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 half an hour 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.
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.
Our preschool teachers are graduate trained professionals who work in teams. We do not have any assistant teachers.
HERE ARE OUR TEACHERS AT WORK:
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 fits into only one socket.
A properly designed Montessori material “isolates the difficulty.” The color tablets, for instance, 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.
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.
Learning about Friendship
The older the children grow, the more they prefer to work with friends. Two year olds often play “in parallel,” concentrating on the hard work of pouring water, measuring flour, or fitting a puzzle together. But 3 and 4 year olds love to work with their friends!
The structure of our classroom creates an atmosphere of respect. Students learn to respect each other as they wait a turn for work or carefully put it away ready for the next child to use. Teachers help the children learn to resolve conflicts by expressing their differences in words, and reaching solutions that work for all parties. Under our guidance, they begin to be less “egocentric” and to understand the points of view of others.
Students learn to cooperate as they work together and take turns on tasks such as sorting initial sounds or counting the “Long 5 Chain.”
The friendships that blossom in preschool can last a lifetime.
Unique to the Spring School –
At the Spring School, we have developed our own unique approach to the Montessori curriculum. Our preschoolers spend time in three different classrooms, each of which has specialized in different aspects of the curriculum. In each classroom, they work with Montessori materials under the guidance of a team of two of our professional Montessori teachers who have chosen to specialize in: Math; Literature; or Science and Geography. Each student will work with all six of our Montessori trained preschool teachers; there are no assistant teachers.
Students begin the day in a home room, where they return for recess, lunch, and nap. On a rotating schedule, they spend an entire morning in one of the subject rooms, and, if they stay full day, an entire afternoon in another room, visiting a different room each morning and each afternoon.
They work on Mathematics in the Blue Room; on Science and Geography in the Turquoise Room, and on Literature and Phonics in the Green Room.
Montessori materials make abstract concepts concrete. Children touch, move, and explore, and in the process they actually come to understand abstract concepts such as place value to the thousands and “seriating” objects by their heights, concepts that many educators have believed could only be taught to much older children.
Look into our Mathematics classroom to see how it works.
A three year old boy has put all the Red and Blue Rods in order from one to ten. He counts the divisions of the rod with his whole hand, the better to slow down as he says the name of each number. That ten rod is so long that he needs to extend his arms wide to carry it; he can feel the extent of that number in his muscles!
Nearby, another young boy is bursting with pride at finishing the Spindle Box. It’s so easy to say the sounds, “1, 2, 3, 4,…” but much harder to understand that when you say one number, you pick up one thing and only one! This work teaches the concept of one-to-one correspondence. Notice that he’s also learned that zero means nothing.
In another part of the room, a three year old shows he’s mastered counting all the way to ten. He can even recognize those numeral cards and put them in order. And he’s learned about odd and even. The even numbers come out in pairs, but the odd ones have one left over at the end.
Nearby, a boy concentrates on cutting out fractions and arranging them to make triangles, using a sensorial triangles box as well as his art supplies. Three year olds are not too young to understand the concept of fractions.
Another student is skip counting. Counting the Short Three Chain means counting by threes to the square of three: 3, 6, 9.
Fractions are so much better understood with hands-on materials than with symbols on paper that even a young preschooler can grasp them.
Friends take turns writing numerals in the sand.
Once a student can count to ten, a wide world of larger numbers awaits. This student counts by tens using “ten bars” of golden beads.
In the Math Room, we see students working, not just to count, but with mathematical concepts of time, money, geometry, and measurement.
A student takes his turn having his height measured.
And then there are even bigger numbers! A four year old girl builds a number in the thousands using unit beads, ten bars, hundred squares, and thousand cubes. She can even build two numbers and push them together to add.
Placing the numeral tiles for 1 to 100 in order on the Hundred Board is a challenge of which this girl is proud.
It’s a big day when a four-year old creates the entire “Bird’s Eye View” of the Bank Game, building 1-9 with unit beads, 10-90 with ten bars, 100-900 with hundred squares, and 1,000 to 9,000 with thousand cubes.
These friends have counted all the way to 1,000, the cube of 10, skip counting by tens along the Long Bead Chain of Ten. Their chain stretches all across the room!
Ah, the pleasures of addition. This girl is about to figure out that if she doesn’t place the strips correctly on the board, she may think that 7 + 6 equals 14. But she will check her answer by counting, and what a wonderful feeling it will be when she knows she’s got it right!
Every child in the class shines with the joy of knowing that math is fun, and that he or she can meet new concepts with confidence. What a wonderful way to learn!
