Developing life-long learners in a specially prepared environment
Children, from birth on, want to learn. Children at different stages of development are drawn to different things. The young child from birth through six wants to learn the facts: the names of objects, how to do a task and the care of self and their environment. The child from six to twelve wants to learn about relationships between people, places and things. A child needs help in making sense out of the many aspects of the world.
Providing that help is the idea behind the Montessori method of education. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, was frustrated by the rigid form of education she found in the early 1900s. She observed that from birth to age six children have an "absorbent mind" that gives them the ability to take in and remember all the details of their environment, from the daily routines, to the names of objects, to the way people like one thing and dislike another. Children from six to twelve years have a "reasoning mind" and seek to learn about cause and effect in the universe, as well as how people relate to each other throughout the world. Children need to organize and classify all this information. Dr. Montessori believed adults could best help the child do this by creating a "prepared environment" that offers both structure and freedom. The structure comes from the order of the classroom and knowing how and why to use different materials. The freedom comes from the children's ability to choose their own tasks, work at their own pace and move ahead as the desire to know more and something different becomes important.
Dr. Montessori believed that education should fit the child's stage of development. Young children from three to six have particular sensitivities to specific areas of learning at definite times. Children from six to twelve have particular characteristics which lead them to learn about different areas. The Montessori curriculum follows a definite plan that takes into account these sensitivities and characteristics.
Each Montessori classroom includes specially designed materials and equipment that enable children to work independently. Children learn responsibility by the real life practice of properly using and returning the materials to the shelves ready for the next person.
For young children, ages 3 - 6, the main areas of work include: practical life, sensorial, language and math as well as work in the areas of geography, biology, art and music. Examples of practical life exercises are zipping, tying, pouring, sweeping, flower arranging and table scrubbing. These exercises are designed not only to teach the children to care for themselves, but also to help them learn how to sequence an activity, to keep order in their work, and to put it away ready for the next child to use. The sensorial exercises help children to refine their senses and to give names to their experiences, such as tallest, bitter, sphere and maroon. The sensorial materials include the bells, which help the children learn musical tones. In the language area children learn to hear individual sounds in words, along with seeing and feeling these sounds by using letters cut from sandpaper and mounted on boards. They learn these sounds can be put together to form words. The foundation of the math work is the "golden bead" material. The children count these beads and learn how they group into units, tens, hundreds and even thousands.
Children from six to twelve undergo a very definite change. They become more social and peer oriented. They want to find out how and why. These children now are given many lessons in the form of stories. These stories are based on fact but told with a sense of wonder to fire the imaginations of the children. Some stories set the whole stage, such as the one about the formation of the universe. Others tell about natural laws such as how wind is created. After listening to these stories, the children are guided to do their own research and find out more about the subject. They often work in groups, stimulating each other by sharing information.
Language work continues, but now the children explore grammar and sentence structure. Spelling rules are given in the light of the history of the English language. The math work branches out so that the children are using concrete materials to explore fractions, algebra, squaring, geometry and more. The teacher gives lessons to keep the children interested in learning, observes the children so their needs can be met and guides the children in their choices. The teacher and each child work together to make sure all the MPS grade level requirements are met. In this way elementary children learn to be responsible decision makers.
The teenage years of twelve to fifteen mean yet another change for the growing human being, so the curriculum again changes to meet the student's needs. The adolescent program focuses on communication and career possibilities. These students want to express themselves fully so writing, debate and theater are a part of their studies. Math is taught using real life projects and examples, such as designing an engineering project. Students may do a history project by interviewing senior citizens and writing up their stories, including background research about the time of their youth. Teens may also spend some time working with a "mentor" in a business or service to see what the work world is like. Classroom teachers provide the main course of study, but they also set up experiences with a variety of professionals to give the teenagers exposure to many different parts of society.
Montessori classrooms for children 3-6, 6-9 and 9-12 are self-contained and multi-age leveled. Children usually stay with the same teacher for three years. The older children in each level are able to help the younger ones while reinforcing their own learning and developing leadership skills. The adolescent program is for students 12-14.
Elementary classes extend beyond the immediate classroom. The school library is an important source where students do independent research. Older children and adolescents leave the building frequently, with adult supervision, to extend their research by consulting with sources in the community.
Teachers in Montessori classrooms hold American Montessori Society (AMS) or Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) certification. In MPS they must also be certified as teachers by the State of Wisconsin.
Montessori teachers are taught to observe carefully and how to give just the right amount of help. They give new lessons when the children are ready for them. They encourage children to repeat and practice each step as often as necessary for the individual to truly understand the concept of the material. They watch to see that the child is working and learning. Elementary teachers meet with each student to make sure they are mastering the required MPS grade level skills. The teacher helps the child learn responsibility, but is aware that ultimately it is the teacher, as the professional, who is responsible for the child's learning.
Parents, as the primary educators of their children, are an essential part of the Montessori program. Report cards and parent conferences are one aspect of the interchange between home and school. Events such as picnics, potluck dinners and art fairs help to establish a friendly school community. Parents are also encouraged to participate through classroom observation, material making and chaperoning school trips. Throughout the year the schools offer classes on parenting skills, as well as Montessori topics.
Any child age 3 or 4 by September 1 is eligible to apply for the Montessori program. Students older than age 4 are eligible if they have had continuous previous Montessori experience in an AMI or AMS classroom. Students must apply for fall enrollment during the designated application period each year.
Seats are assigned through a random computer process. The number of openings, racial balance, and sibling preference determine the students selected. Automatic admission is granted to the Montessori Middle School for those students successfully completing year six of the Montessori elementary program.
Milwaukee Public Schools Montessori Program Locations
Milwaukee Public Schools is committed to accelerating student achievement, building positive relationships between youth and adults and cultivating leadership at all levels. The district’s commitment to improvement continues to show results:
- More MPS students are meeting reading standards
- The MPS Class of 2014 earned $31 million in scholarships, up $7 million; and
- MPS is home to 4 of the state’s top 15 high schools according to U.S. News and World Report