The Out of Box Education.
The founder of Montessori education, Maria Montessori, brought her philosophy to the United States from Italy over a hundred years ago. It enjoys over fifty years of history within the Orange County community, where generations of children have benefitted from the unique way of learning. 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. 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. Socialization is especially important in this type of setting since the kids will usually be working with others that are older or younger than they are.Interactions with the teacher replace testing and grading; instead, the teachers observe students’ growth and take note of what they need to work on. 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.
Benefits of Creative Learning Spaces
Don LaBonte, co-director of Convergence Academies — a three-year initiative through the Department of Education to test theories around connected learning to enhance curriculum — has discovered the benefits of creative learning spaces. This can come in the form of modular furniture units which can create, and recreate unique learning spaces to challenge kids or fit in with different items of curricula or just a change of scenery or focal point used during teaching.
“Classrooms are set up with the teacher on a stage regurgitating content from a book and expecting students to absorb, digest and regurgitate it to prove they have received it,” says LaBonte. “When you get into creative learning spaces, those paths haven’t been laid out, kids have the opportunity to express themselves in a variety of ways. We all learn differently, express ourselves differently. This is what our country needs to successfully take education to the next level. We need individual thinkers, those who can come at a problem and be able to analyze it from different angles, rather than just to recite a standard accepted solution.”
This can mean offering a different avenue to proving mastery of a subject. The environment in which the lessons are taught can add to this.
“Having a space where you can get on a computer and do self-journaling or create a stop motion movie to demonstrate your understanding of the material – it’s another way to reach the same end result that yes, they are gaining knowledge. They have received it.”
Many Montessori classrooms are already set up with this type of thinking, offering different areas of a room or space for different ways to learn and grow, or to experiment while enjoying directed learning from an educator. Many schools have even created indoor/outdoor spaces where children forge their own path to leaning. LaBonte has studied the positive effects of Choice on the students in his programs, and agrees that a standard classroom with even rows of desks is not always the answer.
“We ask our kids to think outside the box,” says LaBonte. “And yet we’re the ones who put them in one.”
How One Father Chose Montessori
This is our first child and it has been such an amazing journey so far. We as parents have embraced the Montessori Principles in our everyday life. The time we take to try an embrace each milestones with our son, we feel will by far one of our greatest return on investment. I love the quote, “Once you understand your why, your what has a purpose”. Ryan is my why, and what I do now is for his purpose.
What made you decide to look outside the public school arena for a school?
Honestly the hype I guess, I had a friend that worked for a Montessori School and she adored it. She stated that the interaction and the relationship she had with the kids was priceless. The way she spoke about how much she loved working for this Montessori School was good enough for me to start looking into the Montessori Program. Of course the Montessori School she worked at had a long waiting list, so we were on the hunt.
Did you tour the school before choosing it?
We toured seven different schools before choosing Milestone Montessori. It was about that time I started reading Parenting OC Magazine “our bible guide to being a first time parent”. The magazine gave us so much insight to what to look for when choosing the right school. That’s when we drove past the Milestone Montessori of Irvine “Opening Soon” sign. We waited until the opened in January of 2014 to tour, and it really stood out.
Did they have a parent interview/kiddo interview?
We had several different Interviews with the teachers and they even allowed Ryan II to do a trial run and explore the facility before we made the final decision.
What really spoke to you about the people you met within the school?
Some people might say that one of the largest investments a person makes in their lifetime is buying a home or other large purchase. For me, my greatest investment is my son. I felt that the teachers and staff at Milestone Montessori are the school’s greatest asset. They had a diverse mixture of generations, from old to young, and a variety of different cultural backgrounds speaking many different languages. This was a great deciding factor for me.
What stood out about the Montessori program, that you might not otherwise had been able to offer your son in a traditional school?
They say that time is the most precious commodity. Most people focus on dollars. But how you spend your time is much more important than how you spend your money. Money mistakes can often be corrected, but when you lose time, it’s gone forever. It is my belief that the best Montessori Schools embrace the original Montessori Method of education. A big part of that is to let things come in their own time.
For example, some of the dads and myself have a chat group. Three out of the eight dads have little boys. All the kids are in the same classroom at Milestone and the teacher, Mrs. Beth, meets with the parents and gives them a little packet when she notices their child might be ready for potty training at home (homework for parents). In the chat group, the five dads with little girls have reached that milestone. So the competition begins — please let us experience “no more diapers for us!”, haha. When we ask Mrs. Beth, she always reminds us of the Montessori Method’s emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social development. In short, let him get there in “his own time”.
What does your son love the most about his school?
I truly believe that Ryan loves his friends and embraces all of the teachers, whom he knows by name, even down to the maintenance technician at the school. Maybe it’s because he was one of the original group of amazing kids that started in the infant room the first month the school opened, or maybe it is due to the environment that Milestone Montessori of Irvine embodies, that true Montessori Philosophy. Whatever it is, we see it in his smiles when we pick him up from school, through the diverse relationships we as parents continue to develop with other parents and the joy of our kids’ friendships at such tender age.