A Day in the Life of a Montessori Student
Natural light and soft colors provide a feeling of peace, as a small child wanders around the Montessori classroom. No fear of being scolded for not staying in her seat, the uncluttered and organized room filled with stations of endless supplies, puzzles and projects await her discovery. Large tables replace the desks found in public schools, as she pauses watching a group working together on a puzzle before choosing a richly illustrated book to enjoy on a comfy couch. She has found her sanctuary, and begins to learn.
The founder of Montessori education, Maria Montessori, brought her philosophy to the United States from Italy over a hundred years ago. Fifty years later, Qudsia Roston, a former student of Montessori’s, opened the first Montessori school in Orange County—The Clavis School in Fullerton. Since then, Montessori ideals have prospered in the local community, leading to endless waitlists and high demand for students to make it into these classes. There are many schools that hold the Montessori name; however, since it was never patented, some of them are not certified in Montessori practices. Still, since Roston opened The Clavis School in 1962, 75 additional Montessori schools have opened their doors in Orange County.
The Montessori educational philosophy provides children with the freedom to grow and experiment within a comfortable environment. Without endless directives, children are able to develop independently through sensorial work. Whether it is visual, tactile, auditory or stereognostic, learning through hands-on activities and practical exercises transforms education into a world where children concentrate on discovering new things. By allowing students to take charge of their own education, they advance at their own pace and develop real world skills like self-motivation and self-discipline.
Typically, Montessori classes are comprised of children from varied age groups; classes are comprised of a range of ages, such as 18 month to three-year-olds or three to six-year-olds. Socialization is especially important in this type of setting since the kids will usually be working with children that are at different stages of development than they are. Although the teacher moves around the room, taking time to work with each child individually or in small groups, there is still a considerable amount of teaching done peer-to-peer.
Interactions with the teacher replace testing and grading; instead, the teachers observe students’ growth and take note of what they need to work on. They then direct that student’s study until he or she has developed the skills or knowledge they were previously lacking. This method of teaching eliminates the idea of right versus wrong and allows students to confidently develop at their own rate. It also does away with the competitive nature of public schools and standardized tests.
In a longitudinal study done by Association Montessori International examining Montessori students’ high school success compared to students who attended public elementary schools, findings indicated that, although students were relatively similar in their English scores and GPAs, students coming from Montessori schools performed significantly better on standardized math and science tests.
Although Montessori principles are standard, different schools have different practices and unique ways of doing things. Here’s a look at how some Montessori classes operate around the OC.
8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Rancho Viejo Montessori, Rancho Santa Margarita
The Lower Elementary class at Rancho Viejo Montessori is filled with six through nine-year-olds, who start their morning with a half-hour community meeting. During the meeting, students determine what they will work on throughout the week and write it in a planner. They are given the freedom to choose what they will work on and when, as long as they finish their requirements for the week.
Following the community meeting, students begin their work, grabbing materials off shelves and rolling out rugs to work on. For the rest of the morning, the students work on what they have written in their planners—mathematics boards, beaded frames, stamp games and more—all centered on language, reading, handwriting, math and research. They even schedule their own snack times. This freedom gives children experience with prioritizing work, time management, making decisions and self-motivating.
10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
LePort Montesorri, Irvine
At LePort’s Westpark location, students in the Primary program, which serves three to six-year-olds, spend midday working on projects in their indoor-outdoor environment. If students tire of staying indoors, they are free to wander outside to soak up some sun and experience nature, something that creator Maria Montessori felt was important. The outdoor classroom enriches learning time with benches designed for reading and easels to paint on. The children are able to bring their indoor projects such as puzzles, games, mathematics and more outside to enjoy in the fresh air. The yard also features planter boxes where the children grow their own flowers, herbs, carrots and strawberries. Once a week, each student in one classroom brings an ingredient to a culinary arts session where they create a meal combining their ingredients with herbs they’ve grown in the garden to create a family-style lunch to enjoy together.
12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Montessori Child Development Center, Huntington Beach
In the afternoon, the six to twelve-year-olds in the Montessori Child Development Center’s Elementary class meet their physical education teacher in the field. After warming up with some stretches, they are divided into small groups to participate in sports. After a bathroom break, the children return to the classroom where they form a circle on the floor for a book discussion. The kids talk about books they’ve read, sharing summaries and information regarding the characters, settings and plotlines with the rest of the class.
After the book discussion, they continue the lesson they started during their morning individual work time. Older children often work on research projects and PowerPoint presentations to present to the other students. The children typically focus on math, science and geography in the afternoon, often working on projects involving counting, the solar system or identifying places around the world on pin maps. They finish the day with an art project illustrating life in Orange County in the past, being introduced to some history at the same time.
Tippi Toes Dance Class
Montessori Harbor-Mesa, Costa Mesa
Partnering with the Tippi Toes Dance Company from Huntington Beach allows Montessori Harbor-Mesa to bring the joy of dance to its students each Friday. The school environment allows students to explore movement and self-expression among their peers. Classes begin with stretches and warm-ups before transitioning into ballet, jazz and tap techniques set to energetic music.
Mandarin Immersion Program
Montessori on the Lake, Lake Forest
This bilingual program, taught by a native Mandarin speaker, encourages bilingual learning, making language acquisition a bit easier. The program is designed for the world of international finance and business, giving students a well-rounded understanding of language, geography, Singapore mathematics, culture, music and art. It is open to students between the ages of five and seven.
The Colors of Us
Mission Viejo Montessori, Mission Viejo
The Colors of Us project helps students learn to appreciate multiculturalism and literacy. Teachers read a book called “The Colors of Us” by Karen Katz to the class, which discusses the mixing of paint to create different skin tones. Afterward, students help mix paint to create a variety of skin tones for the students to choose from then each child creates a self-portrait. Discussion during craft time explores students’ perceptions of similarities and differences among peers and teaches the kids that they are all the same on the inside.
Montessori Children’s House, Cypress
With a large outdoor area filled with gardens, animals and a tree house, children are taught to appreciate the environment and all living things. In the organic garden, kids plant seeds and care for their food until it is harvested. They visit with creatures like turtles, rabbits and tarantulas to learn to love all animals without fear. The tree house is the perfect spot to crack open a book and enjoy the outdoors.
By Ashley Ryan