OUR MONTESSORI PROGRAM
This is a child-centred program where we observe the individual and group needs of each child, and provide for those needs – their play is their work, and this is respected. Free choice of activities within the classroom, and free play time outside constitute the basis of our program. Within the basic Montessori program, there are:
- individual and group activities;
- an abundance of manipulative materials (self-instructing, self-correcting);
- activities to enhance creativity;
- exercises and activities to foster growth in all areas of development –
- social, emotional, intellectual, physical (sensorial, large and fine
- motor control and co-ordination).
– grouptime (songs, stories, fingerplays, etc.) daily;
– gym time (each child will go at least twice a week);
– art days – all children have at least two full sessions per week of uninterrupted time that she/he may spend in the Art Area. In addition, painting, chalking, playdough and other creative activities are available at all times, and often there are class art projects;
– French and sign language through songs, fingerplays and poems;
– computer time scheduled two 10 min. session per week;
– Fridays are SPECIAL DAYS – group art and cooking projects, dress-up days, board game days, book days, field trips, etc. These activities are not restricted to Fridays, but we always try to plan something to boost everyone’s spirits at the end of the week.
– nature walks and other impromptu activities (group and individual) happen frequently.
– snack is available at all times.
CONSOLIDATION OF KNOWLEDGE AND EXTENSION OF EXPERIENCE
Through gradual sequencing of the exercises in each area of the classroom, children come to understand the idea that facts, knowledge and skills are not isolated, but build on previous knowledge and skills. Activities involve either practical life skills using materials that a child uses and sees in his daily life, or we relate the learning and knowledge to the child’s own experiences, and extend this into the world around him (e.g. when learning colours, children look for objects of certain colours in the environment). Also, children have many opportunities to share their ideas and experiences.
INTRODUCTION TO READING AND MATHEMATICS
In addition to the basic Montessori materials, exercises and activities that were specifically designed to foster growth in these areas, there are many other opportunities each day to develop reading and math skills where children learn naturally and easily (e.g. ‘reading’ the snack menu, counting activities at grouptime, cooking projects – following a recipe, and so on).
ORIENTING CHILDREN TO THE COMMUNITY AND ITS SERVICES
The children learn about their community through library books, field trips, in-class visits, films, participation in group activities, and in discussions about their own experiences.
ROUTINES AND TRANSITIONS
Toiletting – young children are escorted to the bathroom; older children may go to the bathroom on their own, taking a necklace to indicate that they are out of the room, and informing an adult of their destination.
Rest – no specific time, children may rest in the quiet corner whenever they choose.
Meals – all-day children have their lunch (nutritious, balanced meals from home) in the classroom or outside in warm weather in a relaxed atmosphere under the supervision of an adult.
Snacks – nutritious snacks are provided for the children (e.g. juice, crackers, fruit and vegetable slices); 2 children may have snack at one time, taking the amount specified on the snack menu; there are necklaces for those who are waiting (eliminating the need to hang around the snack table waiting for a turn). Snack is also offered at birthday celebrations and occasionally offered at grouptime.
When the children arrive at school, they are formally greeted by one of the adults, shaking hands and saying “Good Morning.” Another adult is available to assist in getting ready to come into the classroom (e.g. taking off and hanging up coats). During the self-directed activity time, children move naturally and freely from one activity to another depending upon interests and needs. We use the silence bell to give messages to the whole class (e.g. announcing clean-up time – “Please put away your work, and come to the group area”). Whenever possible, time is allowed to complete activities.
Many children experience some difficulty with transitions, and we help them by giving support, assistance, encouragement and providing continuity. Special songs and games are used for leaving grouptime. At the end of the day, after outside time, the children come into class, sit together, listen to a story, sing or talk, then say good-bye individually.
RECOGNIZING AND ACCOMMODATING CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
Parents fill out extensive questionnaires, and we discuss any differences and/or concerns with the parents. We are very fortunate in always having children of different nationalities, ethnic backgrounds and cultures in our program, and we make an effort to celebrate the differences and similarities in people all around the world (with pictures, activities, discussions, special celebrations, etc.), but are careful to respect children who do not want to be singled out or appear different.
INTEGRATION AND INCLUSION
You may already have heard of our school’s programs for children with special needs. It has an excellent reputation— which we’ve earned over several years. Professional agencies like the CNIB, the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health, the Ministry of Children and Families, and of course word of mouth, all bring to us children who need extra help in the classroom. Our Montessori classroom teachers and our special student assistants are all highly trained to accommodate our diverse population. They regularly upgrade their understanding of all our children by taking workshops and courses for their professional development. Our special student assistants help children with extra needs join the program and school community more fully than they could alone.
The students’ needs vary widely, since children develop differently from one another. Some children get one-on-one support from a special student assistant for the whole session, while others are being weaned of extra help. Some children have physical needs, while others primarily need help learning to focus in a busy classroom, or mastering social interactions that come more quickly to other kids. We also observe new students enrolled in our regular program to determine what their developmental needs are, and how to address those needs. We pride ourselves on working individually with all of our children to support their developmental needs. In fact, we make sure that all our children get what they need at this tender point in their lives by giving them enriching services as required in speech therapy, occupational therapy, or physiotherapy. If there are concerns about any child’s development, we will work with parents to secure the necessary services (e.g. speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc.).
Our space really fills a gap in private preschool spaces for children who need extra help in the classroom. We want to empower students to help themselves and each other. The Montessori method assumes that all children have a natural desire and ability to learn. Dr. Maria Montessori, who developed the method, stressed that we must observe the individual needs of each child and create a program that assist in the development of the whole child. In all cases, the program must fit the specific child. No child must be remolded to fit a program. We bring this Montessori vision to all our children, who are, therefore, equals—true peers– in learning.
