What is a Montessori Kindergarten?
Montessori teaches children methods of inquiry.
Montessori education is unique in several ways. First of all, we begin our kindergarten education anytime after the child is 2½ and toilet trained. In addition, our goal is not to teach the child facts, but rather to teach the child how to learn. This means that we do not see the adult as a teacher, but rather as a guide. The adult observes the child’s interests and prepares the classroom environment to feed these interests; then the adult ‘guide’ shows the child how to use the various tools and materials that are now available in the classroom environment. Finally, the child makes her own decision on whether to use them or ignore these materials.
Montessori uses innate developmental drives to help the children discover the world around them.
We, as guides, are fully aware that all children share some developmental needs and interests. Some of universal needs are: language, mobility, logic, care of selves and of the environment, socialization, time in nature, artistic expression, and love of learning. From the time of birth, through the kindergarten years, children follow these universal yearnings and learn to interpret the culture and society that they live in. The Montessori environment tries to help the child meet these needs in the following ways:
Language – At the Montessori Learning Garden we never speak down to the children. We are aware that vocabulary and sentence structures acquired during this ’embryonic’ kindergarten phase impacts the child’s learning ability in high school and beyond. In addition, we always have a rich selection of books. The Montessori language curriculum includes special materials that allow a child to teach himself how to write and then to read.
Mobility – Children move freely around the classroom. Many of the games and activities encourage the children to cross the room repeatedly or try out new physical activities. We also have a large selection of outdoor activities that help the children refine various motor skills.
Logic – Dr. Maria Montessori spent many years observing the way children classify their world. She noticed that if children are exposed to knowledge in a simple and sequential manner they will learn very quickly. But her goal was not to teach specific knowledge to children, but to help them learn how to learn. Observing that young children absorb knowledge through their senses, Dr. Montessori developed materials that help a child classify all the experiences that he or she has. These precise and pretty materials use the gustatory, olfactory, visual, auditory and stereognostic senses to help the child understand and interpret the world around them. Once the child has developed an inner logic she (or he) is able to apply the logic to complex skills like reading, mathematics, scientific inquiry and even hands on projects.
Care of Self and the Environment – Many scientists have tried to define ways that humans differ from other animals. One argument is that we are tool users. Humans uniquely and routinely use various tools to adapt our environment and small children are no exception. Children are fascinated by the use of tools and eager to understand the ways other humans have adapted and controlled the environment. In a Montessori classroom we use this innate interest in tool use to help a child learn to concentrate. We encourage the children to explore the potential of tool use, to alter and maintain the classroom, and to care for their own bodies and clothing.
Socialization – People are flock animals. We love each other’s company. We get joy from communicating, from sharing, and from small acts of kindness. At The Montessori Learning Garden we believe in the natural goodness of the child. She will be an eager and co-operative part of the school community if she is taught to communicate with a gentle heart. We use guidance and clear explanations of other people needs, rather than rewards and punishment to guide the children.
Nature – Time spent outside, in a living environment, allows children to understand the ebb and flow of the seasons, and learn in a gentle way about the inevitability of death. But time spent outside offers so much more than that. Among other benefits, it increases the use of the senses and it allows one to do activities that are too loud or too large in an indoor setting. Gardening and time spent with animals not only help the child to focus and experience life in all ‘four’ dimensions, they also remove the child from the ‘centre of the universe’, encouraging the development compassion and patience.
Artistic Expression, and Love of Learning – Every one loves to try new things. This instinct to explore is why Montessori classrooms work. It is also the basis for creativity. All people ask questions and search for answers. All people create. In a Montessori environment we encourage the children to ask, to explore, and to create all day long. At the kindergarten age the main questions children ask are, ‘What?’ and ‘How?’ In the Montessori classroom we prepare the environment to lead the children to discover these answers for themselves. Our materials and exercises all lead to a better understanding of the adult world and the culture they live in. We encourage the child to interpret what they experience through various artistic media, but do not interpret it for them.
Montessori exposes children to key components of adult culture.
When children use the materials in a Montessori environment they learn to do activities that adults are doing. This includes housework, the use of tools, sophisticated language, and basic arithmetic. They also learn about the world, through geography and science experiments. The way the Montessori activities are presented to the children helps them become better observers. Finally, an emphasis on courtesy and kindness helps them become better communicators.