What is Montessori?
Dr. Maria Montessori was the first female doctor in Italy, and she developed the educational approach known as "Montessori" schooling. She didn't initially set out to create an academic approach, but when she was given charge of the children left running unattended in project housing, she took the opportunity to study their natural tendencies and development. The stories of her first years are so fascinating, and we'll be happy to tell you more about them!
The name "Montessori" was not copyrighted, so what you'll find inside a school claiming to be a "Montessori" can vary widely. However, in an authentic Montessori program, you should find the following:
You should see beautiful items in good repair arranged in an orderly fashion in such a way that the children can easily access them throughout the day, rather than behind locked cabinet doors. The facilities should be clean. Likewise, the adults in the classroom should practice good hygiene and have a finished look, even if they are wearing jeans. In The Hearth Room, we prefer our classrooms to feel very much like a home.
This allows students to become engrossed in their lessons, and to repeat them as many times as they like. When the day is broken up into 30-60-minute blocks, or students are frequently called out of class for extracurriculars or group meetings, students may be interrupted just as they are starting to really grasp a new concept.
In an authentic Montessori school, you will not find a "4-year-old" class, or a "2nd-grade" class. Because each child progresses at a unique pace--with some moving ahead rapidly in one subject while others take more time--students remain within the same environment for three years at a time. The room is prepared with appropriate materials and a prepared adult to facilitate all the appropriate learning during that stage of development.
When given time to become engrossed in age-appropriate meaningful activities, children become satisfied and peaceful. For this reason, you are unlikely to see "pretend" activities in a Montessori school. We all desire to make significant contributions, so we invite the children to actually do so.
It's not a chaotic free-for-all, but you should find that most of the time, students are working with hands-on lessons at their own table or rug, rather than doing worksheets at a desk or listening to an adult lecture to the whole class. Also, the adults in the class should be guiding the children to master challenging processes themselves, rather than "assisting" them with it. Though you rarely see a teacher tying a child's shoes for them, the children all seem to find a way to be shod!
As you are carefully evaluating the right environment for your child to first venture out from the home, we are confident you will feel at ease in this peaceful classroom. Children are in mixed-age classrooms, a bit like a one room school house, with older children helping the younger. The room feels much more like a home than an institution, and there is a quiet buzz of energy as students move around the room, selecting activities from shelves full of attractive objects.
The teacher gives one-on-one lessons to children with hands-on materials, and the child receiving the lesson seems to delight in the dedicated attention and the honor of receiving this desired lesson. A few other children stand nearby, quietly observing. A second adult moves around the room, responding to children who need redirection, assistance, or perhaps a hug.
You may be surprised to see children executing tasks beyond their years, such as a 3-year-old sewing, a 5-year-old performing multiplication. Academic achievement is based on each child’s individual pace (though many are performing above grade level), but what is certain is that the students are in an environment with adults who are closely observing what they have mastered, and who are evaluating on an individual level what lesson should come next in order for them to firmly grasp each concept.
You may notice a student for whom sitting still seems to be a challenge, but instead of this creating a behavior problem, he heads outside into the attached garden and bounces around a bit, burning up some energy before settling in to study some insect on the ground. After about ten minutes, he returns inside of his own accord, evidently inspired to tackle a lesson that has come to his mind.
In addition to traditional academic subjects, you will also see students undertaking many practical skills. Preschoolers learn to fold and pack clothing into a suitcase, serve tea, use a screwdriver, juice oranges, and mop a floor. (We once had a 5-year-old take on the plumbing of a troublesome classroom sink with some success.) Grace and courtesy are also emphasized: students learn to introduce themselves, make eye contact, and to offer a heartfelt apology and a plan for change when someone is wronged.
Your time in The Hearth Room strikes you as somewhat like a summer camp—certainly the children are much happier here than the memories of your own school years. And yet, they have a much better grasp on many topics than their peers in rigorous institutions. On your way out, you can’t help but think that you, too, would enjoy staying in this sunny, peaceful place.
