All you ever needed to know about Montessori: Living Montessori School joins ISASA

| April 10, 2018 | 0 Comments

BY SABASHNI REDDY

Living Montessori School was conceived as an idea in 2010, and became a reality in 2012 when I bought a property measuring 15 000 square metres.

My idea was motivated by personal experience. Both my own children were exposed to a Montessori way of life from preschool up until the end of primary school, and I longed to share the philosophies and methodologies that underscore the Montessori culture.

As head of the school, I draw on all my life experiences to embody a holistic approach to teaching and leadership. I spent my early career years in corporate and investment banking. After the birth of my second child, I had a yearning to give back in a different way, and I followed my instinct to explore the world of alternate healing. I mastered reiki, reflexology and crystal healing for the next 10 years of my life. Watching my children grow and develop into independent, confident, sociable and respectful young beings in Montessori environments, I decided that I would open a Montessori school, to be able to offer other children the opportunity to benefit from a Montessori education. I knew that I had to do this correctly, so I signed up to study again and achieved my Diploma in Montessori Pedagogy (Pre and Primary School).1 I then took the bold step of opening the doors of Living Montessori School in 2013.

A semi-rural setting perfect for Living Montessori School

Every aspect of our school in Northriding, Johannesburg, Gauteng, fosters healthy and joyful physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth. Our outdoor environment is a unique place, where nature herself awakens the child’s spirit to the rhythms and wonders of the world. When the school year begins in January, we look forward to planting our first crops and feeding the chickens, ducks, tortoises and stroking the rabbits and pigs – and this continues throughout the year. We have adopted a green approach to the development of the school, with worm farms, borehole water, organic gardens and solar energy being the norm. Most of this is already in existence, and all of it will become a part of our daily lives.

The school is fortunate to be surrounded by communities that occupy residential accommodation in high-density housing, agricultural holdings, equestrian and lifestyle estates and retirement villages.2We have the benefit of having parents and students from very diverse socio-economic backgrounds, who all share in a common goal for their children: Montessori education. Our learners are confident, bold, inquisitive and sensitive. They embrace our teaching methods, our environments, our equipment and our directresses. We are blessed with a staff complement of qualified and trained directresses and assistants, and our learning is ongoing.

Reciprocity a recipe for success

Our ongoing efforts to give back to the community and be socially responsibly mean that we have two children who are supported financially by the school. We have also taken on the commitment to assist a nearby orphanage with food, clothing and groceries during the course of the year, and we host a number of fundraising activities for charities such as the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) Shavathon,3 the Northriding Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA)4 and The Lighthouse Baby Shelter.5

Our school is designed specifically for our small community of active learners. Surrounded by natural light, the spacious environments feature low shelves where children can choose from hundreds of individual and small group activities. There are also rooms for music classes, naps and supplemental extramural activities. We have a number of extracurricular activities to further enhance our Montessori programme. We believe that our school is made unique by the individuality of each child, their parents, our teachers and our environment, which together makes up a very special and unique community characterised by love and respect.

Classroom environments characterised by calm and happiness

To be calm and happy, children continuously need to explore and discover. They are curious about everything. They learn by touching and manipulating objects. They are keenly attuned to everything that stimulates their senses: shapes, sounds, smells, textures and tastes. They want to master the movements of their own bodies by learning to balance, run, skip and jump. They also respond to order, because of their innate need to know where things belong and how pieces fit together. The children are also absorbing the social norms and graces of the society in which they live. This is what our Montessori environment offers.

Our toddler, preschool and primary environments are separate from each other, allowing each age group to socialise, develop and grow accordingly. They are designed to support the specific aspects of development, and allow the children freedom of action to build themselves as an individual and as a social being.

Each environment has a three-year age cycle. The child will stay with the same teacher throughout their time in each environment. This fosters stability and security for the young child. In this setting, the children learn from each other, and they learn because of each other. Younger children can observe the activities and the modelling of the older children, while older children have the opportunity to reinforce their knowledge by sharing it with the younger children.

At the start of the day, the child will either be presented with a new activity, or will select work of his choice that has already been presented to him, and which is suitable to his particular level of learning. The child will take the work to a space and then return it to the exact same spot, ready for the next child to use. There is a wonderful peace and quietness throughout the classroom, brought about through concentration on the task in hand.

Toddlers show intense interest

In the toddler and preschool environment, young children between the ages of birth and six years are naturally gifted with unlimited potential. They have the ability to absorb – quite spontaneously and without effort – the many facets of the world around them. They have an intense interest in becoming as independent as possible by developing and perfecting all the physical, mental and social skills that will form their personality.

Many of the early exercises involve the use of objects often found around the home, such as small jugs for the ever-popular pouring activities, dusters for polishing exercises, and clothes for folding and buttoning activities, to name just a few. These are designed to teach the children life skills, increase their dexterity and concentration and, as the children are familiar with the objects used, help to make a smooth transition from home to school.

Soon afterwards, the child will be introduced to the Montessori materials specifically designed to help develop sensory awareness and the ability to make fine discrimination in size, shape and colour, for example. These are later followed by incorporating materials that will develop the child’s concrete understanding of language, mathematics and all the other areas of the curriculum. When reintroduced to these concepts in primary school, this physical understanding will be invaluable to your child.

Each day, the child will be involved in one or more small group activity. Group work is considered important, especially in developing social skills, and is used particularly when teaching cultural subjects, art and craft, drama, music and games.

