On the Montessori Journey: When One Teaches, Two Learn (Part I)

Venturing into the Great Unknown - Transitioning from Pre-Primary to Primary

When a child moves up to Primary, whether she’s coming from Pre-Primary, another school, or an at-home environment, transition can initially be awe-inspiring. There is so much to learn, so much to do. Having taught using the Montessori Method at the Suzuki School for four years now and earning my certification through the Pan American Montessori Society, I know there are over 150 lessons for Primary students alone! A true Montessori classroom is arranged with carefully selected materials in different areas of the space; each is displayed in an organized and thoughtful way, but the amount of lessons, and the iterations of each, to choose from is bountiful! By design, the child may be eager to get her hands on everything, but quickly learns she must be shown how to use the lessons correctly by a teacher or an older friend. This is a humbling moment for the child new to her classroom. She may have just come from an environment where she was the oldest and knew the lay of the land. As it was before, she could have chosen to work with whatever materials she wanted because she was the oldest, or—if she was the only one previously at home with family or a nanny—because she was the only student.

I am embarking on my fourth year as a Montessori Teacher with the Suzuki School. I began in a Pre-Primary room at the Northside location for a year before moving to the Ponce City Market campus, where I opened their first Primary room. I have been lucky enough to have a unique experience and bond with this group as I was transitioning to a new grade level and environment along with them. Being part of the student’s journey has been amazing. I’ve watched the children in my classroom as they’ve begun their journey as unsure 2 ½ year olds—figuring out their place in the room, developing personalities, and expanding self confidence—grow into little individuals who are sure of themselves and the ‘right’ things to do.

Freedom Within Limits is inherent within the Montessori Method and is one of the essential foundations of a true Montessori experience. Though a child first entering the Primary room is mystified and excited by all the attractive materials, the goal is to allow the child enough free choice that she is able to express and discover her interests and strengths while simultaneously helping to guide them through the process so they are not overwhelmed. Eventually they develop their own self control and direction without as much need for hand-holding or assistance. This usually leads to a child who is enthusiastic about being in Primary and learning new lessons, but is also learning herself amongst many new, older peers. She is busy absorbing her surroundings: how the older children interact with one another; how to speak up if someone is in her space, or touching materials she’s working with; and, at the same time, she is also learning the classroom rules!

"There is a great sense of community within
the Montessori classroom, where children of
differing ages work together in an atmosphere
of cooperation rather than competitiveness.
There is respect for the environment and for the individuals within it, which comes through
experience of freedom within the community."

- Maria Montessori

The structure of the classroom has expectations in order to fulfill the Montessori promise. Each child is free to choose what she would like to work with and what she is interested in, but she must be shown the lesson before selecting it. She must carry the lesson carefully to a rug or table and be careful not to disturb anyone else’s work. Throughout the classroom, children must use a soft voice and keep their hands to themselves. Imagine having to remember all these foreign concepts on top of being introduced to daily classroom routines! Alice, whose name has been changed to suit this publication, joined our Primary class in Fall of 2015 as a 3-year old. At first, as you can expect from the above, she needed assistance from Teachers to choose her work. Alice came into the room shy, with the skills of a Pre-Primary child. She knew some basic Practical Life exercises such as Dry Pouring, and she knew how to take a lesson off the shelf and return it to its place when finished, but was hesitant to seek lessons out independently or ask friends or teachers for help. Just as learning unfamiliar skills, meeting new people, and finding your place at a new job is challenging for an adult, adjusting to a new room can be stressful for a child who is also developing crucial social skills and working on budding self confidence.

In Primary, children are gradually introduced to many Practical Life lessons that focus on building the child’s fine motor skills and concentration. These can include, but are not limited to, lessons such as the Dressing Frames, Tonging, and Hand Washing. They lack, however, the confidence and self-sufficiency in the beginning to seek these lessons out to practice on their own and master. This, in itself, is yet another lesson the environment offers! A few months after her initial transition, daily, Alice would come up to me and ask: “Miss Casey, can you show me a lesson?” Over the next few months, Alice was shown many new lessons in Practical Life, Geography, Sensorial, Math, and Language, and a transformation began to take place. The more she engaged with the lessons, the more her confidence grew. The timid, shy girl who first entered our room began to fade away as she learned that it’s OK to ask for help and there were many activities for her to explore and engage with as she left her comfort zone.  When Alice wasn’t asking a teacher to show her a lesson, she could be found watching other children complete their work. As the months progressed, she began to enjoy having delightful conversations with new friends as she started to pick up on social cues. In the Montessori classroom, there is a whole section of the curriculum devoted to “Grace and Courtesy.” We often spend 15-20 minutes in a small group around a rug practicing how to have polite, quiet conversations about what we had for breakfast that morning, for example. The children practice their soft voices; they learn how it’s nice to make eye contact to show a person you are listening, and to take turns speaking. Alice started to learn how fun it was to make new friends – ones who may be a year or more older than herself!

As a Teacher, I have noticed that sometimes parents are initially apprehensive about the idea of a multi-age classroom. They are afraid their child will be bullied by older children, slip through the cracks when it comes to newer, more advanced lessons, or perhaps learn some new words they would rather not have their 3 year-old know. I often hear incredulous parents question whether their baby will get left behind because there must be more focus on the older children or younger children (depending on where theirs falls.) Parents wonder what exactly can the children learn in such a widely aged classroom that touts a variety of developmentally centered lessons? However, the response to this is the cornerstone of Montessori. Daily, I watch older children in the classroom taking new children by the hand and helping them choose work or guiding them to the Practical Life shelf so they can show them how to Pour, Spoon, or complete the Zipping Frame.  What parents sometimes don’t realize is all the different ways a child learns in a Montessori classroom. They are shown many lessons by teachers, however, they are also taught by their peers and eventually, with help from scientifically, self-correcting materials, they learn to become a teacher themselves.  Alice is no different. In the coming months and years, she will become a quintessential Montessori student—which you can read about in our next article!

Venturing into the Great Unknown - Transitioning from Pre-Primary to Primary
By Casey Hardigan

CLICK HERE FOR MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Casey Hardigan is a Teacher at the Ponce City Market location. Before joining the Suzuki School team Ms. Casey worked with children with special needs in a public elementary school in Massachusetts. She is a dedicated teacher with a passion for constantly learning and growing in her profession. She brings her enthusiasm for education into the classroom and inspires a love of learning in the children.

Ms. Casey joined the Suzuki School in January 2013. Casey was first interested in the Suzuki School because she played the violin for 10 years growing up and was taught using the Suzuki Method. Once working at the school, she fell in love with the Montessori system of education because she loves how this method does not only focus on Math or Language. While the children learn these concepts seamlessly through the carefully thought out lessons, the Montessori method provides an emphasis on helping to develop the whole child. The children learn grace and courtesy lessons such as The Soft Voice and Practical Life activities like Washing Dishes. The breadth of lessons in Montessori help to guide the child into becoming a responsible, capable, kind-hearted human being who is ready to take on the world and make it a better place.

Originally from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Ms. Casey moved to Atlanta in 2013. She comes from a large family with 3 brothers and 2 sisters. She enjoys spending time reading or outside with her rescue dog and family.

A graduate of The University of New Hampshire with a Bachelor’s Degree in English, Ms. Casey has also completed training with the Pan American Montessori Society at Kennesaw State University and is a Certified Montessori Teacher.