Families can choose to enroll their children in a traditional school day schedule 5 days each week, or may choose part time enrollment of 5 half days, 3 school days, or 3 half days. Part-time programs have limited availability.
2.5 years - Kindergarten
Students must be able to use the restroom independently and follow basic instructions.
PRIMARY SCHOOL DAY SCHEDULE
9:00 - 11:45
Morning Work Period
Students are greeted by their teacher as they enter, and after hanging up coats, they are free to select any work to which they have already been introduced. These activities present concepts in a hands-on style, inviting the child to concentrate and explore. As the teacher observes their readiness, they are introduced to new materials. Math, language, geography, science, history, and practical life, and art activities are available. Sometimes children work alone, and other times they work with a friend or in a group. There are also outdoor activities including watering plants, sweeping, washing windows, etc., and botany is a major area of study in the Elementary, taking students on regular nature walks. The children may go outside throughout the work period. Snacks are available during the morning.
11:45 - 1:00
Lunch and Recess
At the end of the work period, most of the students gather for a group activity, such as singing songs or hearing a Bible story, while a few students take their turn at preparing for lunch by setting the tables with real china and silver. When students are done eating and cleaning their area, they go out to play.
Half-Day students are picked up by 1:00pm.
1:00 - 3:30
Afternoon Work Period and Nap
Children 4.5+ have a second work period, while younger children rest to tranquil music.
School Day pickup by 3:30pm
Grades 1 - 6
In the Elementary program, children jump into hands-on explorations and hear epic stories that illustrate the grand concepts of math, the mysteries of how plants work, and the history of our ancestors. Lessons are presented in small groups of mixed ages, so that children can move ahead quickly in areas of strength, or revisit a previous lesson to get clarity on a challenging concept. After receiving a lesson on a core concept, students can explore in-depth those things which captivated them.
The teacher gives one-on-one or small group lessons to children with hands-on materials. The children receiving the lesson seems attentive and entertained by the topic, while the other students continue with their own various undertakings. A second adult is available to assist children who have questions, need redirection, or perhaps just want to share a story.
You may be surprised to see children executing tasks beyond their years, such as 1st graders discussing contracts and startup budgets, or older students conversing about geology or current affairs. We can’t guarantee that students will be academically advanced (though they often are), but what is certain is that the students are in an environment with adults who are closely observing what they have mastered, and who are evaluating on an individual level what lesson should come next in order for them to firmly grasp each concept. If a child didn’t understand his math lesson today, he can simply take out the work again later in the week, without fear of humiliation or worry that he is falling further and further behind. That same student may progress rapidly through lessons in another topic.
You may notice a student for whom sitting still seems to be a challenge, but instead of this creating a behavior problem, he heads outside into the attached garden and hula hoops for a while before settling in to study some insect on the ground. After about ten minutes, he returns inside of his own accord, evidently inspired to tackle a lesson that involves test tubes and mixtures.
In addition to traditional academic subjects, you will see students undertaking many practical skills. One student may be baking cookies or churning butter while another maps out the route to travel to their desired field trip destination. Perhaps you happen to visit on a day when the students are catching frogs in the pond. Hopefully you’ll get a chance to check out the farm animals, where the children are raising pigs as one of their 4-H projects. (We're vision-casting here; we don't yet have animals on site.) Grace and courtesy are also emphasized: students learn to welcome a guest, resolve a conflict effectively, and facilitate a meeting according to Robert’s Rules.
Your time in The Hearth Room strikes you as somewhat like a summer camp—certainly the children are much happier here than the memories of your own school years. And yet, they have a much better grasp on current events, economics, science, and their faith than many adults you know. On your way out, you can’t help but think that you, too, would enjoy staying in this sunny, peaceful place.
*Our Elementary program is paused for the 2023-2024 school year while we build up our team of trained Montessori professionals.