Montessori education is what we do around here. We are doing our best to do authentic Montessori: to be worthy of the name, to support and guide the development of each child, to nurture and keep passionate teachers happy. We are on a journey of continuous improvement. We are always striving to improve and refine our approach to Montessori education.
The American Montessori Society (AMS) School Accreditation process is the main path for this somewhat arduous, discovery-filled journey. It is our commitment to our families that the children at MCH are having the best possible Montessori experience. We achieved our initial Accreditation almost seven years ago, and now we’re embarking on the Re-Accreditation path!
We have formed multiple committees of faculty and staff who are tasked with examining in fine detail every single aspect of Montessori Children’s House from what our Montessori teachers do to how our families feel to governance and finance and beyond. We are spending many in-service days this year defining our strengths, identifying our challenges, ensuring that AMS standards are being met, making plans for our future, and refining our vision.
This is an 18-month long process. Right now, we’re almost one-third of the way into it. Every committee has begun its work, every staff member has given their feedback, and now we’re excited to begin collecting data. We will be soliciting information from parents all year long, and we really appreciate your involvement in this vital process. We are learning so much about ourselves already. If everything goes as planned and we hit all of our deadlines, we’ll be welcoming a visiting Accreditation team from AMS next fall. This is an exciting time for us!
We will be sharing periodic updates and sending out surveys. Let us know if you have any questions!
Our Sixth Year students are on the brink of completing their Island Projects! Island Night is coming! They've been on a months-long journey across an unknown ocean and suddenly land is in sight.
This is not just another project - Island Project is a year-long thesis project that is, at its core, a a pivotal academic and personal achievement. It requires students to pull together everything they know about history, geography, language arts and earth science.
It demands organization, long-term time management, focus and dedication, collaboration, communication and inspiration. The Island Project is the ultimate academic experience of personal responsibility and accountability. It is a treacherous, beautiful path that results in many triumphs and failures, Island Night is the culmination of a full year's worth of work, fortitude, imagination and integration.
Almost a decade ago when I took my Upper Elementary training, I was introduced to the fact that Sixth Year students are masters of their domain. They are competent and confident in many different ways. They are also on the brink of adolescence and often enter that journey in a very real way during their Sixth Year. They have tremendous energy and capabilities, and starting a very serious search for their place in the world.
This is the most amazing time for them to be in the Montessori Elementary classroom because it is full of potential instead of limits. They have the boundless creative energy of children and are developing the abstract thinking capacities of adolescents. This is the time to make them leaders and demand hard work!
The Island Project evolves throughout the year, and is truly interdisciplinary. At the heart of the project is an imaginary island. Children conduct research of islands around the world until they find a region that seems most exciting to them. Some children settle in the Caribbean, others in the South Pacific, others in the Arctic... it completely depends on their interest. Then they choose longitude and latitude coordinates and create an island that has never existed.
Despite the imaginary origins, the Island Project is rooted in reality. Everything about their island - from its geological history to its human event timeline - has to be plausible and carefully evaluated. There is a tremendous amount of freedom in the decisions children make about their islands, with the actual planet and its human history as the only constraints.
I hope that you are beginning to see that this is huge work for Sixth Year students!
It is also the most important way that we help them prepare for their upcoming transition to middle school. Throughout their Sixth Year, they face adversity, stress, success, connection, excitement. This is real-life practice. By the end of their Island Project, they have become confident in themselves; they know deeply what comes easily and what is hard. They know how to seek feedback, how to meet deadlines, how to handle high levels of responsibility, and so much more. This is a profound preparation for secondary education!
I hope that we can help your child start dreaming about their own Sixth Year Island Project, too!
There are so many different aspects of school life. In Montessori, so much of what we do is based on freedom, responsibility and choice. It is our most important work to help children prepare themselves to be resilient, curious and excited about learning.
Once a year in the spring, we also help them learn to take a standardized test. Annually, we administer the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) to our students in Grades 3-6. The State of Washington does not require us to test students, however our low-stress approach to standardized testing helps the students get familiar with the process of taking this kind of test.
