At first glance, a Macomb Montessori Academy kindergarten in action may look like nothing more than child’s play. But in reality, the far opposite is occurring.
That little boy tinkering with the farm animals is learning about nouns, verbs and adjectives as he describes the running pink pig or the grazing brown cow. The girl working the world map puzzle is mastering the names of the seven continents. And that child engaging with the model of the turtle has just learned that the formal name for its shell is carapace.
Founded more than a century ago, Montessori is an educational philosophy that fosters rigorous, self-motivated growth in children. “It is the subtle instruction and belief that humans construct their own learning,” explains Anne Parks, the Instructional Coach at Macomb Montessori Academy in Warren. “It is so lyrical for the children; they explore at their own pace, are excited about their learning, and learn far more rich content than traditional schools offer.
“[Founder] Maria Montessori said, ‘play is the work of the child,’ and it is a misunderstanding to think a Montessori school is unstructured,” Parks adds.
Mastery through exploration
Rather than the rigid structural, linear approach of traditional schools, Montessori centers on the individual child. Direct instruction is given in 10- to 15-minute segments, then children explore each subject for however long they want. That does not mean they have carte blanche to do whatever they please; each day begins with a work plan that directs children to accomplish goals in subjects like math, language works and geography.
“They have to complete all those works over the course of the day, but they can do it in the time of their choosing. They know, ‘this is what I need to get done,’ and then they direct their own plan of work and accomplishment,” Parks says.
Lessons are given in groups of three to five kids and each student does not move forward in a subject until they have shown mastery of the concepts. Nothing is timed, so children can take all the time they need, even several days, to explore a subject. When they have completed a task, they let the teacher know with an orange card that serves as a non-verbal cue that their work is ready to be checked.
Tuition-free charter public school
Macomb Montessori Academy is a tuition-free K-6 charter public school. Multi-age classrooms are led by teachers certified by both the state and Montessori. Each kindergarten class has two adults — a lead guide who delivers direct instruction and an assistant teacher who helps manage and direct children’s work.
Kindergarteners at Macomb Montessori are split into three classes and learn far more than the basics of counting and reciting the alphabet. Each classroom has only one of each learning tool like models and puzzles, so children learn patience as they communicate with each other and wait their turn.
“It’s a social dialogue that builds them as little citizens and considerate human beings. From the time kids enter a Montessori school, they are learning grace and courtesy, and how to be respectful and independent within their community,” Parks says. “They learn that you don’t always get what you want the minute you want it, and it’s a very peaceful way to work. Teaching peace and global interconnectedness is why Maria Montessori entered education.”
‘View the world as limitless’
Because it is state funded, the school must maintain state testing and standards. “It can be difficult to advocate true Montessori philosophy and still have children ready to take a standardized test,” Parks acknowledges, “but very often Montessori students out-perform traditional students because they view the world as limitless. And when they go to public school, most often they do much better because they have been entrusted with their own academics. They have already learned to use a planner and manage their time, so the transition is generally easier.”
Celebrating each child’s natural desire to learn through self-exploration is deeply rewarding for all involved, Parks says. “Montessori environments are beautiful, the materials are beautiful, and children are exposed to beauty. They learn to respect beauty from the time they enter the building.”
Learn more about Macomb Montessori Academy at macombmontessoriacademy.com.