Meet the Teacher: Montessori-Trained Maria Mosby Joins TNCS

It's clear from her beautiful smile that this is one caring educator!

It’s clear from her beautiful smile that this is one caring educator!

The Montessori environment has “felt like home” to Maria Mosby for quite some time, she says, so she was a natural fit for Lead Teacher in one of The New Century School‘s four Primary Montessori classrooms. In fact, she began her own education at age 2 1/2 years at Columbia Montessori School, in Columbia, MD. “I grew up in Montessori,” she says, “so it has always been in my heart.”

After several moves with her family throughout New England and the Washington, D.C. area, which entailed a stint in public school, she rediscovered Montessori while studying Early Childhood Education at Towson University, and it has been Montessori all the way ever since. She had considered studying psychology, but says, “I’ve always had an affinity for children and wanted to be around them in my career. As a teacher, you do end up being a psychologist of sorts.” She knew that the primary age group was her target age group all along. “I worked with older children, elementary-age children, toddlers . . . but the 3 to 6 age group is really where my heart is.”

Even though she just joined TNCS full time this academic year, Ms. Mosby was no stranger to the school. As a primary assistant for 3 years and a toddler assistant for 5 years at Greenspring Montessori School (formerly, The Montessori School), she decided to take Early Childhood training through the Maryland Center for Montessori Studies. During her internship, she worked at TNCS’s summer camp and “loved the warm, peaceful community.” Even with a whole year-long absence, students remembered her and were excited to have her back.

Having been through the first semester and ironed out those wrinkles that inevitably come with introducing young children to new routines and new faces, she reports that “things are going very well. I love my students with their unique personalities, and I’m glad that there’s a 3-year cycle to look forward to with them. It has really been a growing experience for me.” She also attributes some of the successful transition-making to her Assistant Teacher Elizabeth Salas, who also joined TNCS this academic year. Señora Salas came to TNCS from Chile and besides being “wonderful,” in Ms. Mosby’s words, provides the Spanish immersion component to the classroom. Ms. Mosby herself is picking up some Spanish, although not as quickly as the students, she confessed.

Being such a staunch proponent of Montessori education, Ms. Mosby has a lot of insight from several perspectives into what makes it so effective. “The children are given the opportunity to reach their potential,” she said. “They’re not stifled. When I compare [Montessori education] to traditional education, I remember how I struggled with math, especially when my family was moving around. I needed help with fractions, but the class I entered had already studied them and were not going to backtrack just for me. And that’s not an issue here. Everyone is working at their own pace.”

Once a shy student, she also credits the independence that Montessori confers as part of its success. She sees daily in her classroom younger and older children working together, which often means a younger child absorbing a lesson he or she might be considered too young for in a conventional learning environment. “I don’t hinder them,” she says. “I let them see what they can do and also let them learn from their mistakes, which fosters that sense of independence that I love about Montessori.” It’s easy to see how this process builds confidence in children and primes them to learn.

Although she is incredibly well versed with all of them, her favorite Montessori materials are those associated with Practical Life. “They make a really nice school–home connection,” she said. Kids can play at cooking, flower arranging, tidying up, etc., and as they perfect these skills, they translate them to home and develop motor skills and a sense of responsibility to the immediate environment in the bargain.

“Another thing they have been working on is how to use the ‘peace table’ if upset and words to use when solving a conflict with others. They really enjoy the sensory items at the peace table, and it’s a good place to go when someone needs a place to chill out.” Just like the other Maria M., Ms. Mosby values treating others with kindness and receiving the same in return.

One very special project they have been working on as a group is writing to another Montessori class in Saskatoon, Canada. “The children have been very excited about it and have been drawing pictures to include. They have been learning about Canada’s cities and will also be learning a few French words,” she said.

In her free time, Maria enjoys running and does the Casey Cares Foundation 5K every year, which raises money for critically ill children in Baltimore and surrounding areas so that they can have things like birthday presents, vacations, and pajamas for long hospital stays. “I also work with Girls on the Run of Central Maryland as a “SoleMate.” “GOTR coaches pre-teen and middle school–aged girls to run their first 5K. It is a great organization that increases the girls’ self-esteem, overall health, and sense of sisterhood,” she says. She is also a certified children’s yoga instructor and will complete her 200-hour yoga training this year.

In closing, she said, “After I was away for a year, coming back [to TNCS] just felt like coming home. Everyone is so welcoming, and I feel very supported from the other teachers and from the administration. We all have something to offer. We collaborate and work together very well, even among the different divisions.” TNCS is thrilled to have the warm, compassionate Ms. Mosby in her very first Lead Montessori Teacher role!

What Does Kindergarten Look Like at TNCS?

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, still very much applies.

The New Century School offers a fresh, progressive approach to educating young children. Kids age 5 years and younger get the nurturing, caring environment provided by the Montessori classroom, and elementary-age kids get a specially designed program that encompasses technology, STEM, the Arts, physical education, language arts, and foreign languages. So what does Kindergarten, that sort of in-between scholastic phase, look like at TNCS?