We know that our students are most likely going to encounter this type of test-taking experience in their futures, and that we need to help them prepare for the eventuality. We approach the testing as a practical life experience; that is, it’s about skill-development and practice. For us, the tests are a tool by which we can understand each student’s standardized test-taking skills and experience. Over the years, we have consistently noticed that the test results validate our own more authentic and relevant academic assessments.
In general, we hope to make the testing experience interesting, relaxed and low-stress for the students. We have observed that the children are excited for ITBS every year, and enjoy sharing the experience with each other. It happened again this week! We are proud of their efforts, the seriousness with which they approached their ITBS work and the way they embrace this as a learning experience.
Every spring, we welcome parents into the Elementary classroom for a celebration of math. Every spring, students present their favorite math lessons to their community. And every spring, we emerge from Math Day feeling inspired and re-invigorated!
Montessori Elementary math is a unique and wonderful experience for kids. It truly builds solid skills foundations, love of math, and deep understanding of concepts. This has been proven over and over again in studies and in personal lives. As teachers, we are the guides, focused on leading students toward discovery instead of teaching them. This is a fine distinction rooted in the fact that Dr. Montessori knew that children need to be given the tools to construct their own understanding. We see a lot of "a-ha" moments in our classrooms and they are always a complete joy.
What is always remarkable to me is how the children talk about their math experiences, and how articulate they are about what makes these experiences unique and important. This year, students created this list of important things to know about Montessori math:
- Students choose their own lessons
- Math is hands-on - there are things to touch
- "Freedom to do what you need to do."
-Everybody learns at their own pace.
-Visual and hand-eye coordination come together
-Materials are colorful
- Moving from concrete to abstract
- Complex math is made simple
- Variety of different kinds of math
-Going at your own pace means taking your time
-Reasonable due dates and reasonable expectations
-Children teach themselves lessons and make their own discoveries
-Teachers are guides
We hope that Math Day brought as many "a-ha!" moments to our parent participants and to our students as it did to us.
Elementary Program Director
Upper Elementary Teacher
Montessori Children's House
The Elementary's 'Odyssey' musical production was epic and beautiful earlier this month at the Grange. In a quaint hall, with a backdrop of Ionic columns and a glow of soft lights, the children achieved something truly magnificent. They sang their hearts out, remembered their blocking, kept track of their props and so much more. Students were the set crew when not on-stage acting, they ran the follow-spot, they helped with costumes and embraced the full experience. As teachers, we are so proud!
In case you couldn't make it, here are two notes from the Odyssey program:
Note from Ms. Nicole
Since the idea of a full theatrical production arose during a faculty meeting last spring, this has been an epic journey for us an Elementary community! Distilling Homer’s archetypal celebration of human frailty and perseverance to an Elementary-friendly, child-focused theatrical production has been arduous and full of delights. Our adaption of The Odyssey is shorter and simpler than the original, but careful attention has been paid to staying true to story and the power of the epic poem. We hope you enjoy it, and find in it the joy, greed, pride, humility, heroism, longing and love that is woven through the fabric of the story. We couldn’t be prouder of our community tonight, especially with the two snow days earlier this week. It’s amazing that we made it! Enjoy the show!
Our Deepest Thanks
Most important of all, we thank the MCH Parent Association for the financial support and tireless volunteer efforts of the MCH parent community.
We are deeply grateful to our set, costume, and props volunteer teams. We couldn’t have done it without you!
During rehearsal recently, one of our youngest child actors burst out, “Let me through! I light the way!” You, dear volunteers, have lit the way for us and transformed our community into what some of the oldest students are now calling “Montessori Children’s House of Theater Arts.”
For more than ten years, the Elementary Program has been growing and thriving. Last winter, when we began dreaming about the 2016-17 school year, we decided to reach further than ever before. We decided to create an original musical theater production in all of its glory!
And now, our production is in full swing! We have an original adaptation of the Odyssey, twelve original songs, 50 child actors, a truck load of historically accurate props, gorgeous sets, production teams and a cadre of inspired, creative parent volunteers, and the financial support of our Parent Association. Our Odyssey already feels both epic and amazing, even though we're still more than three weeks away from our performance on Feb. 10.
