There’s a hidden curriculum in a Montessori classroom. From the very beginning, a Montessori teacher’s aim is to build confidence, self esteem and foster the development of executive functioning skills so children succeed in rising to their potential. At Hilltop, we believe that there should be more to school than strict academics. Supporting the student as a developing adult is just as important. HMS is a place where students can grow academically, emotionally, socially and mature into a positively contributing member of society. It’s what we as parents hope for our children.
Toddler Classroom- “Help me do it myself”
“ The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult.” -Maria Montessori
Everything in the toddler classroom is their height. Shelving, sinks, potties, everything. By bringing activities down to their level, it allows them to access what they need without the help of an adult. The environment is also prepared in such a way that the choices a toddler makes are good ones. The Montessori materials they choose from are self-correcting which means the child doesn’t need an adult to tell them if they got it right or not. They can see for themselves and make corrections. When they do this, they realize that they can solve problems on their own.. By allowing a child to solve a problem on their own, or to accomplish a task by themselves they grow in confidence and discover that they can do hard things. When we cut it for them, write it for them, find it for them, open it for them, all they learn is that we do it better than them, or we don’t think they can do it. We follow what Maria Montessori called this stage “Help me do it myself” and empower our youngest students to be independent.
We allow the children to become the superheroes of their own story. And the wins they are earning are small to us, but very big to them: putting their shoes on, opening a container, putting a puzzle together, or zipping their jacket. These small accomplishments are the seeds of independence and self-confidence that will grow in the next stage.
Primary Classroom- Where Leaders are made
“Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down…” Our students may as well be singing this while they work. The tenacity they built in the toddler classroom carries over. I once overheard a Kindergarten student say, “This is hard and I’m not giving up!” Imagine a room full of those Kindergarten role models for 3 year old students.
The leaders set the pace. Students in their 3rd year in the primary classroom are in their “Leadership Year”. When a student masters a concept they can teach a student who is still practicing. This not only teaches the lesson, but demonstrates leadership to the younger student in a very organic way. Students sit side by side working on their lessons and can see the interconnectedness of academic subjects. They learn how to work with a partner and how to work as a team. The true strength in our classrooms lies in the collaboration of learners and not in the knowledge of one expert. Students depend on one another and develop a true sense of community. The teacher models grace, courtesy and respect and the 5 year olds set the pace.
Young students in the primary classroom are continuing to ask questions and solve problems. They are guided by teachers to help them with big emotions and social conflicts. Instead of telling students to say “Sorry”, we model what it means to be remorseful and how to make things right, so you don’t have a child that sing-songs “Sorry!” like it’s a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
Students learn grace and courtesy alongside phonetics and arithmetic. Kindness and compassion are just as important as counting to 100. It is not our job to toughen up our children to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to teach children how to make the world a little less cruel and heartless.
Elementary- Learning Should Matter to You
Time management, planning, organization and task initiation are skills practiced in the elementary classroom. In the first grade, students are introduced to the “Work Plan” and students take on more of the responsibility of the work they need to complete each week. They prioritize tasks and break down big goals into manageable steps. Six to twelve year olds are developing the tools they will need to be successful young people and future adults. They practice their new skills in an environment with their peers. There is a confidence and a satisfaction that comes from a job well done and Hilltop Montessori School creates the environment for success.
Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not following directions. They navigate risk-taking by taking risks. What HMS does is manage the choices and keep the risks low while students flex their executive functioning muscles.
Curiosity is encouraged. In a 3rd grade public school class, the students were building bridges out of paper to see how many pennies it could hold. At the end of the lesson, every child discovered how many pennies their bridge would support. One child asked if he could design a different bridge to see if he could make it stronger. The teacher said it was time to move on. As Montessori educators, that story broke our hearts because we know that student could be a future architect or engineer. The curiosity that was sparked in him was extinguished. There is joy in discovery. Imagine if he had the freedom to build another bridge. Where else could his curiosity take him? What other discoveries could he make? What would he learn about himself? I don’t have any doubts that he wouldn’t back down from a challenge or be a great problem solver. Montessori allows the freedom and flexibility for students to follow their curiosity. “Once children learn how to ask their own questions, they can become active learners in every classroom, no matter the subject.”- John Gatto
Montessori- Education For the Whole Child
We don’t know what kind of jobs our children will need for the future. We do know that they will need to know how to communicate well, think for themselves, work as a team, know how to lead and how they learn. Our children will not get caught up in doing just enough to get by. Learning should matter. Curiosity is a flame to be nurtured, not extinguished. HMS teachers work alongside students, guiding them as they rise to their potential.
Jonathan Wolff told a great story to illustrate how Montessori works. Imagine for a moment that we are at a creek together and I discover a gold nugget. Pretty big day, right? You may remember the day that I discovered a gold nugget and think it was cool. I showed it to you and taught you a little about gold. Now, let’s imagine that YOU discover the gold nugget. You will never forget that day, right?! You will remember the details leading up to the find, perhaps the day of the week, what the weather was like, all of it. You will probably go home and look up the value, measure it, take a picture with it, and tell everyone you know. THAT’S how Montessori teaches children. We lead them to the creek and allow them to discover gold nuggets.
We don’t want children to sit quietly while we teach. We want our students to discover the answers, and learn why they get the answers they get. We want them to be supported emotionally and socially so that they learn emotional intelligence, executive functioning and compassion for others. “It is vital that when educating our children’s brains that we do not neglect to educate their hearts.”-Dalai Lama