At Ridgemont, we follow the Montessori method of education which was developed by Maria Montessori in the early 20th century. Some of the basic tenets underlying Montessori education, at all levels, are listed below.
Sensitive Periods and the Absorbant Mind
Montessori was a medical doctor and a great observer of the stages of human development. She studied her students and articulated different stages of development – called Sensitive Periods – when children were most interested in and growing fastest in certain directions, and have certain needs and preferences to facilitate their growth. For example, during their time in the primary program, children often become very interested in the order of things in the world around them. The child expects familiar objects to be in their own specific place and craves consistency in the way every routine is carried out. Traditional Montessori class groupings – like our Primary program and its corresponding age range – correlate strongly to distinct sensitive periods, putting children undergoing similar growth together.
Small children learn from everything they experience, whether it is intended to teach them or not. For this reason, we work hard to serve as good models of speech and temper, and to make our classrooms orderly, clean, and joyful so that the child will internalize these norms.
The Prepared Environment
Each classroom is itself carefully prepared by the guide to facilitate inspiration, independence, and order. Everything in the classroom is for the child’s sake, and is built for their convenience and inspiration rather than for adults. The materials are beautiful, inviting interaction, and clutter is minimized to direct attention appropriately. Framed artwork is hung at the child’s eye level, and all furniture is scaled to the child’s body. Montessori materials are grouped thematically and often color coded and otherwise linked to show similarities between related work.
Mixed Age Classrooms
A mixed-age classroom environment is an important feature of Montessori education. Each Montessori class ideally contains children spanning at least three years of age – sometimes more for children in Montessori elementary settings. In a Montessori classroom, our younger children are surrounded by role models within their classroom communities and absorb what is happening around them. They are inspired by the work and activity by those peers who have had more time to develop! The older students gain self-confidence and a sense of responsibility through their role as “seniors” in the class and have the opportunity to reinforce concepts in their own minds by acting as a guide to the younger students.
Uninterrupted Work Cycle
Children enjoy a 3-hour period in which they direct their own work, with few exceptions. The guide may present a new lesson to a single child or small group during this period if an opportunity is observed which will assist a child’s progress. Often, though, the child moves from one task to the next as inspiration strikes, and so may work on several things in the course of a morning or spend hours concentrating on a particularly engrossing piece of material or process independently. To give children the time to work and explore without interruptions assists in strengthening concentration and allowing them the chance to explore with more depth and satisfaction.
Observation over Intervention
Maria Montessori once said ““Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” The children are given lessons and are assisted when they ask for help, but Montessori guides ideally spend some of their time observing the children and planning which lessons they will need next to introduce new concepts and skills or to reinforce a lesson previously presented . Montessori materials are designed to be self-correcting, and make it clear to the child when something isn’t quite right, which helps him to succeed on the merit of his own perseverance. This develops in the child a sense of competence and self-satisfaction.
Independence and Responsibility
We give the children a great deal of choice over how they spend their time at work in the classroom. They are free to move about the classroom and choose activities they have had lessons on as long as there is respect for others, respect for the materials and respect for the environment. Children learn to feel responsible for the stewardship of their class community through age appropriate tasks that take care of their environment and their friends. The way we plan our classroom environments, the processes we put in place and the work we offer is all thoughtfully considered so that each child is given the opportunity to function independently. When a child is given the freedom to become an independent member of a community, a sense of responsibility for themselves and others will take root.
Grace and Courtesy
Grace and Courtesy are a part of the lessons and the underlying structure of a Montessori community. These lessons assist the children in learning how to function in the classroom, how to use the classroom materials and how to interact respectfully with others. Through the use of clear language and modeling by the teacher, the children are given the tools (vocabulary and actions) required to build an awareness of and responsiveness to the environment and to those around them. These lessons form the foundation for building a Montessori classroom community.
Some of the Grace and Courtesy lessons demonstrate how to respect and care for oneself, such as how to blow your nose and what to do with the tissue. Others focus on the respect of others, such as how to politely interrupt the teacher or another child when there is a need. Finally, there are lessons on respecting the environment, such as how to clean up your place after snack or caring for plants.
In the end, the young child’s absorbent mind will take in the lessons given and the examples set in a Montessori classroom and at home. They will help to build a peaceful, secure and happy classroom community and hopefully a more pleasant environment wherever the child may go!