Appropriately, in some ways it’s a hybrid of the primary Montessori and progressive elementary programs. To say that it’s simply a stepping stone between one phase and the next really doesn’t capture the essence of TNCS Kindergarten, however, nor does it consider the very real importance of this period of development in a child’s life. Says Robin Munro, Director of Admissions, “A lot of parents see Kindergarten as the beginning of ‘big kid school’.” Indeed, in the public school system, Kindergarten is expressly geared toward prepping for first grade. As one mother describes her son’s day in a Baltimore City public charter school, students have a laundry list of skills they must acquire to pass, they work at desks for much of the day just as they will in their elementary years, and the atmosphere is one of strict adherence to the curriculum–it has to be with classrooms of 30 and more children. “It was a huge wake-up call for [my son],” she said, who attended a parochial preschool.

But in all this urgency to get ready for first grade, what actually happened to Kindergarten? Says Ms. Munro, “For TNCS, Kindergarten is more like the conclusion of preschool. Its not a ‘send-off’; we are instituting a radical cultural shift.” Here, the focus is on the child’s development rather than academic achievement. This is a critical point, and one that many of us parents in the fever of making sure our children are “ready,” have a hard time coming to grips with. This begs the question, ready for what, exactly? For TNCS, being “ready” to move on is in some ways a paradox. A child is developmentally where that child is, and it’s the school’s job to meet him or her there, rather than the other way around. (This is the beauty of mixed-age classrooms, which inherently avoid pigeonholing children into certain categories based solely—and rather arbitrarily—on age.) However, it would be naive to pretend that our kids don’t have to measurably progress academically, and TNCS is by no means throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, the answer to “ready for what?” becomes more about the child’s social and emotional skills than about his or her scholastic performance. Says Alicia Danyali, Head of School, “We don’t abandon the child’s development. Their social self needs to be nurtured much more than their academics at this age.”

TNCS’s Kindergarten Information Night this past Thursday provided additional insight into the inner workings of TNCS’s radical approach. Both Ms. Danyali and Ms. Munro were on hand to provide program overviews and answer questions, and primary/Kindergarten teachers Mrs. Catherine Lawson and Mr. Jonathan Sellers presented their Kindergarten curricula. In effect, a primary student’s third year of the 3-year primary cycle becomes his or her Kindergarten year.

A K student’s day starts just like his or her primary classmates’ day. The K student has the range of Montessori materials at hand to independently choose from. Because the student has already spent 2 years in this classroom, he or she is naturally gravitating to the more math and language-oriented materials, as appropriate for his or her age and skill level, rather than Practical Life and Sensorial. However, if he or she prefers the latter sometimes, that’s completely okay, just as it’s fine for the younger kids to want to learn skip-counting with the bead cabinet if they are ready (yikes—that word again) for it. Another part of the Montessori classroom popular with the 5-year-olds and the Ks is the language drawers. These materials designed by a Montessori educator take the tried and true Montessori approach to learning to read and spell but house it in an organized system of cubbies, each containing a set of cards or objects that the student must represent as a word on paper. It’s a very logical extension of the moveable alphabet, and the kids love both the self-guided nature of this activity as well as the immediate gratification and sense of accomplishment they derive from completing each drawer.

The bead cabinet and the language drawers are just two of many materials available to the Ks (and, again, to all primary students no matter what age). As Mr. Sellers put it, “Although there are no specifically K Montessori materials per se, we’re providing the Ks with all the materials they need to set them up for success.” After the morning spent in their respective primary classrooms, lunch, and 30 minutes of quiet time (which can be resting, listening to music, reading a book, etc.), all Ks gather together from all primary classrooms as one group. Thus, says Ms. Danyali,”Ks don’t have to wait until the afternoon to do age-appropriate work, but they come together as a group in the afternoons to do work specific to the K curriculum.” She also points out that a full day in Kindergarten is mandated by the state of Maryland, so TNCS is not able to offer a half-day K program.

Kindergarten is, thus, within the Montessori classroom and stretching a little beyond it. The Kindergarten curriculum is well-rounded and takes into account that the students do need to demonstrate certain abilities by the year’s end. However, Mrs. Lawson is quick to remind us that “Children don’t work for products. Its adults who expect that.” The kids are doing the work for the sheer love of discovery. Important skills are also cultivated, such as good handwriting and computer basics. Each day of the week focuses on a different curricular area, including Global Studies,  Language Arts, Math, and Science. Foreign languages are still taught within the primary morning group, and they get art and music in both environments. The Kindergarten program lets K-age children be kids, be nurtured, and blossom—at their pace—in whatever areas they are ready to bloom in. The atmosphere is that same caring environment they are familiar with and happy in; this encourages them to flourish rather than expend all of their energy adapting to unfamiliar—and  potentially very discomfiting—surroundings.

K students are introduced to the SuccessMaker software they'll use daily in the elementary program.

K students are introduced to the SuccessMaker software they’ll use daily in the elementary program.

Nevertheless, we parents sometimes can’t help letting that doubt creep in that our K-age children will be the oldest in their primary classroom and therefore deriving the least benefit. Research into the benefits for all ages in the mixed-age classroom is unequivocal: the mentor–mentee relationship is mutually beneficial in all sorts of ways. But the real advantage here is that our children are probably doing more advanced work than they would be doing at an other-than-independent school while being able to still be the little kids that they are, getting all the nurturing and special care they still need.

Visit the archives for the Top 10 Reasons to Attend a Montessori Kindergarten.