possesses intellectual qualities superior by far to what might have been expected.” The key is to ensure that the environment is conducive for the free child to make good choices. When every choice is a good one, it will be much easier to make good decisions. And freedom within the classroom is one of freedom within limits.
When Montessori schools break from the constructs of traditional education and rewrite its central vocabulary, we achieve more harmonious classrooms and deeper learning. It’s the “magic Montessori fairy dust” that enables us to soar. What we once considered “limits,” we now call “possibilities.”
Thinking back on my own education, I think of a handful of teachers and coaches who developed my sense of worthiness and strength, capacity and courage. These are the teachers and coaches who exhorted a strong influence on the person I have become.
My most influential teachers and coaches led by example. They were authentic in their enthusiasm for teaching; they were honest and trustworthy. More than anything, they demonstrated respect for the young people in their care without condescension or affectation.
Sixth grade wood shop was a pivotal experience for me. My wood shop teacher, while temperamental and a little unstable, taught my class to use power tools including a band saw, planer, drill press and more. By now, all my memories of his safety instructions have faded. What I remember is this: I was trusted. He allowed me to use outrageously dangerous equipment. He knew that my classmates and I were ready for such great responsibility even before we did. For years, the fruits of my labor, an ottoman foot stool with hand-made mortise and tenon joints anchored my parent’s living room as a memento of my coming-of-age. I am incalculably proud of that ottoman.
I believe that our children have greater capacity than we give them credit. But only when treated with respect, can our children develop their true potential. The typical day a young child’s life provides few opportunities to make choices or exercise independence. Their days follow a linear path designed by adults. It is our duty, as parents and teachers to ensure that our children are prepared to know how to live, and have the skills like confidence, grit, and curiosity to do so.
There isn’t a civilization in the world that doesn’t have its own musical tradition. Why?
Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does–humans are a musical species.
From birth, our brains our wired to make and appreciate music. It is natural that Evergreen and our music teacher, Ms. Caitlin Garry take music seriously. In addition to being a wonderful teacher, Ms. Garry is a performer—and she has music in her genes. In fact, her grandfather was a self-taught fife player in the US Marine’s Fife and Drum Corps during World War II.
Outside of Evergreen, Ms. Garry performs with the 200-member National Philharmonic Chorale. This season, they will be performing Bach’s Cantata No. 140, Wachet Auf (“Sleepers Awake”), The Melodies of Brahms, and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Ms. Garry is busy. She recently spent a weekend at the National Association for Music Education Conference. She also teaches private afternoon piano lessons and serves as Evergreen’s librarian.
Ms. Garry takes a comprehensive view of music education at Evergreen. She says that every class she teaches has a singing component, and instrumentation component, music theory and movement. According to her, “all the Evergreen children can understand concepts like pitch, scale, rhythm and melody.” She believes that learning is a process, and says, “it’s important that I introduce my students to all aspects of music.”
The result? Ms. Garry’s students are ready to pick up any instrument and begin formal lessons. According to Evergreen mother, Rachel Dickon, Ms. Garry “motivated and prepared my 5 year old extremely well for private music lessons and earned the kudos of the instructor.” Her daughter’s piano teacher notes her enthusiasm and said she was already “ready to read music [and] able to count rhythms.”
In addition to the neurologist Howard Sacks, many musicians and philosophers have weighed in on value of music education. This list includes the well-known saxophone player, Bill Clinton (who also happened to be President) who said, “Music is about communication, creativity, and cooperation, and by studying music in schools, students have the opportunity to build on these skills, enrich their lives, and experience the world from a new perspective.”
Sounds just like Evergreen School, doesn’t it?