The Value of the Three Year Cycle - A Parent's Perspective

The Capstone Year

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the third year of the Early Childhood three year cycle. We made the decision to keep our oldest daughter in the Magnolias Class to complete the cycle (known as the Capstone Year).

Last year, an article in The Atlantic called “The New Preschool is Crushing Kids” (read here) helped support our decision. In the mainstream setting, Kindergarten has become the new first grade, and Common Core standards have laid out academic guidelines for what should be completed in Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten. Research corroborates that kindergarteners spend more time doing seat work and less time doing art and music.  The net result is 2nd graders who perform worse on tests measuring literacy, language, and math skills. The cause, it is thought, is direct instruction that is repetitive and uninspired which leads to children losing their enthusiasm for learning.




How do we maintain that joy for learning and school that can inspire ongoing discovery? The Montessori curriculum inspires life-long inquiry with a heavy emphasis on social interaction, outdoor experiences, art and music. Communication and dynamic interactions with peers and teachers allow children to be self-reflective critical thinkers.

The groundwork for reading and literacy is language, and the Montessori classroom capitalizes on our children’s sensitive period for language.  Imagine my surprise when my four year old came home recently asking to read a book to me. I indulged her request knowing that she has not quite mastered all the letter sounds, and yet she comfortably read the book.  “Where did you learn to read?” I asked.  “I just know.” she said.  The Montessori curriculum has laid the groundwork so that our children can put it all together in their own time. We only need to give them the freedom and opportunity to do so.

This is exactly why the capstone year is so important. Our children become leaders in the classroom during the third year. They consolidate all the learning that has taken place in the first two years of the cycle. They grow confidence, they enjoy themselves, and they learn new things in a low pressure environment in which they feel very comfortable.

I loved seeing my oldest daughter thrive in her third year. You could see an extra bounce in her step and she loved going to school each day. Her reading and math skills blossomed and her social skills became more nuanced. In short, she thrived.

I was also a little nervous that she would enter her new school behind the other kids who had been in the academic “seat-work” environment for two years already… and I’ll admit that in the first quarter, her reading wasn’t as fluent as some of the other children’s and her performance on timed math assessments was lacking a bit of luster. (Then again, if you know her, you know that anything timed is not of interest to her!)  Interestingly, as the year has progressed, she’s blossomed. It’s as if you can see the cumulative effect of the critical thinking skills and self-directed learning all come together. She’s asking questions about the relationships between different concepts and she’s reading books that really interest her.  I’m not sure she’ll love the timed math tests, but as she says, “that’s just my way”.  The credit for her progress goes to the Montessori Capstone Year.

I’m so glad that we’ve been able to give her the gift of an extra year of play, joy, and mastery. The data and our family’s personal experience support what Maria Montessori knew long ago… The third year of the cycle is a crucial element of the Montessori Early Childhood education.  

You are welcome to contact me if you want to discuss the third year in further detail!

Vicki Wilkins - MCS Toddler and Early Childhood parent

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What Makes MCS Unique?