The “great lessons” of life

The Montessori primary (elementary) programme for children between the ages of six and 12 offers the child an opportunity to “learn how to think”. The child has been nurtured in the preprimary programme and now faces a whole new developmental period in his life. This imaginative, social, creative child needs a planned environment and expansive course of study to support his expanding independence and potential. The child’s experience in this rich environment will shape not only his knowledge and skills, but also his attitude about learning for the rest of his life.

The primary environment is built on the foundations of the pre-primary environment and continues to be child-centric. The “curriculum” is only limited by a child’s imagination, and we offer the opportunity to learn everything! The starting point for all courses of study is the “great lessons”: these impressionistic and scientific stories are presented every year and give the students the “big picture” of cosmology, astronomy, earth science, geography, chemistry, physics, biology, history, anthropology, cultural and social studies, languages, mathematics, music, and art. Consequent lessons offer the children keys for exploring these areas of human knowledge in more detail, and meaningful learning happens when children are inspired by a lesson and begin to explore the subject and work on their own.

Children work collaboratively and cooperatively, because at this stage of their development, they have a strong drive to be social. For this reason, most of the lessons and follow-up projects in the elementary phase are done in pairs or groups. Each day, the child will practise the social skills necessary to plan and carry out his projects: delegation and division of labour, sharing resources, making group decisions, taking responsibility for actions, and celebrating the success of peers. Conflict is not uncommon, but the motivation to resolve it comes from the children and their engagement with their projects.

Learning flows naturally

The classroom is designed to nurture imagination and reason, as primary students are naturally curious and have a strong internal drive to discover how our world works. Driven by their passions, the children are open to the input from the directress that refines their reading, writing, reasoning and research skills. Designing the elementary programme around the children’s natural cognitive abilities means that our focus is less on the facts and concepts we teach, and more on what the children learn and how they learn it.

The children’s work is open-ended and creative and each child’s response to a lesson is unique, with their follow-up work reflecting their individual differences. The child is free to form or join a group to work with the concepts introduced in a lesson. Because the children are free to move around the classroom and see what others are doing, it’s not uncommon for an idea to spread – children are stimulated not just by the directress’s lessons, but by each other.

Montessori children are managers of their own education and have significantly more input into how they are taught, and control over how they learn. Their natural learning styles and preferences are respected and supported. The multi-age format of the classroom prevents comparisons between children; differences in ability and achievement are expected. Lessons are presented in small groups to the children who are ready for them, regardless of their age. There is no social disadvantage to being bright, interested and motivated at school. Likewise, there is no stigma attached to a child who reviews or repeats lessons to gain mastery. The child is free to continue to work with a material or concept as long as necessary, or to move on when they are ready for a new challenge.

“Going out” adds to self-driven expertise

The children explore their own interests while meeting age-appropriate standards as they study both broadly and deeply, covering many subjects not attempted in traditional schools. The children often develop expertise in a subject that is especially interesting to them. Because there is not a rigid schedule or prescribed curriculum that the whole class must follow at the same time, the child can focus intensely on their self-chosen work, with minimal interruption. At the same time, the child will collaborate with the directress to ensure that the basic skills for each grade are mastered.

The children are empowered to seek knowledge beyond the classroom through a very important component of the primary programme called “Going Out”, which occurs for a group of children when their exploration of a topic exhausts the resources of the classroom. We want the children to be comfortable navigating the world, not just our classrooms. So, we have a few excellent books, but not everything there is to read about a topic. We will have many evocative art and construction materials, but probably not the one perfect thing that a group of children need to build their model. As a result, the children must “go out” beyond the limits of the classroom to find the information or resource that they need.

Some fellowship with other Montessori schools

We are located in a region where there are more than eight schools, both independent and public, within a five kilometre radius. We enjoy great relationships with other Montessori schools. However, the larger independent schools are evidently not compelled to recognise us or engage with us. We share very little with certain schools clustered together under company names in our area, and feel compromised by their ongoing efforts to secure entrants as young as possible into their schools by threatening parents with no space if they attempt to enrol their children as late as the beginning or end of primary school. Ideally, there should be a feeder relationship between all schools to benefit learners and parents.

Living Montessori School subscribes fully to ISASA’s principles

Today, we enjoy the fruits of our labour, but it took a lot of hard work to make sure our school was compliant and legal in terms of the rules, regulations and requirements that underscore the opening of a new school. In addition to this, we had to make a number of renovations and changes to our property to accommodate our plans – but, at the same time, we wanted to keep as much of the natural environment as possible. I think that we have to be committed to the origins of our dream, and ensure that we are eventually going to be able to provide a high school environment to support the aspirations of our current primary learners. Luckily, we have about five years to plan for this.

We joined ISASA because we believe that our vision for the school has to be supported and recognised by an inclusive association of like-minded people. We fully subscribe to the principles of protecting interests, promoting best practice and supporting quality education.

Being part of ISASA gives us a platform to keep informed, share knowledge, network with our peer group, access training and remain relevant in our industry.

I believe that having an independent school allows me to promote a value system and education system that embody my own personal values and ethics, but within a framework of governance and guidance that is provided by ISASA. I think being independent and accountable gives me the best possible outcome for my school.

References:

1. See, for example: https://samontessori.org.za/about-us/

2. See, for example: https://www.sa-venues.com/attractionsga/north-riding.php

3. See: http://www.shavathon.org.za/

4. See: http://www.spca-rbg.org.za/

5. See: http://www.thelighthousebabyshelter.co.za/

Category: Autumn 2018

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