In the classrooms, we are rehearsing multiple times a week and have begun the serious work of creating sets, costumes and props for our play. Theater has the power to transform lives in a very real sense. Before becoming a teacher, I worked in professional theater in Washington, D.C, and on Cape Cod. During that time, I experienced first hand how deeply empowering it is to contribute creatively to a communal artistic effort. With our students, as well, I can see a growing sense of ownership, confidence, ease and leadership. Also, some of our most hesitant actors are blossoming on stage. This is truly a transformative experience for our children and our Elementary community.
Having been with the MCH Elementary Program since its inception, I feel proud that we are ready for such big work. To me, this means that we can continue to feel like a Montessori family with a deeply connected and nurturing community of teachers, families and children, while also offering amazingly enriched experiences to our students.
As Montessori teachers, we are often with our students for many years. The connections we build with children last. Each child changes us, teaches us, and helps us understand more about the world. In turn, we hope to make a lasting difference in their lives. When Dr. Montessori said, “Follow the child,” she was directing us to be in the moment with each child and to respond to their needs and interests. As Montessori teachers, however, my colleagues and I also stretch ourselves to take the “long view” of the child. We ask ourselves to imagine who they are becoming and who they will eventually be.
Once in a while, after they leave our classrooms, we get a glimpse of who they are. I got a lovely letter from an alum once. She said, “You showed me the path and I followed. I discovered and learned which I will continue to do…So thank you.”
I felt proud of her, and proud of the work we do at MCH. We love to feel the deep connection that has lasted over the years and feel proud of who we see before us.
We are inviting a group of young alumni to join us for a Q&A panel in mid-December. I’m hoping lots of folks can join us to hear directly from them how deep the connection is, and how an MCH education contributed to their lives.
This morning in the pouring rain, an Upper Elementary student asked me about recess. He said, "So, with this rain, are we going outside for recess?" Trepidation and hope struggled for dominance in his voice.
"Yes!" I said. "We always go outside unless it's so cold and rainy that people feel genuinely miserable."
He nodded, smiling, and turned away to talk to his friend about their recess plans. He turned back to me to ask, "What about my grammar assignment? Can I still go outside to do that?"
"Yes!" I said. "Just find a comfortable place to sit while you're working. Think about finding shelter or taking an umbrella."
The look of delight on his face - delight in the idea of going outside into the deluge to do his language arts work - was simultaneously remarkable and normal. Business as usual for these kids!
We go outside at every opportunity. We send kids outside as often as possible. We organize lessons that link us to the natural world, encourage free time in nature, and also invite the children to find ways to get out of the classroom. There is a world to explore. There is rain to feel, wet paper to deal with, mud, orange leaves and more!
This is an approach we embrace. It's part of our identity as a school. It's also part of how we nurture creativity, connection, resilience and flexibility. Unpredictable things happen outside more often than inside. Nature creates opportunity.
Earlier this week, a massive new research study about the needs of 6th graders was released. It involved 90,000 students, 500 schools and three years.
All of the data that researchers collected and synthesized led to one essential conclusion: the best possible educational situation for a 6th grader is one where they feel old, comfortable and familiar. In essence, the healthiest emotional and most successful academic setting is when they feel like "top dog." The worst possible situation for a 6th grader is one where they are the newest, the youngest and the least familiar, in other words "bottom dog."
According to Anya Kamanetz of NPR, "The researchers found that when students were not the 'bottom dogs,' they reported feeling safer, less bullying, less fighting and a greater sense of belonging."
in the past century, Montessori Elementary programs have been working hard to convince parents that 6th grade is a remarkable year in the Upper Elementary, and that early transfer to Middle School is not in a child's best interest. This study is a validation of our work.
Sixth Grade in Turquesa is a year of transformation, leadership, comfort and exploration. Students complete a year-long exit project unlike anything they've done before or will do again. They are "top dogs," and it is a beautiful thing!
Read more about the study by visiting this NPR article: here.