In contrast to traditional school settings, where children follow an adult-led, tight schedule, Montessori elementary purposefully builds in more responsibility for the child. Each week, our elementary students work with a teacher, one-on-one, to draft a weekly work plan. This plan contains both lessons the child will receive, as well as follow-on activities the child completes independently or with a friend or two.
Initially, children may need a lot of guidance on when and how to complete the work, but over time, they learn to assume more responsibility over their own work choices. They can decide whether to start the day with an activity that is easy and joyful—or whether to tackle a tough job first. They negotiate with friends on the timing of work they need to complete with a partner. They choose where in the room to work—at a table, on a rug, in a corner. Over time, they learn that their choices have consequences: work that doesn’t get done doesn’t just disappear; instead, it is carried forward to the next week. If it’s still not completed, a teacher may direct a child to start it first thing in the morning, or send it home, or, in a rare occasion, demand that a student stay in from recess to complete the work.
In contrast to most traditional school programs, where elementary children work largely alone, and spend much time listening to a teacher and doing worksheet type work in a group setting, our Montessori elementary program recognizes that the elementary child is a social being! We don’t just allow children to collaborate on an occasional project, we build social interaction right into the core of our program!
When you come to observe, you’ll see children working on projects with one or two chosen partners. You’ll observer younger students finding an elder for help, when a teacher is unavailable. You’ll see small-group instruction, as well as all-class lessons, often seated in a circle on the floor, the teacher one of the group. At recess, you’ll see children interacting regularly across age cohorts, learning many valuable social skills in the process.
Of course, 6- or 8-year-olds have much to learn about gracious, benevolent social interactions. That’s why we regularly engage in team building activities, and why we integrate proactive lessons on social skills into our day-to-day curriculum.
By combining much earned autonomy with clear limits and the freedom to interact with each other, our Montessori students acquire many important intra- and inter-personal skills that will serve them well throughout life:
- Persistence to finish an activity, even if it is not pleasant.
- Time management, to complete projects in accordance with a plan.
- Sustained attention—an ability to focus on their work, even as others move about them.
- Organizational skills, as they repeatedly collect the materials they need for their activities, and keep in-progress work together.
- An active mindset and an ability to find resources to help when stuck—whether research materials, an older peer, or a teacher.