Montessori Community School offers an authentic Montessori education while supporting a charming and safe community for our students and their families. Choosing the right school can be a difficult task as increasing numbers in research show the impact of early education on the growing brain. So, beyond why a parent might choose a Montessori education for their child, I would like to answer some common questions about what sets Montessori Community School apart and how you will know if it is the right fit for your family.
  • Tour, Admissions Meetings and Observation: Inquiring parents are required to visit our facility prior to acceptance of their child. This allows parents to “get a feel” for our campus and to learn specifics about each program from a knowledgeable member of our staff. Following attendance at a tour or an admissions meeting, parents are invited to observe in one of our classrooms. While an observation is not required, our goal is to help parents have a clear understanding of and comfort in the design of our programs before their child attends classes. 
  • Focus on the whole child and their developmental needs: Montessori Community School offers an authentic Montessori education where equal attention is given to a child’s academic, social, and emotional needs. Along with learning at their own academic pace, children are given opportunities to learn self regulation and time management, develop and exercise independence and are given many opportunities to practice and refine social graces. Be it math or conflict resolution, lessons are given as needed, allowing children to progress at their own rate and ensuring success of one skill before moving on to the next. 
  • Mistakes are the best way to learn: We live in a time where safety concerns have made it difficult to give our children space to make mistakes. Montessori Community School is a safe place for children to explore, practice, and learn from their mistakes. Our staff is committed to helping students work through challenges in a safe and controlled environment, preparing them for the world outside of school. Self correcting materials allow children to identify mistakes within their academics and encourage children to try something until they feel confident enough to move on. 
  • Multi age classrooms: Angeline Stoll Lillard, in her authoritative research review Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, describes the Montessori multi-age setting this way: "Montessori encourages learning from peers in part by using three-year age groupings. This ensures that as children move through the classroom they will be exposed to older and younger peers, facilitating both imitative learning and peer tutoring... Dr. Montessori was quite clear about the need for this mix of ages." These multi age groupings also allow teachers, students and parents to develop close relationships, making a team approach to education manageable and effective. 
  • Children get to choose and children get to move: Children like to make choices; they like to be the masters of themselves. In a safe and carefully prepared environment, MCS students are given the option to choose which area of the classroom to work in at any given time. The carefully prepared environment ensures that there are materials and activities to meet a variety of interest and skill level. They decide how much time or energy should be put into a particular task and children are encouraged to revisit materials or lessons as needed, are invited to move forward when they feel they are ready, and have the opportunity to actively research topics that interest them while giving adequate time and attention to the foundational skills needed in each academic area of the curriculum. Children in every program at MCS are able to move throughout the classroom, and sometimes beyond, to meet the very important need for movement in their growing bodies. Movement from work to lesson to snack and so forth ensures that children can stay engaged in their work process throughout the entire uninterrupted work cycles. Growing and changing bodies have many options for work spaces and styles. 
  • Community: MCS prides itself on having a close knit and caring community. You will find community in individual classrooms as students stay in one class for an entire cycle and because of the longevity of our teaching staff. MCS staff have been with us anywhere from 2 to 25 years. MCS parents are committed to supporting our students, our staff and our programs and a variety of organizations exist to allow parent involvement and support. A number of events encourage the community to come together on a regular basis. 
  • Variety in schedules: As part of our commitment to community and family, MCS offers a variety of scheduling options. Parents can be assured that their children are well cared for, well loved, and respected for their individuality and uniqueness without having to transfer to a different program part way through the parents work day.

Interested parents are invited to learn more about MCS at an upcoming Admissions Information Meeting on January 19, 2016 from 6:30-8pm. Adults only, sorry no child care provided for this event.

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The Uninterrupted Work Cycle - The Basics of Success

A Montessori teacher put it this way: "Protect the three-hour work period with your life! It's one of the most important ingredients in our method."


Parents!  Exciting things are happening around here.  Already, we are beginning to see the inklings of classrooms running like well-oiled machines.  Below you will find a very meaningful article about the uninterrupted work cycle.  While this sounds like more fancy Montessori-esque language, it has great meaning in a successful Montessori environment.  This is the place where the students natural instincts to find meaningful learning experiences is most honored to prepare the child for future learning opportunities.  This is where one child's need for movement is given as much respect and space as another child's need for full concentration on a task.  This is where Montessori shines like a bright star in a sky full of educational opportunities for kiddos.  I hope you'll take just a few short minutes to read below and learn why we want so badly for your child to arrive to school on time each and every day and what great opportunities this important beginning of day time has to offer your child.

