|Alex (3 yrs.) studies the root system of a bean plant with a magnifying glass.|
Freedom and Curiosity
What makes our preschool classes different? It's the special blend of structure and freedom, unlike anything you will find anywhere else. Our teachers are trained to "follow the child". They respect the choice of a little girl, just experiencing the power of learning to control her pincer fingers, who heads straight for the tweezers and spends forty minutes transferring beads from one bowl to another. They observe carefully when a four year old, fascinated with spatial relationships, decides to experiment with graduated rods, cylinders and cubes to build a fantastic pyramid. They encourage the five year old, drunk with the power of sounding out words, who asks to build phonetic words with the "moveable alphabet".
Curiosity and independence are fostered by the freedom in our class.
|Olivia says "mmm!" Multisensory sandpaper letters teach phonics and handwriting.|
Structure and Responsibility
Yet the environment within which these children choose is extremely structured. The carefully prepared shelves hold a series of materials, sequenced for increasing difficulty. In the Practical Life Area, the girl with the tweezers had already mastered pouring pom-poms, pouring water, the use of large tongs, smaller tongs, and clothespins, before she was ready for the fine motor control that tweezers require. In the Sensorial Area, the spatial experimenter had already learned to put ten cylinders in order from narrow to wide and from short to tall.
Our graduate trained Montessori teachers have learned to keep careful written records of the children's choices. At all times they are circulating throughout the classroom, helping children choose and complete work. They start each week with a "lesson plan" for each child, and they present each new lesson at just the right moment when a child will be challenged, but not frustrated, by it.
|Robin builds short phonetic words with the moveable alphabet.|
Materials that Make Concepts Come Alive
The Montessori materials are designed to make abstract concepts concrete. A child fitting graduated cylinders into their sockets is learning about the dimension of thickness.A "control of error" is built into the material so that the child can teach herself; each cylinder only fits into one socket.
Maria Montessori, the first woman doctor in Italy, was also the inventor of the idea of "educational materials". In these days when so many educational toy stores carry maps that come apart into separate countries or puzzles with little knobs on the pieces, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that these and many, many other ideas were all originated by Dr. Montessori near the turn of the twentieth century. Over the years, teachers trained in the Montessori philosophy of material design have added their own ideas, and our classrooms contain the best of these, including many materials made by our own teachers.
A properly designed Montessori material "isolates the difficulty". The color tablets, designed to teach colors, are all identical in shape and size; they vary only in color. The "baric tablets" are identical in every way but weight.
Hands-on math materials are some of the most exciting in our classrooms. Two and three year olds learn to count to ten by grasping the sections of the "red and blue rods". The two-rod is twenty centimeters long, shorter than the ten rod, which is 100 centimeters. The rods of different lengths give a visual impression of the quantities, of what it means for ten to be bigger than two.
|Julia and Reid (4 yrs) build five thousand, two hundred, seven tens, and three units with the "bank game".|
Counting is a complicated process. There is much more to it than just repeating the sequence of numbers. Three and four year olds learn the concept of one-to-one correspondence by counting out individual spindles and placing them in marked boxes. As they say "one" they pick up one spindle,"two", a second spindle.
Four and five year olds begin to learn about place value. They count unit beads, ten bars, hundred squares, and thousand cubes to make numbers such as "four thousand, six hundred, thirty-four".
At The Spring School, children experiment. Our art activities are not the pre-packaged imitation of adult models found in traditional preschools. In our class, you will never see fifteen children sitting in a circle, trying to make fifteen identical Halloween witches, and mostly having their witches made for them by the teacher! Instead, you will see children experimenting with a variety of media, from tempera to pastels, from collages of natural materials to origami paper.
The Spring School's music curriculum is one of the finest anywhere. Experimenting with the Montessori bells, children learn about same and different tones, high and low notes, intervals and scales. Children may begin Suzuki Violin lessons as early as age 3. We sing each day at circle time, and learn to move to music.
|Shaya and Bryan work with cylinders.|
Learning About Friendship
The older the children grow, the more they prefer to work with friends. Two and three year olds often play "in parallel", concentrating on the hard work or pouring water, measuring flour, or fitting a puzzle together. We teach them to respect other children, to resolve conflicts, to wait a turn for work, and to put work away when they are done with it.
Three and four year olds more often than not choose to work in small groups, co-operating on counting the long five chain (counting by fives to 5 cubed or 125) or writing each other "secret messages".
Time is the classroom is divided among individual lessons, small group lessons, and large group circle time lessons.
Each day a different special teacher takes a group of children for a lesson in French, Art, Movement, or Violin.
|Alicia (3 yrs) is intent on cracking walnuts.|
Professional, Experienced Teachers
Our trained Montessori teachers have completed rigorous training courses through highly respected Montessori teacher training institutes, including the Center for Montessori Teacher Education (AMS), Center for Guided Montessori Studies (MACTE) and Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies (AMS), among others.
Dr. Deborah Knapp, our Director, holds a Ph.D. in Child Development as well as certification at all levels of Montessori teaching from Preschool through Elementary School.
Other faculty members bring diverse strengths, from computers to storytelling, from art to languages.
|Steppingstones students explore books in their cozy reading corner.|
Mixed Age Classes
Mixing three and four year olds in one class helps the younger children learn about friendship by imitating the older. It helps us balance the social, emotional, and intellectual needs of the children. A quiet four year old may prefer the company of a younger child, yet be ready to learn all the short vowel sounds. An observant three year old may be inspired to learn numbers by watching an older mentor.
Our Steppingstones classes provide a gentle introduction to Montessori education for children who are two years old by the end of September.
Copyright 2011 Dr. Deborah Knapp. All rights reserved.