Before the leaves begin their transition to vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow. Before the morning air gets fresh and crisp. Before the urban gardeners are shuttling potted Borghese Plum, Sungold, and Brandywine tomato plants from patio to porch to avoid the frost, the sounds of eager and excited children can be heard as they head back to school.
For some parents, the hugs, kisses, and tears of their child’s first day at elementary school is still a couple of years away. Some of these parents may be dealing with the separation anxiety (their children’s and their own) of the first day of pre-school.
The scene at Maple Tree Montessori, the first week of September is equal parts calm and angst-ridden. There’s excitement and trepidation, reticence and effusiveness, shock and comfort.
Transitions to new situations are always tricky, especially for developmentally-sensitive pre-schoolers but a Montessori school is a warm, inviting, and a natural environment that allows space for children to acclimate rather quickly.
Upon entering Maple Tree Montessori, the first thing most people notice is the natural wood – not just the shelving, but the tables, chairs, and learning materials. You won’t find much in the way of plastic or other synthetic materials in a Montessori school.
Montessori schools are named after Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female doctor in Italy. She was a physician, philosopher, educator, feminist, and humanitarian. She was a deeply spiritual person. Dr. Montessori was also nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Her method, based on years of observation and research, led her to develop a child-centered, alternative educational philosophy that aims to tailor the children’s environment to their developmental levels. The goal is develop a child that is a “complete human being, oriented to the environment, and adapted to his or her time, place and culture.”
The children are introduced to self-correcting Montessori-specific materials that present learning concepts and develop skills in a number of areas, including practical life, sensorial, language, math and so on. Teachers in a Montessori school observe children and watch for signs that new material can be introduced.
The key to the Montessori method is that the children’s learning is self-directed. They choose their work from a well-structured and well-stocked classroom. Montessori students learn on their own, and are encouraged to help and teach each other.
Each day at Maple Tree Montessori, you’ll find several children setting the tables for lunch. The plates, glasses, and cutlery are set on top of tablecloths and napkins that have been recycled from thrift-store bed linens and men’s dress shirts. A few children will arrange some flowers in small vases and place them on each table. A few other children will help serve lunch, which is made fresh in the Maple Tree kitchen every day. After the mid-day meal, more children will help clear and wash the dishes in the sink custom-made at the children’s height.
A Montessori classroom is the children’s house – literally. Dr. Montessori called her pre-school the Casa dei Bambini. Everything in a Montessori classroom is child-sized to promote competence and confidence – to create a small children’s world that they can negotiate with self-assurance.
When the leaves do change colour and cover the sidewalk with their abounding tapestry in autumnal hues, the young pre-school students from Maple Tree Montessori may be found walking outdoors gathering this natural harvest, along with a recently vacated bird’s nest, and a nearly-hollowed tree branch. These will join some seashells, fossils, and feathers on the science and nature tray in the classroom, where the children will peruse and inspect their treasures with a magnifying glass and their naked eye.