Second only to the launching of a new school year in the fall, the month of January is a season of transition at Three Tree Montessori School. We experience the turn of a new calendar year, and the earth is tilting its way back toward warmth and light. So, too do our children experience transition here at school: leaving the hallway and crossing the classroom threshold; finishing the morning work cycle and preparing for lunch; moving from the half-day program or napping to becoming an “extended day” elder in the primary classroom; moving from toddler to primary, from primary to elementary, and beyond. We adults are assistants to and witnesses of the child’s own process of independence, of becoming a person of her time and place.
A cornerstone of Montessori philosophy is to “follow the child,” to offer “just enough, at just the right time.” Classroom guides are always observant for signs of readiness for what comes next exhibited by the children in their classroom communities: readiness for the next lesson, for greater responsibility, and even for transitioning beyond their community when the time comes. The environment which has nurtured the child over the years becomes a bit confining to the child moving into a new plane of development. This month, we have several children who have just made the transition from their old class to their new one. Though it is bittersweet to bid adieu to a classroom elder, it is exciting to know she or he is embarking on a new adventure, and they are welcomed into their new community with open arms.
These internal transitions also mean we are welcoming several new children into our school community this January: ten toddlers and three primary children, to be exact. These children are already beginning to put down roots in their new communities. We look forward to deepening our relationships with these new children and their families as we enter into partnership to support their growth and development.
A few of the big questions parents have expressed over the years are, “Will Montessori education prepare my child for the ‘real world’?” and “How will my child weather the transition from Montessori to another school?” On January 8th, we held our annual Alumni Panel parent-ed night. Our panel was comprised of six TTMS alumni who ranged in age from 7th grade to young adult. These six young people eloquently answered these and many other questions. For some, the departure from TTMS was just last year and therefore quite recent; other panelists were looking back from a vantage point of several years away from Montessori.
Interestingly, none of the questions posed involved grades, or performance on tests. Parents wanted to know how the panelists were supported by their parents, and what kind of relationships they have with their parents. They asked how it felt to transition to a larger school and therefore a larger social group. They wanted to know how a Montessori education prepared them for middle school, and beyond. And how about peer pressure?
A common thread among the panelists is the perception that the creative, hands-on learning in Montessori helped prepare them to be engaged, responsible, independent, creative learners with critical thinking skills. According to one panelist, “Montessori changes how you think; it changes your perspective.” Others mentioned that they “catch on quickly” to concepts presented in class. Independence fostered by the Montessori classroom plays out in other ways: when asked whether any of the panelists’ parents have to nag them to do their homework, the answer was an across-the-board “no” – it’s just done as a matter of course. (Perhaps all those classroom jobs and home responsibilities such as making one’s lunch have pay-offs after all!). Parents of panelists expressed the trust they have in their children to take responsibility for their own learning, and panelists indicated they had trust in and from their parents.
Another theme among the panelists was the emphasis on social dynamics, collaboration, and problem-solving in the Montessori classroom. As one panelist put it, “The elementary classroom is like a family; you don’t have the option of not resolving conflict.” It also extends to their willingness to talk to their teachers to ask for help, sometimes even assisting their friends who are reticent to reach out to their teacher themselves. Perhaps because Montessori holds relationships and social cohesion in as much importance as academic achievement, the panelists did not indicate a problem with peer pressure. Though some panelists expressed some initial difficulty or trepidation with the transition into middle school—particularly with regard to the much-larger social group they were moving into—the self-knowledge and awareness of others seemed to translate into being comfortable in their own skin – a great inoculation against peer pressure.
Not a bad outcome at all, when you consider the most-desired skills for the 21st century worker are anchored in communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.
“With regard to the child, education should correspond to them, so that instead of dividing the schools into nursery, primary,
secondary and university, we should divide education in planes and each of these should correspond to the phase the developing individuality goes through.”
– Dr. Maria Montessori