Editor’s Note: For the 2014–2015 school year, TNCS modified the kindergarten program to better accommodate the growing student body. While the primary program still comprises a 3-year cycle, kindergarteners now move up to the elementary floor for a mixed-age K/1st classroom instead of kindergarten taking place within the primary classroom. This adaptation has proven a marvelous success and provides another very important transition mark for students as they broach their elementary years. The gist of the post below, therefore, now applies to the students ages 4 and 5 years approaching kindergarten. Kindergarten itself still bears many of the hallmarks described below but is not classically Montessori.
A common misconception about Montessori education is that it’s meant only for the preschool years. This misconception goes hand-in-hand with other assumptions made about Montessori—that it’s neither intellectually nor academically rigorous and that it’s too antiquated to stay relevant in today’s world.
Recently, TNCS hosted a Kindergarten Information Night during which it became clear that none of these is close to true of The New Century School kindergarten classroom. Said Alicia Cooper-Danyali, Head of School, “I feel the school focuses on the individual needs of the students, and the kindergarten children exit our primary group well equipped to segue into our elementary program that is mixed ages as well.”
So, let’s turn those misconceptions on their heads and explore why instead of curtailing kids’ Montessori experience at or just after age 5 years, we might actually give students enormous advantages by sticking with Montessori into kindergarten (and beyond—but that’s another post)*.
Top 10 List of Reasons Kids Benefit from TNCS Kindergarten (in no special order)
1. Builds self-confidence. TNCS kindergarten class is a mixed-age classroom, in which the Ks are the role models. They have developed a sense of community with their classmates (many of whom have been together for 2 or 3 years) and relish their role as “community leaders” as they nurture and coach their younger classmates. Having themselves learned from older children, they now share with their peers as well as replicate the mentor role. Research has demonstrated the benefits of this mutually enriching dynamic.
This group of Ks is collaborating on a very special (but still secret) project. The multistep project draws on several disciplines and clearly has the kids’ full attention!
2. Features a sophisticated curriculum. Because of its inherently experiential nature, TNCS kindergarten offers students more “advanced” lessons than what they are likely to be exposed to in a traditional kindergarten. For example, math is not deconstructed into dry, application-less chunks fed through workbooks, but taught as a unified whole through observation and manipulation. This hands-on, “sensorial” learning opportunity is ideal for kids, because that’s how they learn (the research is unequivocal here). Their hands are direct conduits to their brains! Montessori materials optimize this trait of 3–6 year olds, and the resulting mathematical and intellectual sophistication they frequently exhibit is nothing short of amazing.
Mastering the moveable alphabet really is exciting!
3. Teaches students how to learn. TNCS focuses on teaching for understanding. More and more evidence is coming to light that conventional classrooms yield students who can get the correct answer on a test, but come away from school lacking the ability to apply their knowledge in a different context. They have remembered, but they have not understood, and, therefore, they haven’t actually learned anything. In the progressive, Montessori-inspired TNCS class, by contrast, children’s natural inclinations to explore and inquire are encouraged. They build on each phase of their educational experience because they want to, and the lessons stay with them to be further built upon. They are not asked to regurgitate; instead, they are inspired to investigate.
4. Concepts are “clicking.” Because the Montessori curriculum is cumulative, what a child learns in the kindergarten year depends somewhat on what he or she has learned so far in Montessori. Kindergarten is part of a 3-year primary cycle, so maximizing the intellectual, physical, and social skills developed so far means completing the cycle. The first 2 years are all about concrete materials with which they use their senses to form impressions—to perceive. In the third primary year, the children begin to make mental abstractions from those concrete, sensory experiences. They transition from tracing sandpaper numbers with their fingertips or stacking rods in various hierarchical systems to performing mathematical operations based on these early explorations with numerical concepts in object form. Says kindergarten teacher Angela Lazarony, “This is the most exciting year for me. I get to see the culmination of our past 2 years together and watch the children really blossom.”
This student works diligently to complete the project he initiated (and later put away without being prompted).
