A few weeks ago I had the opportunity of visiting my first Montessori program, known as Marander Montessori School in Markham, Ontario. I'm not quite sure why it has taken me this long to see one in action, but I always say that it's better late than never... Visiting classrooms has proven to be the most enriching form of professional learning and development for me. There is something to learn from every educator, no matter what point they are on their journey. At Marander Montessori I was invited to spend some time in "Casa 2," where a sweet young student took interest in my presence and gave me a tour of his world. I loved seeing all of the things that were of value to him, and observing all of his friends interacting so independently within the classroom.
Here is some of what I saw during my visit:
All the students in the classroom were engaged in a task that matched their skill level, using the various materials I photographed during my visit. As I observed Casa 2 I was filled with so many questions.
Here are some of the questions that I asked Margaret Lee the principal of Marander Montessori School:
1. Could you provide me with some history of your school?
Marander Montessori School opened in 2003. This September, we will be celebrating our 10th year anniversary. When we opened our school, we had 8 casa students. Now we currently have 65 students, both casa and toddler.
Since 2003, we have been providing families of our community with an authentic Montessori program. We are a CCMA Accredited Montessori School and we offer a high quality Montessori education that remains true to the methods established by Dr. Maria Montessori.
Our mission at Marander Montessori School is to offer students a safe and secure environment where learning can occur naturally. MMM's teachers help create a caring and nurturing environment where children are free to be themselves. Through the use of genuine Montessori and with the guidance of a certified Montessori teacher, our students become confident, independent and self-motivated learners. Respect is an important component of our school and classrooms and this is reinforced throughout all aspects of our students' day.
I learned that there were three "Casa" rooms filled with students from 2.5 years to 6 years and one toddler room with students from 18 months to 2.5 years of age. The room that I visited was Casa 2.
2. Could you share with me some background on the Montessori approach for those who are less familiar with it?
The Montessori approach is individually based. Each classroom is equipped with special Montessori materials in all areas of the Montessori curriculum. The classroom environment is neat and well organized. The materials on the shelves are attractive and inviting. There are five main areas of the Montessori curriculum: Practical Life, Sensorial, Culture, Language, and Mathematics. A true Montessori classroom has three different age groups and uninterrupted work periods that last between 2.5 to 3 hours. Montessori materials are graded from easy to difficult, and are organized on the shelves accordingly. The presentation of these materials are divided into 1st year students, 2nd year students, and 3rd year students. This is why all Montessori classrooms have three age groups. It does not matter what the age of the child is, movement from materials in one age group is determined by their mental understanding, control, and movement.
I learned that there are the following characteristics for a Montessori Classroom:
- mixed ages groups
- specifically trained Montessori teachers
- freedom of movement
- freedom within limits
- freedom of choice
- uninterrupted work periods
- 3 year program
Margaret suggested the following resources for learning more about Montessori Education:
- CCMA: The Canadian Council of Montessori Administrators
- The American Montessori Society
- International Montessori Council
3. How do you teach your students to independently engage with so many learning experiences? When and how are they all taught? Do you keep track in any way?
Individual lessons are given to each child through the year. We encourage repetition and the children enjoy working with the different materials. Lessons are given throughout the day, every day. Teachers plan weekly or bi-weekly to ensure that each child has been presented with the skill appropriate materials. They are encouraged to complete each task or activity that they take off the shelf. If they decide that they do not want to finish a task, or want to make a different selection, then they may, as long as they tidy up their current activity. Students can switch to new tasks and activities as long as they respect and put them away. Teachers make individual student planning logs in each of the main Montessori areas. They also track the activities students complete or master daily and weekly. A teacher's assessment of a child's progress with an activity is similar to that of a public school. If we feel that the child understands the concept we are trying to teach using the Montessori materials, then we move the child forward to the next step. We are very thorough in making sure that the child completely understands the concepts.
I got the opportunity to see the student records sheet and will describe them for you:
- each student has individual student records sheets
- pages are organized by Montessori curricular area: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Culture, and Mathematics
- tasks per curricular area are all listed (e.g. cutting exercises) within a grid for each task to record: "presented date," "repeated" (checkmark), "mastered date," and comments
4. How often do you change your materials or introduce new tasks from the ones that are on your shelves currently?
The Montessori materials in the Sensorial area always remain the same. We change and frequently add new materials or revised materials to the Practical Life, Language, and Culture areas. Changes in Mathematics occur usually when the child has moved onto abstract math using less Montessori materials. Patterning, sequencing, and measuring are all done through paper and pencil tasks. Changes or additions are made though the year.
5. I noticed that a variety of different tasks were completed at each table. Do the students have a specific spot to sit in or complete certain tasks? Can students work with a partner?
Children have the freedom to sit wherever they want during the work period. If a child is disturbing other students at the table, then they will be moved after a warning has been given. Some of the tasks are completed at the table and some are completed on the mats that students place on the floor. Children can work with partners as long as work is being completed and they are not disturbing the class.
Of course my curious mind asked Margaret many more questions, however, I have selected the top five that I thought might be of most interest to our blog guests.
I would like to thank Julie Ham (my D.E.C.E. partner) for introducing me to Margaret Lee and her wonderful Montessori school. Thank you Margaret for being so welcoming and patient in answering my questions. My appreciation is also extended to the three classroom teachers I was fortunate in meeting: Miss. Wakeling, Miss. Pedro, and Mrs. Khamitova. And finally, to the twenty-four children in Casa 2!
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If you are ever interested in having me visit your program and share the learning via our blog, please don't hesitate to contact me. I'm always interested in new enriching experiences to feature on our Friday "On Display" posts!