Warmly,
Britney



"When the children had completed an absorbing bit of work,
they appeared rested and deeply pleased."
—Maria Montessori (author), Paul Oswald (editor),
Basic Ideas of Montessori's Educational Theory


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Great Summer Reading....Teaching Kids Empathy

I happened upon this lovely little post from Tinybop this morning that shares the most wonderful list of children's books that teach empathy.  These are hard times and an important time to teach our kids how to handle the world's turmoil in a healthy way.  What a great summer read!  

13 kids books to spark conversations about empathy

Lately, it seems like every other day, we turn on the news or open up our social media to find that another tragedy has occurred. Each time we’re faced with these events, we may be overcome with sadness, frustration, and hopelessness. But in these times, it’s important to have conversations with the children around us about inclusion and empathy. 

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It’s what helps us connect to other humans, and what makes us better humans. You may be surprised to learn that empathy isn’t an inborn trait, but rather one that must be learned – preferably during early childhood.

Keep reading...



Image from Last Stop on Market Street


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Competition in Montessori

As the mother of 3 very healthy sons, competition is a large part of the parenting challenges that I face on a regular basis.  How do I teach my children to be healthy competitors (always striving to be their best selves) and still celebrate the accomplishments of others?  Montessori is a great environment for children to learn a nice balance of respecting and appreciating their peer group while knowing what it takes to push themselves.  Enjoy this article by Edward Fidellow on Competition in the Montessori environment. 

Competition in Montessori? Well, No! Which is it? Is there competition in the Montessori classroom or not? Well – yes and no! Let’s examine the “No” first. There is no formal institutionalized competition in the Montessori philosophy because Montessori is about your child not about your child in competition with others. Your child is not competing with any one else. Nor is your child competing for stars or popsicles or even attention. Your child is not being compared to anyone else in the environment nor is your child being set up to win or lose. Competition is not part of the curriculum or the philosophy and yet there is competition in the classroom. So where does it come from? It walks in the door with your child. Competition is part of human nature. Some of us are more competitive than others. Some of us lean more to cooperation but all of us have some of the competitive gene. What Montessori education can achieve is to help a child recognize and manage this human characteristic. Traditional education often uses the negative aspect of competition (“I’m better than you.”) to motivate learning and behavior. Children are unfairly forced into competition with others who may be more talented or gifted in certain areas while their own personality strengths (determination, aesthetic, creativity, compassion etc) are not recognized or valued because they do not fit the educational matrix that is being graded. Yet, it is these other strengths that in the end determine the satisfaction of a life well lived. Here, competition can be destructive to the developing self-image of the child. How many brothers and sisters grow up competing with each other – wasting years of energy – only to realize that they are in different races, have different personalities, different talents and different goals?

Learning to manage the positive aspects of competition has great value. In the Montessori classroom children get to choose the arena of their competition. It is never the slowest child who accepts the challenge of a race with the class sprinter but yet there are always takers. There are those who enjoy the demonstration of their abilities and those who want to stretch their own limits – which is only done against good competition. Montessori children (and mature adults) realize that there are venues in which they cannot compete and realistically assess their own goals and abilities. Montessori children can grow up into adults who have no need to compete with Hollywood looks, Wall Street money or professional athletic prowess because they are secure in knowing who they are and what their gifts and talents are. So, where do we find and how do we judge healthy competition in the Montessori classroom? We find its most excellent use in the Montessori concept of mastery. Mastery brings out and into focus the child’s most significant competitor – himself or herself. Mastery says “I’m not working for a grade, I am not working to get by or to do the least I can do. I am working for excellence. And I am my own competition.” And that is the mind set that produces success in life. Choosing your goals wisely (learning to choose wisely is another Montessori quality) according to your abilities, passions and goals brings the kind of success that is meaningful. Many people have found that unless you know who your real competitor is you often run races in life that give you no pleasure and bring you no closer to your goals. Montessori children are afforded the opportunity to compete with the best – themselves.
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Teaching Children "Soft Skills"

