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  1. An extended, uninterrupted work period. Can you do your best work, if you know you only have 30 minutes til the next meeting? No? Neither can children. They need time to immerse themselves in the fascinating job of learning about the world. That’s why each day, we offer a three-hour, uninterrupted work period in the morning, where children can focus on doing the important work of learning, without having to shift gears at a teacher’s command every 45 or 55 minutes.

  2. A mixed-age, family-like community—instead of a strict separation of children by calendar age. Where in life, other than school, do we herd people together within a narrow one-year-age group, and expect them all to do the exact same thing, at the same time? Nowhere! So why do we unquestioningly accept this absurd approach for our children’s most formative years? In Montessori, we instead have mixed-age communities. In our elementary program at AIM, children can interact across a six-year-age span. A 1st grader may ask a 4th grader for help with spelling, a 3rd grader precocious in math may work with a group of 5th graders, and so on. 

  3. One-on-one or small-group lessons, tailored to each individual child—instead of pre-set, grade-by-grade, one-size-fits-all curriculum and lectures. Children are individuals who progress at different paces through the core curriculum. They become fascinated and eager to explore a wide range of content in the social and physical sciences at different rhythms of study. That’s why, in the Montessori elementary program, most lessons are given individually or in small groups based on interests and skill levels. By tailoring our teaching to each unique child in front of us, we can sustain intrinsic motivation, which has been shown to be essential to meaningful, lasting retention of learning.

  4. Learning through activity—instead of worksheets and traditional textbooks. One of the most striking features of the elementary environment at AIM is the richness of materials that surround our students. There is a shelf with human skulls from early humanoids to modern homo sapiens. You'll also find colorful math materials such as abacus-like frames. We even use our kitchen for cooking (a great way to integrate language, math, and chemistry!). Students also have access to a well-stocked chemistry shelf, a student-tended school garden, as well as several cages with living animals. Learning, in Montessori, is largely about getting short lessons, then applying them toward mastery. We don’t do workbooks, but we do have a 4,000-book library, stocked with great fiction and non-fiction books in English, Japanese, and Chinese. Our students are free to read throughout the day, in addition to a regular, sustained silent reading period.

  5. Autonomy and guided growth of responsibility—instead of an adult-directed environment fostering obedience. A rigid schedule is set by adults where homework is assigned and often defined by completing repetitive worksheet tasks. The student's choice is practically nonexistent and limited to an occasional free-choice book to pick. In contrast, our Montessori first graders learn how to make and complete a weekly work plan with the help of a teacher to identify what lessons and activities are needed. The student will also go over what work wasn’t completed in the prior week and prioritize it for the current week.  If they demonstrate responsibility, they can choose in which order to complete the work, where to do it (a table, a rug, a beanbag), whether to do it alone or with a friend, and how to do it (in one long session, or split up over several days). Montessori elementary thus imparts the exact executive function skills that researchers have identified as essential to life success.

  6. A combination of strong subject skills and cross-curricular integration with the Great Stories—instead of siloed subjects or artificial "themes." In Montessori, we emphasize both strong subject-matter skills, and cross-curricular integration, which is essential for children to understand why what they learn matters. The Montessori Great Stories also serve to integrate and motivate the curriculum. Each year, our students hear about the key developments in history—the beginning of life, the coming of man, and the history of writing and mathematics. These stories bring together history, language, math, and science in an integrated perspective that is empowering and motivating.

  7. An opportunity to learn and practice social skills all day long. Traditional education has it all backward: at age three or four, when children naturally are more self-centered and prefer to spend time in a solitary activity, they are encouraged to engage in unending group activities. Later, at age six or eight, when they’d love to work with peers, they sit at individual desks, and focus on solitary activity, with recess as the only reprieve for their social nature. Not so in Montessori! We recognize and respect both the young child’s need to form themself as an individual—and the elementary-aged child’s social nature. That’s why our students can freely interact with each other throughout the day. They have never-ending opportunities to practice being gracious, learning to read others’ emotions, and dealing with the challenges of navigating social relationships. Montessori is the best way we know of building strong social skills, from the start!

  8. Integration of art, music, and movement into the core of the experience—instead of relegation to occasional specialist classes. In our Montessori classrooms, children have opportunities throughout the day to be creative, move, or make music. In addition, we offer dance, karate, and singing classes integrated into the main school day, at no additional charge.

  9. A focus on applying and joyfully experiencing knowledge in real life, via "going out", field trips, and an annual, multi-day camping trip—instead of "waiting for the weekend." Montessori is education for life—not for the "college and career readiness" of the Common Core Standards. We want our students to appreciate knowledge as a tool for action. We want them to see learning as an integral part of their lives, as something they want to do, not something they have to do. That’s why we create opportunities throughout the school year for students to take their knowledge into the world. Our trips integrate into the subject matter we study at school. For example, a day trip to the Bay Model complemented the study of the work of wind and water. On all of these trips, our students get to deepen their understanding of the materials studied in class and gain the confidence that comes from acquiring and using the skills that allow them to act increasingly independently in the world around them.

  10. A homework approach that protects free time to pursue passions and live as a family. In contrast to many other schools, which equate extensive homework with academic rigor. At AIM, we believe it is our responsibility to ensure that children learn while at school—and then have much freedom to pursue other interests after school. Homework in our program is very limited for the early elementary grades. While we offer weekly suggestions based on each child’s learning goals, we give families quite a bit of freedom on whether and to what extent to follow those suggestions. We know that there are many non-assigned value-added activities—from joint grocery shopping and cooking to nature hikes or playing ball—and we encourage families to work with us on a homework plan that works for each unique child. We do ask that reading be a part of a child’s daily life with both parents reading aloud to the child, and children reading to adults. We also strongly recommend that starting in 2nd grade, children complete a limited amount of work on repetitive tasks at home such as practicing Chinese and Japanese characters, spelling words, and math facts. In the upper grades, we do assign homework in the more traditional sense-usually focused on skills that require repetitive practice, such as writing Japanese or Chinese characters or improving math facts speed.

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