OUR INNOVATIVE BLEND
While our fundamentals are based in Montessori, we are not a pure Montessori school; we have chosen to implement a modified-Montessori curriculum, incorporating Reggio Emilia and other non-Montessori approaches to learning. We take a "best-practices" approach, recognizing that good teaching is good teaching, wherever it may have originated. This is why our curriculum is constantly evolving, and so are we as educators. We recognize that because the brain is developing, in addition to introducing academic concepts, this is the time to introduce humor and how to have fun in life! We have found that Montessori does not always allow for that particular freedom. Today's child is different than the child of a century ago, for whom Maria Montessori developed her curriculum; many of her students were orphans and by the age of eleven, were already working in factories. In our classroom, you will not hear a pin drop; we are proud of our students' creative energy! It is through our flexibility in educational approaches, as well as our emphasis on learning through play and exploration, that our students are among the most-prepared for kindergarten. This is how they develop a joy in learning!
The Montessori curriculum recognizes that your child's brain has not finished developing until the age of six. Therefore, an academic approach with an emphasis on teaching the child to be independent promotes optimal brain development and leads to confidence.
We, as adults, are constantly learning. We will never be able to learn must teach a child how to learn and hope that he/she will find joy in learning. Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952), visionary anthropologist and the first Italian female physician, studied children of all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels. Through scientific observation, she discovered that all humans possess a system of natural guides that are essential to survival and self-fulfillment. She called these natural guides "human tendencies," and given the opportunity to express tendencies, the child uses them to aid in self-construction. We differ from animals who are born with instincts to ensure survival. Instead, our tendencies are a combination of intelligence, logic, and instinct, although weaker than an animal's instinct. Dr. Montessori identified specific tendencies, including the desire to work at something that has a purpose, maintain order, explore, communicate, manipulate, take part in repetition, reach goals, abstract, and self-perfect. The Montessori Method recognizes these tendencies as inner-guides, allowing for us, the adults, to be patient and trust these guides. Through subtle feedback and an environment that fosters growth and independence, we can guide these tendencies and allow the child to grow. Through gaining a feeling of independence, the child gains the confidence to further take on challenges and learning opportunities.
Recent brain research has confirmed Dr. Montessori's belief that the human brain continues to develop until six years of age. While the child is born when the body's physical parts are fully-developed, the brain's dendrites continue to develop, grow, and network based on stimulation provided by the environment. Dr. Montessori recognized the child's gift of this "absorbent mind." The "absorbent mind" of a child is like a sponge, absorbing everything without judging or screening, thus becoming a part of him/her. Because the child cannot discriminate or judge, he/she depends on us. The eye of the child is like a camera, taking in everything in sight, not having to focus on one thing at a time. For this reason, we must recognize that a child will learn not through verbal commands, but through example, instructions, and demonstrations. Although Dr. Montessori was not the first to recognize this mentality, she was the first to set up the classroom based on this.
Dr. Montessori constructed a developmentally appropriate education based on the child's sensitive periods and on the four planes of development. The attitude of the classroom is based on respect and the harmony that exists between "freedom and discipline," recognizing that freedom and discipline are interdependent and that each helps the other to develop. Inter-freedom is the ability to choose that which is right or good. Self-discipline is the ability to regulate oneself in the service of good or improvement. In the classroom, for every freedom granted, there exists a limit or restriction. Maria Montessori wanted to encourage individuality rather than the conformity that is encouraged by much of our culture.
Dr. Montessori "re-invented" the classroom and developed a child-centered model for individualized, active learning within the framework of an integrated curriculum. She called this "the prepared environment." The "prepared environment" is carefully planned so that the "materials for development" are scientifically arranged and the child can spontaneously explore and progress at his or her own individual pace. Dr. Montessori recognized that isolating and addressing difficulties was the key in developing a child's feeling of success in learning. For example, in writing, a child faces several challenges, but many people do not understand this and get frustrated when they hand a child a pencil and he/she cannot write the letter "a." The child must first develop the pincer grip, a fine motor skill or muscle strength, to hold the pencil. He/She also must learn directionality of reading and writing English (left to right with a return sweep to reach the next line). And, the child must understand how the letter is formed through learning the strokes of the pencil (counter-clockwise, such as the cursive "l", "d", etc.) and developing that muscle memory. Through many different Practical Life exercises that seem to be unrelated to reading and writing, the child learns these skills. The child does not even know that he/she is developing these skills because it is presented within the framework of another task, such as washing a table or pouring liquid.
"Our aim is not only to make the child understand, and still less to force him to memorize, but so to touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his innermost core...The first duty of an education is to stir up life, but leave it free to develop."
Why have you chosen to incorporate the Reggio Emilia approach?
Ms. Kelly has been studying the Reggio Emilia approach through Lesley University's Graduate School of Education. She was attracted to Reggio because this approach:
recognizes the power of open-ended exploration and the power of play. In Reggio, much of the exploration is facilitated by teachers and students with no end result in mind. Children learn through play, because play behavior increases cognitive function, allowing the child to retain more of his/her learning. The state of mind during play allows for the brain to relax, which then increases absorption;
incorporates materials which offer open-ended exploration, while most Montessori materials tend to be close-ended with a specific purpose;
fosters a team-approach to learning, and encourages character-building through solving problems in a group setting;
encourages the utilization of the scientific method in solving many of the mysteries of the world;
believes that, as said by Loris Malaguzzi, creator of the Reggio approach, "Once children perceive themselves as authors and inventors, once they discover the pleasure of inquiry, their motivation and interest explode." For that reason, we have a dedicated time for story workshop, when children can share stories, receive feedback from peers and teachers, and then develop and record their stories;
supports the idea that the family is the most important component in a child's education. For that reason, we take a team approach with the family in teaching the child.
The Power of Play
We believe in the power of play. Play sculpts the brain, because play behavior increases cognitive function. Children use play to figure out what is going on. Learning through play versus direct instruction allows for the child to retain more, and it helps with problem-solving which then becomes relevant to life. As play relaxes the brain, the state of mind increases absorption. Therefore, play changes the state of the mind and increases the ability to engage.
In our classroom, we use free play and playful inquiry as a means to provoke, scaffold, and facilitate exploration without an end-result in mind. And, as we observe the creative energy that is produced by this type of exploration, we enthusiastically and proudly refer to our classroom as our think tank! As Jean Piaget has said, “Play is the answer to how anything new comes about.”
To learn more about the science and power of play, please visit the Boston Children's Museum's page on The Power of Play, and enjoy this fascinating TED talk facilitated by Stuart Brown, Play is More than Just Fun.