By: Meg Bolton
When I taught a traditional second grade I remember being frustrated by the curriculum. Children came to me to learn things not in our curriculum or continue on a “unit” we had just ended. I had already let them go as far as I could in math, spelling and reading but I could see the interest in our last unit was still there. But I had to move on. I encouraged the child to keep looking things up (researching) and he did for a while.
I realized that traditional education for young children had a flaw. So I began to search for a better way to work with children.This search led me to observing many alternatives. I visited schools in Pennsylvania and New York looking for a system of education which trusted the intellect of the child. One thing led to another and I finally learned about Montessori.
I’m so glad I spent four years teaching primary Montessori. What an eye opener! Watching the children’s sensitive periods come into formation as Dr. Montessori predicted was thrilling! Seeing how practical life helps to form the independence of the child and how the sensorial materials lay the basis for reasoning was one of the most valuable experiences of my life!
When my primary children went to lower elementary I was so gratified. They had been encouraged to be independent, to think for themselves and choose their work according to what they wanted to learn at the time. I remember an elementary teacher telling me, “Emma came into the classroom and told me she was going to do division with the stamp game.” This is what she had been working on with me in June! There was a confidence that the adults around her would assist her to learn what was interesting and right for her.
I must compare this to a chat I had with a traditional elementary teacher about an event in February, called one hundredth day. I had never heard of it. I asked her why they celebrated 100th day, and she said it was so the children would understand what one hundred was. All I could think about was the children I knew who had counted to one thousand on the thousand chain! They had held a thousand cube in their hand and felt the weight and compared it to one hundred, one ten and one unit.
Another friend of mine who teaches second grade was really happy because her children had begun to add three numbers at a time on paper. This was her drive all year and she told me about her great sense of accomplishment. I shared her sense of accomplishment because she has taught in the Philadelphia public schools and was truly dedicated to her children. But then I thought of our primary and elementary children working with long strings of numbers in the “snake game”. And then counting backwards when reaching a bead that meant a negative number (at age five).
I left traditional education because it was very difficult to work with the children who needed more time to learn or wanted to move more quickly, as well as the children who were working at an average rate. And actually even that idea is limited since children are all gifted in many different ways. In Montessori elementary we show the children how society works through their going out trips and how the universe has worked. They see how “learning fits together” instead of studying “units”
When someone once asked me what I did I said ,” I work with 6 to 9 year olds in a Montessori classroom”. He said, ” You said,’work with’ instead of ‘teach’. Is that a Montessori thing?”. I said , “Yes, I guess it is!”
I hope you will come to see our elementary class and watch us “work with” our children.