5. Lessons are tailored to the child, not the age. In TNCS classroom, each child progresses at his or her own rate because the class comprises individual and group work in addition to recognizing that children learn through a variety of methods. This eliminates the pressures to “catch up” or “slow down” to the level of the class as might be seen in traditional kindergarten classrooms. Working at their own rates and in what style best suits them allows kids to develop good work habits, such as initiative, the ability to process information, and the persistence to complete tasks (see Getting the Education Nitty Gritty and Inside the Montessori Classroom). Giving each child the room to develop self-confidence, to feel competent in his or her own abilities and to be interested in learning for its own sake, is the aim, not adhering to age-based sets of standards that are disconnected from the child’s experience.
6. Instills respect. Montessori is fundamentally about respecting each child as a unique individual who has worlds to offer. The natural extension of having been treated respectfully is that TNCS students in turn conduct themselves peacefully and compassionately, out of respect for their classmates and teachers (see Kindness Counts!). From self-respect to respect for others, the principle spreads outward to encompass the physical world. In the Montessori classroom, kids clean up after themselves and handle their materials carefully and appropriately. They learn the importance of caring for the environment (see Blown Away with Wind Energy) and gain social awareness (see The Baltimore Love Project).
Kindergarten teacher Catherine Lawson says, “This is my third year here, so I saw the kids come in at age 3, and now to see them succeeding as kindergartners is just so exciting!”
7. Environment is familiar and supportive. The kindergarten year marks a huge transition in the life of a child. Ks are poised to make giant emotional, social, physical, and intellectual leaps. We ask of them that they begin to read and write at school, for example, and to groom themselves at home. These changes are colossal in and of themselves, but just imagine how much bigger they must seem to a child also coping with unfamiliar (and quite possibly less supportive) surroundings! At TNCS, students feel safe and secure in the company of very special teachers who have known them for years . . . and understand them. In addition, the student-to-teacher ratio is lower than in most traditional school classes. Eliminating the extra stress derived from exposure to a completely different environment leaves more energy for TNCS kindergarteners to devote to cognitive development.
8. The Garden Tuck Shop Program. An all-natural, homemade lunch of wholesome, locally sourced foods (some even grown on-premises) is available for TNCS kids. Visit the website and Like Garden Tuck Shop on Facebook to view photos (warning: not while you’re hungry!) and to receive updates. Also see the interview with Chef Emma Novashinski in two parts in Sustainable School Lunch: Garden Tuck Shop Program Part 1 and Part 2.
9. The Lingo Leap. New in 2012, the Lingo Leap gym fulfills the dual purpose of exercising minds and bodies simultaneously, by conducting movement classes in foreign languages. Not only do TNCS students get access to state-of-the-art Gerstung gym equipment, they also get to practice and reinforce their language acquisition. This revolutionary approach to phys ed synergizes beautifully with TNCS’s progressive curriculum. See Exercising that Mind–Body Connection.
10. The “specials.” TNCS believes in developing the whole child, in cultivating those aspects that keep us humans humane. Kids receive special, separate instruction in art (post coming!), music (post coming!), and Mandarin and Spanish (posts coming!). It’s no secret that art, music, and language are key to personhood, but conventional kindergarten classes do not place the same premium on these areas of development. They give them a nod, certainly, but not typically as separate, dedicated subjects of study. TNCS Ks are given the educational breadth to flourish intellectually and artistically.
Let’s Hear it From the Kids!
Here are some responses to, “What do you like about kindergarten?”
I like sharing and playing together.
I like doing the language drawers!
I like the words and numbers.
I like doing the drawers, too!
*Note: Benefits of Montessori education aside, TNCS recognizes and respects that each family has a unique situation, and the decision to continue (or start new) at TNCS for kindergarten and beyond must be weighed very carefully for each family and for each child. The list above is meant to help parents in their search for the right fit by getting the information out there and dispelling some myths. Also, please forgive generalizations; this post does not have the scope to compare individual schools.
Please let us know your thoughts—we truly welcome your comments and feedback to keep education discourse fresh!