HELPING CHILDREN FEEL GOOD ABOUT THEMSELVES
Children are treated with love and respect, their needs and wants given serious consideration. The School belongs to the children (a ‘Children’s House’ as Maria Montessori described it), and the program is set up for them (not for adult convenience). The children are not dependent upon adults for evaluations of what they have done. Many of the activities are self-directing and self-correcting, ensuring success and satisfaction upon completion, resulting in gradual growth in skills. Even if a child finds that he is unable to do a certain piece of work, we encourage him to work up to it, and say that he will be able to do it in the future (older children will often explain to younger children how they learned). Children see clearly how they are growing and developing. The staff uses positive feedback to promote self-esteem.
HANDLING DISPUTES BETWEEN CHILDREN
In order to establish and maintain a peaceful classroom, we work to:
– create an environment that fosters the development of self-control and self-discipline; – avoiding situations that children are unable to cope with;
– make expectations clear and reasonable;
– establish a warm, loving rapport with the children wherein they feel safe and secure;
– help children understand their feelings;
– assist in growth in problem-solving and interpersonal skills through quiet discussion on a one-to-one and group basis.
In other words, we maintain a positive attitude towards behaviour rather than use external discipline and control. When a dispute arises, if the children are able to work it out by themselves reasonably, they are left to do so. If not, an adult will intervene, encourage the children to discuss the problem – each is allowed his or her say – and ask for ideas for solving the problem (from the children, not the adult, unless very young children are involved), and help them to work it out.
BEHAVIOURAL AND SAFETY LIMITS
The ‘rules’ or limits are clearly outlined at the beginning of the year, reinforced by a number of reminders, then if a child does not stay within the limits:
1. The child is spoken to on an individual basis, reminded of the limits, and given simple, logical reasons for the limits.
2. If it happens again, a warning is given explaining the consequences of continuing the unacceptable behaviour – logical consequences, consistent with the behaviour in question (e.g. if a child persists in going out the gate at the edge of the playground during outside free play, then she/he will miss some outside time).
3. If reminders and warnings are not heeded, the child will be restricted from fully participating in an activity, and given an explanation why.
Depending upon the nature of the misbehaviour:
1. A child will be spoken to quietly, reminded of appropriate behaviour; the situation will be discussed and the child will be given an opportunity to explain.
2. If the problem is serious or seems to be out of control, the child is removed or isolated from the situation (within the same area whenever possible), allowed time to calm down, an opportunity to discuss what happened (feelings, etc.), and to generate solutions … avoiding punishment although it may be necessary to restrict certain activities until the child can cope. Focus is on the behaviour, not on the child’s character.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR EXPRESSION OF THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS
There is a lot of individual contact between adults and children, and the children are free to express their thoughts and feelings to open, listening, caring adults. It takes time for trust to be built, but younger children see and hear older children doing this, and learn to trust us. Also, in small and larger groups, children are given opportunities to express their ideas (out of respect, others are asked to listen quietly when another child is talking – and in turn learn that they will be listened to when they have something to say).
MEETING THE DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS OF THE CHILDREN
The basic idea of the Montessori Method of Education, in general and in our program in particular, is to promote development of the whole child through a wide variety of exercises and activities. The individual and group needs of each child are considered, with the understanding that children grow and learn best in a rich, warm, safe and secure environment. There are exercises in practical life skills (developing concentration, independence, fine motor control and co-ordination), sensorial development (refinement of the senses), math, language, geography, history and science (intellectual growth), art and music (creative and aesthetic development), the book corner (for enjoyment, growth in appreciation, relaxation, information), group activities (social skill development through experience), gym and outside activities (physical development).
ENCOURAGING CREATIVITY AND PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS
Once children feel safe and secure, and realize that their ideas are welcome and will be given serious consideration, it is amazing to discover just how creative they are. We encourage participation in generating possible solutions when problems arise, and support the children in trying out their own ideas. Also learned – if it does not work the first time, try again. In many ways, children are capable, competent and sensible, and we encourage them to discover this in themselves.
We highly recommend a gradual phasing-in at the beginning of the year, not only for ‘new’ children, but as a review for the returning children. During the first few weeks, we go through the routines and group activities slowly and definitively, explaining clearly whenever necessary or appropriate, and giving children opportunities to be led through step-by-step (no great expectations). Reminders and reviews are done on an individual and group basis, encouragement is given for whatever a child remembers, and we slowly increase children’s responsibility for remembering. Older children are encouraged to help younger children. This boosts the older child’s self-esteem, and younger children move from dependence upon adults, to greater independence. This also helps to establish a social feeling within the group. Children feel less intimidated when they know that assistance will be given if needed. Individual and group demonstrations are an integral part of the Montessori method, and these continue throughout the year. The children are given the necessary instruction and guidance for use of materials, and then are free to use the materials (restricted only to safety – i.e. not hurting themselves or anyone else, and not damaging the equipment).
We, as teachers, are certainly not perfect, but are constantly working to improve ourselves and the program. We sincerely believe that the most important thing is for the children to feel good about themselves – happy, safe, secure, and loved. Once this is established and maintained, children are usually keen to come to school, and their interest and involvement follow naturally. We encourage prospective parents to attend our Open House (held each year near the end of January and second week of May), make an appointment for an in-class observation and to ask questions and express concerns. Parental confidence (based on solid understanding of the program), and support are necessary for our program to be successful. Together with the parents, we can work to meet the needs of each child.