Who We Are
This Montessori School has looked many ways. We began our life in 1973 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in a little house at the very top of Dickson Street. We took children from 2 ½ until 5 and we were a little, little school. This house, which only had two rooms and a tiny kitchen, also was the home to one of the teachers.
The town was small and the Unitarian Church on Cleveland became our next home. The wonderful congregation rented space to us. The building had a beautiful main room that was filled with light. We used this space, the hall, the tiny kitchen and a room for storage. The difficulty with the space was that we shared it. On Friday’s we had to move out all of our shelves, tables, etc. into a small back room, clean, and set up space for weekend worship. This was no small feat in itself and then, we came on Sunday evening and reversed the process. We expanded into the basement and eventually needed to look at another space.
Our next location was at Trinity Methodist on Sycamore and Garland. This place was again rented and we shared space which required us to pack up and move things on Friday’s and Sunday’s. This we did until the church changed leadership and we were forced to cast around for a new space.
That brings us to our current home on Township and our expanding Colt Square locations. With the help of the very generous Jim Lindsey, the current building was built in the early 1980’s. It was expanded three years later with the addition of the primary wing. In 2004 we began using the building at the corner of Green Acres road (adjacent to one of our large yards) for our Elementary program. In 2006, we purchased our own building for our first Infant and Toddler Community.
We have had many changes with our physical space as well as the changing faces of our staff and all of the wonderful young spirits that have passed through this school. The one thing that has always been the same is our dedication to a method of teaching called the Montessori Method. For us it is not just about the specially developed materials, or the unique ways, it’s also about how we educate.
A typical Montessori class is made up of 8-22 children, more or less evenly divided between boys and girls, covering a three year age span. This practice has been a hallmark of the Montessori approach for over 100 years. Classes are normally taught by a Montessori educator teaching with one or more assistants.
Classes tend to be stable communities, with only the oldest third moving on to the next level each year. With two-thirds of the children returning each fall, Montessori encourages a very different level of relationship between children and their peers, as well as between children and their teachers.
The levels usually found in a Montessori school correspond to the developmental stages of childhood: Infant (birth through 12 months); Toddler (12 months through 18 months); Early Primary (18 months through 2 ½ years); Primary (2 ½ years through 5 years); Elementary (4 ½ years through 12 years). At each level, the program and curriculum are logical and highly consistent extensions of what has come before.
Many pre-schools are proud of their very small group sizes, and parents often wonder why Montessori classes are so much larger. Schools that place children together into small groups assume that the teacher is the source of instruction; a very limited resource even in a small class. These schools reason that as the number of children decreases, the time that teachers have to spend with each child increases. Ideally, they would have a one-on-one tutorial situation.
But the best ‘teacher’ of a three year old is often another child who is just a little bit older and has mastered a skill. This process is good for both the tutor and the younger child. In the Montessori approach, the teacher is not the primary focus.
Montessori encourages children to learn from each other. By having enough children in each age group, all students will find others at, above, and below their present level of development. This also makes Montessori schools economically more viable, allowing schools to attract teachers because it is just more creative, interesting and stimulating.
Some parents worry that by having younger children in the same class as older ones, one age group or the other will be shortchanged. They fear that the younger children will absorb the teachers’ time and attention or that the importance of covering the kindergarten curriculum for the five year olds will prevent them from giving the three and four year olds the emotional support and stimulation that they need. My experience has convinced me that both concerns are misguided and I can’t imagine teaching in any other way.
There are several distinct advantages to the Montessori classroom model. In a well run and established Montessori class, children are typically far more independent and self disciplined. One factor that makes this possible is that each teacher’s class of students doesn’t leave at the end of the school year.
Each child is a unique individual, no two are the same. Even the smallest pupil will have his/her own interests, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Each child learns at their own pace and will be ready for any given lesson in their own time, not on the teacher’s schedule of lessons.
Each child has their own learning style. Montessori teachers treat each child as an individual and customize lessons to fit his/her needs, personality, and interests. Since Montessori allows children to progress through the curriculum at their own pace, there is no academic reasons to group children according to one grade level.
In a mixed class, children can always find peers who are working at their current level. Working in one class for two or three years allows students to develop a strong sense of community with their classmates and teachers. The age range also allows the especially gifted child stimulation of intellectual peers, without requiring that he/she skip a grade and feel emotionally out of place.
To accommodate the needs of individual learners, Montessori classrooms have to include curriculum to cover the entire span of interest and abilities up through the oldest and most accelerated students in the class. This creates a highly enriched learning environment. In multi level classrooms, younger children are constantly stimulated by the interesting work in which the older ones are engaged.
At the same time, in multi level classrooms, older students serve as tutors and role models for the younger ones, which helps them in their own mastery (we learn things best of all when we teach them to someone else) and leaves them beaming with pride.
Dr. Montessori recognized that concrete learning apparatus makes learning much more rewarding. The Montessori learning materials are not the method itself; they are simply tools that we use to stimulate the child into logical thought and discovery. The Montessori materials are provocative and simple; each carefully designed to appeal to children at a given level of development.
An important concept is that for each age level of the Montessori curriculum there is an extensive collection of carefully defined educational materials that are the equivalent of the chapters in a traditional textbook. Each material isolates and teaches one concept or skill at a time. In developing the material, Dr. Montessori carefully analyzed the skills and concepts involved in each subject and noted that the sequence in which children most easily master them. She then studied how children seemed to be able to most easily grasp abstract concepts and designed each element to bring the abstract into a concrete form.