While the ultimate goal of parenting is to prepare these little humans to be successful, happy, and fulfilled adults it seems that more and more, parents are taking the opportunity away for their children to develop the skills necessary to accomplish goals of lifelong success, happiness and fulfillment.  The terms "helicopter parenting" and "overprotective" become more and more frequent and, as an educator I have seen the negative impact of this shift on my students over the years.  As a mom, though, I am mostly unsure how to avoid it.  I want to give my kiddos every opportunity and worry that the things they miss will have a great impact.  This article by Peter Davidson (Mariamontessori.com) is really wonderful in reminding us that "soft skills" are the things our kiddos really need in their tool box to successfully and confidently pursue lives of happiness and fulfillment (let alone be successful college students!)

Happy Reading,
Britney  


I had an interesting conversation with a prospective parent recently who teaches at a local college. She shared that she and her colleagues are constantly discussing “how underprepared kids are for college in terms of ‘soft skills.’” By soft skills she meant skills other than the purely academic — the personal qualities, habits and attitudes that make someone a successful college student and, by extension, a good boss or employee later in life. She had just come from an observation in toddlers and primary and was surprised to have seen that in Montessori, “starting in toddlers students develop the self-motivation, independence, and follow-through that many college students lack!” In other words, beginning at these very young ages, Montessori children are already developing the soft skills that will benefit them so greatly later in life.

Read More


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Admissions Information Meeting - Open to the Public

Montessori Community School will be hosting an Admissions Information Meeting for all adults interested in learning more about any of our programs for 2016-2017 Admissions.  Parents are invited to join us for a presentation about Montessori method, curriculum and philosophy and how they are implemented in our program to educate the whole child. Then, visit individual classrooms to learn more about each program and to meet and greet with our administrative and teaching staff.  2016-2017 Application Packets will be available. 

  • Meeting starts promptly at 6:30pm
  • Adults only - sorry, no child care provided
  • Bring a friend! 




Unable to attend this event?  Contact the school at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to schedule a tour. 
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Farewell to 2014-2015 - End of Year Carnival

MCS was "rocking" on Friday evening, May 29th, as two high school bands from The Wasatch Music Coaching Academy performed for attendees at the "End of Year Carnival."  The young performers impressed young and old alike with their performances and several children really showed off their moves during an outstanding rendition of Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk."

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Praise and Punishment

"Eventually we gave up either punishing or rewarding the children."
—Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood

It's a new year and many of us make resolutions. As parents, in spite of our best intentions, we sometimes get stuck in patterns that are no longer working or may not be the most beneficial for our children. What are some new ways to deal with the normal day-to-day challenges of being a parent?

Re-Thinking Some Common Practices

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Rhombus, Reniform and Rembrandt

Your child’s education in Montessori is different – so different that it makes you shake your head in wonder and say, “Is this something my child is really learning?” As parents we want our children to excel at reading, writing and math. Yet their Montessori education leads them through strange and esoteric materials. (At least they are foreign to most adults.)

Why would a three year old need to be versed in geometry? Fine, a nice circle, a square and maybe a triangle but what purpose for an isosceles triangle, parallelogram or a rhombus? Then if that is not enough esoteric learning, your child moves on to the botany cabinet. How many three year olds need botany? They are introduced to leaf forms like spatulate, orbiculate, sagitate and reniform. Most of us adults can’t even pronounce them let alone know what they are.

If that is not enough diversity in the curriculum, Montessori education then introduces them to the whole world of art. They meet Picasso, Monet and Rembrandt. What in the world was Dr. Montessori thinking? And where is the math and reading?

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Spring Camp Registration

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Please find Spring Camp registration forms on the credenza by the stairs in the lobby. Spring Camp will run Monday, March 30th - Friday, April 3rd. 

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Silent Journey & Discovery 2015 - With Thanks

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Admissions Information Meeting - Open to the public

What: Admissions Information Meeting

When: Thursday, January 15th from 6:30 - 8:00pm

Where: Montessori Community School

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