Transitioning to Public School

Transient

One of the most frequently asked questions that we receive, especially from prospective families, is: "How do Montessori students transition to public school?". We thought we would take this opportunity to address this question, identifying some of the misconceptions about Montessori, and also highlight want makes Montessori students so adaptable when they transition to new environments.

If there is one goal at Baan Dek, it is to help children to learn to think on their own: to invent their own questions, and find their own solutions. Bascially, to foster independence. Montessori famously said that conflicts with children arise, only when children start to think on their own. The problem, then, is not the children, but the way their inquisitive minds, accompanied by questions, are handled.

Montessori students learn to think, on their own accord, in their own capacities. They don't just take everything for granted. They want to understand what is at work. As independent individuals, they question what they're doing. Not in a disrespectful way, but in a thoughtful, meaningful way."Why do I need to raise my hand and be dismissed if I need to use the restroom?"

Socially, and academically, Montessori students are extremely adaptable to new situations. One of the strengths of Montessori is the focus on social success, prior to academic success. More precisely, academics is social in Montessori, so when our students transition to new environments they're prepared for new encounters.

Of course, each and every child and their family is entirely unique, so there is not one generic answer, but these are the tendencies that we have experienced. Our students, and Montessori students in general, adapt to new situations extremely well, primarily because they've learned how to think on their own. They know how to do things for themselves, as simple as hanging their own jacket.

Architecture Matters

Transient

We've been thinking about architecture, and how it affects learning, for quite some time. Can architecture play a role in learning? What 'affects' can the building have on the ways in which we engage the world? These are tough questions, questions beyond the scope of this blog post, but we thought we would take a few minutes to articulate a few key points.

One of the fundamental tenets of the Montessori approach to education is aesthetic in nature. You'll notice that in Montessori schools, all of the materials are displayed, in an orderly and beautiful manner. They serve to seduce the children, prompting their curiosity and wonder. The materials are carefully positioned, so as not to dictate education, but to help support and foster a love of learning by enticing the student to discover them.

The Montessori classroom, otherwise known as the prepared environment, is always neat and well presented, conditioned on a principle of an architecture of learning. There's a simple reason for this: In Montessori, the aesthetics compliments and supports the pedagogy. One doesn't happen successfully without the other. But, what about architecture, as it applies to the building? What did Montessori think about architecture?

While not every school has the opportunity to implement a child-friendly architecture, we feel very fortunate to be able to put these ideas into practice. We consider ourselves very lucky, and we're looking to make the most of it. With our new building, we tried to always keep the perspective of the child in mind. One example, and we'll offer more in time, is that we created windows, just for children. You'll notice from the photo above that we've incorporated them at varying heights, allowing different amounts of light into the classroom.

Here, at Baan Dek, we want children to gaze upon the building. We want children to encounter architecture, to inquire as to why the windows are positioned at different heights, and why the light emanantes in the afternoon, as opposed to the morning. Architecture matters. Architecture can help children learn.

My First Week of School

One of the biggest concerns for prospective families is how their children will transition into the Montessori prepared environment. Will they be welcomed by their new friends? Will the Montessori guides take the time to meet with them, and care for them, especially if they need it? Basically, will their child have any difficulties entering the classroom.

We offer parents a number of tips to help encourage a smooth transition. Tips include talking posititively about school, driving by the new location, reminiscing about your time at school, etc. We also have a phasing in schedule, in which we recommend, depending on the child and their needs, that they start out only an hour for the first day, and progressively stay longer.

Transitions are always different, unique to each individual student, but the Montessori classroom has a wonderful way of accepting new faces: with care, generosity and interest. Last week, the student featured above, completed her first week of school. So many of her new friends offered to help, showing her around, asking her if she needed anything.

We have a phrase that we employ, and that so many Montessori schools have ingrained in their philosophy: "Believe in the child, and the child will believe in you." They'll feel comfortable. They'll feel welcomed. Said another way, "Trust the children, and they will trust you." Establishing trust often takes time, but transitions are always smoother when this is understood.

A Gentle Moment

We managed to capture a rather 'gentle' moment on video. Of course, these moments happen every single day, in all sorts of ways, but we thought we would take this opportunity to share this moment with you. Please make sure that your volume is turned up, and that you pay extra careful attention to the very end.

Here's a very short explanation of the activity, and the wonders of learning language in Montessori:

Ms. Wood is working with one of our students on the logical adjective game. The logical adjective game gives the child an opportunity to practice reading. Also, it enhances the role of the adjective in modifying nouns, and allows children the chance to explore their personal preference in literacy.

When our student makes the connection between what she was reading, "gentle", and what "gentle" is, it's an absolute spark of magic. And, the fact that she connects it to taking care of her baby sister...we almost started to cry. It's these connections that we try to foster, and that make Montessori so unique.

Montessori famously said that anyone can learn how to read Shakespeare, but not everyone can truly understand what is said. She's on her way...

Integrating Montessori

Transient

While Montessori doesn't expect or encourage outside homework, as this may cause confusion in the classroom, and with the child, we do recommend that parents work with their children on a regular basis. That almost sounds like a paradox. Let us explain.

Children thrive on routines and they adore order. The more consistent their lives, the better they seem to do. In this respect, it's important that a home and school environment mesh, as this equilibrium can be extremely helpful for the development of a child.

So, how can this be achieved? What can we, together, work towards to accomplish this task of integrating Montessori: at home, in the classroom, and in the community at large? To be sure, there are things that are unique to a home environment, just as there are things that are unique to a school environment, or an outdoor setting, but there are a few basic principles that we can employ to bring Montessori full circle.

One of the most important things to remember, is that Montessori offers hands on, real world experiences. The phrase that we like to use, is that the concrete always precedes the abstract. For instance, if we wanted to teach a child the concept of fractions, we would first start with a fraction puzzle, two halves of a whole, for example, before introducing them to the symbol 1/2. While the puzzle is concrete, the symbol is abstract.

Here are a few practical suggestions, but there are certainly many others. As you can see from the picture above, one of our students is at home, helping his family prepare the coffee. What a beautiful illustration of how to integrate Montessori at home. In this instance, the boy is measuring just the right amount of grounds to pour into the coffee filter, working on his manual dexterity and fine motor skills, balancing the measuring spoon, carefully scooping the grounds, counting how many scoops are needed.

How about another example? Let's say that you're at the grocery store and your daughter wants to help. ( By the way, the grocery store is a magical place to learn, to put practical life skills into action. ) So, you've decided that you want to make banana bread. The recipe calls for three bananans, so you assign your daughter a simple task, "Can you please find me three bananas?" Your daughter then proceeds to select three bananas, counting out loud as she carefully places them in the cart.

Understanding abstract concepts, like the number three, can be a challenge, so finding ways to connect the concrete (three bananas) to the abstract (3) can be illuminating for a child. This will help to support their progress, and reinforce what they are learning in the classroom. While it seems like a slight shift in the way we traditionally think about learning and teaching concepts, it has radical implications for discovering and thinking about the world.