Mary Anne Duffus, Founder and Executive Director of the Brooksfield School
Wendie Marsh, Director
Jana Thomas and Eleana Velasco, Teachers
Welcome one and all! It’s exciting to have a chance to hear about an approach to education that is different than what we hear on the news every day, despite the fact that Montessori students often have an edge over their public school peers in reading and writing. Before we get to that, though, some of our readers may not have heard of Montessori. Could you please tell us a little about it?
Jana: It’s true, this is new to some! So put simply, the Montessori approach is a child-centered approach to learning where didactic (self-teaching, self-correcting) materials are used by children in a multi-age classroom where they learn at their own pace. Kids are given age appropriate lessons, they choose them repeatedly, and have new lessons as they are ready. They really drive their own education on many levels.
Wendie: Yes, that’s the key. In my opinion, one of the most valuable lessons kids learn in a Montessori school is independence. Kids learn to be self-efficient. Because Montessori has a very individualized approach, kids enjoy learning at their own pace, and they develop a love of learning and natural curiosity.
Eugenia: Wow, that sounds ideal! Can you give us some specific examples of what this might look like on an average day?
Mary Anne: Maria Montessori believed above all else that the learning experience is sensorial and experiential. Long before the “fad” of hands-on learning took hold in public schools, Maria envisioned children experimenting by themselves with the materials in a hands-on activity.
For example, let’s say the teacher gives a lesson on assembling a block cylinder. Afterwards, the child conducts their own exploration with the materials. Feedback on their progress is naturally built into the exploration phase when the child experiences an error and must try again. This trial and error approach is when kids discover how things work.
Jana: Yes, it’s very child-driven and independent. If you walked into a classroom you’d see children are all working on their own activities; it is not a place where everyone is doing letters right now and then numbers next.
Children teach each other skills – this is a useful learning experience for both the older and younger child. Older kids perfect skills by helping younger children (think shoe tying)...conversely, younger children look up to and are inspired by the work of the older children (think reading). So it’s an amazing combination of independent experimentation and collaborative learning.
Eugenia: Ummm…can I go back to being a Kindergartener in a Montessori school?! Speaking of reading and writing specifically – what does that look like at Brooksfield?
Mary Anne: We can apply this same multisensory approach with a child who hasn’t learned to write yet. We experiment with tracing letters out of sand paper, so kids can feel the letter shape and also learn the letter sound. This teaches them to read and write phonetically. It is not rare to see 3 and 4 year olds putting letters together and learning how to build words.
Eugenia: My goodness! Now, I’m curious to hear everyone’s thoughts on children’s books. What are some of the most successful picture books? And what topics or subject areas do you feel are underrepresented?
Mary Anne: I wish there were more books that teach kids about nutrition, and what food is all about. And also books about Mindfulness, which we practice at school.
Eleana: I teach Spanish to young kids, so books are a wonderful way for them not only to learn vocabulary but also to learn about different cultures. I am also glad to see that many popular books in English have been translated into Spanish from authors like Mo Willems, Eric Carle, Sandra Boynton, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, among many others.
However, there is a special place in my heart for books with few words that tell complex stories – like one we recently read titled Bear Despair by French illustrator Gaëtan Dorémus. Though it is a wordless book, it made possible for the kids (ages 3 to 9) to share their thoughts freely. The kids created the dialogue themselves and suggested various interpretations of the ending, so it was like re-writing the book from different perspectives.
Music and books are a great combination, so books that come with CD’s are favorites. The kids love James Dean’s “Pete the Cat” books, and it is interesting that each of these books come with a tune that you can hear online…so you can sing Pete’s lines!
Eugenia: Yes, the “Pete the Cat” books are a huge hit. Going back to this idea of the kids writing their own stories for a wordless picture book. I think that’s a fabulous idea for struggling readers. A basic reading strategy that aids in comprehension is being able to create a picture in your head based on the words on the page. So this kind of reverse activity, where a kid sees a picture and must create words to go with it, is fabulous!
Eleana: That’s exactly right. In fact, it’s an activity I like to give parents as ideas for easy, DIY reading/writing education at home! For example, if you ask a kid: “how was your day at school?” Every parent out there knows what I mean when I say you just get a one or two word answer. But if you sit with your kid and build a story together, sort of a comic strip with pictures about their school day, they will love it! It is a fun and creative way to practice writing at home, and bond with your child. It develops many skills and it helps kids communicate things that are not so easy sometimes to express, like emotions.
Eugenia: What a great tip for parents!
Thank you all for taking the time to share your thoughts and expertise with us today at The Corner! Hope everyone enjoys a lovely start to Spring, and see you in April.
Click on the link below to find out more about The Brooksfield School!