by Augustsa Durham
Montessori education does not end with preschool, it’s only just begun.
So you’ve loved the first few years of the DMS Montessori Toddler and Primary program for your young child. Now, as you look ahead, you are facing a decision about the final year of Early Childhood Montessori (aka, Kindergarten, or the “capstone year”) as well as about the years between Kindergarten and middle school.
We know that there are a lot of options in Santa Fe. Thankfully, you can stay with the same dedicated community that has supported your student in their early years and has the programming to support them through 6th grade. With our small class sizes, our classroom and Specials teachers are able to scaffold curriculum to meet your student’s needs, keeping them engaged and preparing them for their next academic step.
Tuition-free school is compelling. Maybe you even moved to your neighborhood because of their touted great schools, or you believe that charter school when they tell you it’s now or never. But there are reasons to stay with Montessori through and beyond the capstone year.
1. The Child-Centric Philosophy
- A Montessori education at DMS aims to meet each child where they are. As Montessorians, we don’t expect every child in the class to be in the same exact academic, social, or emotional place, and we respect each child enough to observe where they are and what’s right for them right now.
- Academically, there are materials in the room that meet the needs of a wide variety of learners. Both children who are struggling with a concept, and who are ahead of their peers in an area, can feel included, supported, and challenged with the materials already on the shelves.
2. Continuity of the Curriculum
- Our youngest children start their educational journey as sensorial learners. They soak up information through interactions with their environment. In Montessori, we provide vivid visual, tactile, auditory, gustatory and olfactory activities that allow young children to begin exploring the world around them in an organized way. As children age, they begin to be able to abstract these experiences, and fix the information they’ve taken in concretely into categories. As children move into elementary, they can mobilize this strong foundation to become researchers and explorers.
- One example of progression is in the Montessori approach to language: Our toddlers begin with tactile impressions from the sandpaper letters that continue on into more formal phonics education in primary and advanced reading and writing in elementary. An older two-year-old may start working with a teacher to trace sandpaper letters and voice the corresponding phonetic sound, while a four-year-old may have progressed beyond sandpaper letters to a similarly colored and shaped movable alphabet that allows them to form phonetic words. A six-year-old may have developed their hand and mind enough through concrete lessons to sit with a paper and pencil to write a letter to a friend in another classroom. Older elementary children who have been in Montessori school for years may have moved into total reading, where the different threads of the curriculum prepare the reader to operate at a high level of comprehension, where they can nimbly interpret the feeling, style, and purpose of a text.
3. Developing Deep Relationships
- At DMS, children are typically with the same teacher in their primary and elementary years for three years. This means a teacher will come to know the children in their class deeply. They will endeavor to understand what connects them with material, what challenges them, and what engages them. This is an invaluable relationship for any young learner to have.
- Similarly, with our fantastic specials and aftercare programs, children have the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with a variety of adults. These relationships aren’t upended from year to year, but prosper and grow.
- In addition, given the intimate size of our school, DMS students have ample opportunity to connect with children from other age groups. These cross-classroom friendships can be so sweet and meaningful.
4. Changing Work with the Montessori Materials
- One of the amazing things about sticking with a Montessori education through upper elementary is the continuity of the materials and the ways the child’s relationship with them changes as the child develops. We can look at the trinomial cube, a sensorial puzzle for the four-year-old child, where they are working on matching color and shape together to fit into a cube. For the older elementary child, this same material becomes an opportunity to visualize a trinomial equation: (a+b+c)^3.
- In math, our golden beads allow primary children to form a concrete impression of the decimal system through manipulation of a unit, ten, hundred, and thousand. By the time the children are in elementary, they will be manipulating these numbers with a strong understanding of place value, exchanges and operations without the need for the concrete material.
- In geography, young children work with the continent maps as puzzles, and fit the pieces of the countries back into the frame. Older children begin research projects on the physical and cultural geographies and histories of different lands. Rather than restarting each year in a new classroom with a new curriculum, the Montessori approach offers a consistency and security to learners that allows them to take risks and challenge themselves academically.
5. The Mixed Age Groups
- Offering each child the opportunity to spend three years in each classroom means that each child will have the experience of being among the youngest in the room their first year, in the middle of the room their second year, and the oldest for their third year. Children naturally learn to get along with those older and younger than themselves, which mirrors the outside world.
- The child’s relationship with the room changes over the three years they spend in it. As young children, they see older children working with something and are motivated to get to that place themselves. One facet of Montessori is the emphasis placed on observation, and being able to observe different levels of activity is invaluable. Older children have the opportunity to give lessons to others, and become confident leaders in the classroom.
- The children support each other in other ways as well. A child who has been in a classroom for two years can model appropriate behavior to a new child, and even help navigate a social or emotional challenge. Maria Montessori wrote about how in her observations, children seemed to know exactly how much and what kind of support to offer their fellow child, while an adult often oversteps and ends up frustrating the child when they try to help.
6. Increasing Independence
- As the youngest members of the DMS community see the elementary kids leaving for their morning walk or departing for a field trip, it’s obvious they’re thinking ahead to a day when they’ll take part in those activities themselves. One goal of a Montessori education is to let children practice their independence and logical thinking within a framework of freedom within limits. As kids age, they are given increasing opportunities and responsibilities to learn to wield this freedom.
7. Supporting a Love of Learning
- DMS teachers aim to guide children to use the tools around them to become active, engaged learners in their own right. Each child has their own relationship with the materials, and with the teacher who connects them with the lessons and materials.
- The Montessori materials allow for this auto-education aspect, by containing within themselves their own control of error. In primary or toddler classrooms, many materials have a built-in mechanical control of error – the box simply may not close, or you may be left with a piece that doesn’t fit, if not done correctly. In elementary classrooms this may look like a control chart that allows kids to check their own work, and correct their mistakes.The adult doesn’t always need to come by and tell the child they’ve done something wrong, or grade their effort – the child can problem solve independently.
- Of course, our teachers are the connection between the work and the children, by giving developmentally appropriate lessons to each child that “unlock” the work for them, and allow them to engage independently. Our teachers are always here for support and encouragement, with the constant goal to empower the student to do it themselves. We follow the child, and support their interests and passions as a pathway to auto-education.
8. Our Current Community
- DMS gives its students the freedom and support to make mistakes, and to develop a love of learning that will stay with them for life. Our interconnected and loving community is here to support one another, and to help each other learn and grow. We are so happy you’re here, and we hope you’ll consider giving your child the opportunity to complete their Montessori journey at DMS.