An Extraordinary Integrated Curriculum
The curiosity about the world of 3 and 4 year olds knows no bounds. They want to know the BIG PICTURE of how our world works, and we have designed an integrated curriculum of hands-on experiences to meet that curiosity. In their two years in our preschool, our preschoolers will learn:
- that we live on a planet, Earth, that orbits our star, the Sun, in the Milky Way galaxy which is one of many galaxies in our universe
- that a force, gravity, holds the universe together
- that our planet seethes under the surface, causing volcanoes and earthquakes
- that air is all around us, and our atmosphere has layers which end in the vacuum of outer space
- that there is a water cycle which causes it to rain and snow
- that the surface of our planet is made of rocks and minerals which we can identify
- that some rocks are magnetic
- that our universe has a history, which, as far as we know, began with the Big Bang
- that our planet has a history, and many types of animals and plants have lived and died before our time
- that we can use microscopes to study the first living things, cells
- that there are many wonderful forms of invertebrate animals, such as worms, mollusks, echinoderms, insects, spiders, and more
- that vertebrates such as fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals all have found different ways to live in the many biomes on Earth
- that plants such as ferns, mosses, trees, and flowering plants have their own life cycles
- that our human bodies are made of parts which work together: heart, lungs, muscles, bones, brains, and five senses
- that electricity is a natural force which we can see as lightning, and which we can make ourselves with batteries and generators and use to light lights and run motors
Lessons often begin with a demonstration in a group circle, and continue with individual work as students explore with hands-on materials, experiments, and projects. Students make their own crystals, use microscopes to examine blood cells and magnifying glasses to see the tiny hooks that hold feathers together; touch living echinoderms; sort rocks and minerals; make telescopes; and much, much more.
In the Literature Room, students listen to wonderful stories and build their own understanding of story logic by re-telling them. They love to illustrate the books we read.
The sounds of the letters are introduced with the Sandpaper Letters. We use lower case letters and name them only by the sounds they make: “a” is called by the short vowel “aah” sound this letter makes in the middle of a three letter word such as “cat,” for example.
Tracing these letters is a first step towards getting the knowledge of the shape this letter makes into the muscles of our arms. Handwriting practice comes from a variety of materials: sand trays and chalkboards for younger preschoolers; special writing paper for our 4 year olds.
Once students can remember the sounds made by individual letters, they begin to analyze words into their component sounds. Students work with appealing miniature objects, sorting them based on their beginning sounds: a sailboat goes with a snake because both begin with the “s” sound.
Next they analyze the ending sounds of words, and finally the vowel sounds in the middle. It is a big step to be able to build words with our Moveable Alphabet, analyzing “cat” into its component sounds, and choosing first “c,”, then “a,” and finally “t” from the alphabet box to spell out a word!
Many 4 year olds will be able to read phonetic readers before beginning Kindergarten.
Students have the option of signing up for Spanish lessons during the school day. Our native Spanish-speaking teacher builds conversational confidence with games, songs, and stories.
Each month, preschool students study a different artist and a different composer. They look at and listen to representative works as they learn about the artists’ and composers’ lives. Classical music is in the background at lunch and nap times. Art projects are based on the work of the Artist of the Month. Our composers and artists cover the range of the centuries, from Leonardo to Jackson Pollack, from Handel to Duke Ellington.
Preschoolers may, as an option, choose to take violin lessons during the school day.
Ms. Shelley works with a preschool student at a private lesson during the school day.
Care is available before school beginning at 7:30 AM and after school until 6:00 PM. Various payment plans are available. Families may use this service only for occasional emergencies, or they may sign up for a fixed rate plan for a certain number of hours each month, which will save about half the cost.
The afternoon Enrichment Hours are taught by our own faculty. Preschoolers and Steppingstones students can continue to explore materials and work on crafts. When the weather is fine, they will also play outdoors.
Elementary and Upper School students have the additional option of working on their homework in a quiet space with teacher supervision.
Besides our Enrichment Hours, there are a variety of clubs among which to choose. A brochure is circulated twice each year, in fall and spring, so there are always new offerings. Past offerings of clubs have included:
- Tasty Treats Cooking Club
- Fairy Tales Live
- Kindergarten Warm Up
- Preschool Engineering
- Science Explorers
- Lego Lovers’ Club
- Origami Club
- Chess Club
- Terra Nova Test Prep
- Computer Club
- After-School of Rock
- Drama Club
One-on-one tutoring and extra help with homework are also offered after school.