Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, developed Montessori education in 1907. A Montessori environment is unique in that it offers children choices of educational tasks (or "jobs") to complete within the classroom during their work time. The Montessori method uses unique, hands-on, Montessori-specific materials for experiential learning. For example, children use bead chains to learn multiplication, and moveable alphabet tiles in learning to read and write. The Montessori structure allows children to learn at the pace appropriate for them. Montessori education emphasizes a whole-child approach to learning, using all the senses, and develops a love of learning, independence, and self-confidence, as well as giving children many opportunities to work cooperatively with other students.
The Birch Lane Montessori Program is a public, parent-choice program. We are part of the Davis Joint Unified School District and share a school site with the Birch Lane neighborhood ("traditional") program. While some Montessori programs utilize a format involving multiple teachers and a large class size, the Birch Lane program has class sizes identical to other Davis school programs with one teacher per class.
Most Birch Lane Montessori classes are multi-age and include children from multiple grade levels. This structure fits with the Montessori theory of developmental groupings, and typically allows students to have the same teacher and classmates for more than one year, helping form a close and warm school community. In addition, it allows children to work in differentiated small educational groups across grade levels. Teachers work to deliver lessons appropriate to the needs of the individual child or group of students. Work is often completed in groups, at tables or on mats on the floor; students do not sit in assigned seats at desks. Students from first grade onward work with their teachers to complete a work plan each week that ensures they are learning across the range of content and skill areas. The Birch Lane Montessori program meets (or exceeds) California state education standards, and the children in the Montessori program succeed and thrive in elementary school and emerge well-prepared for junior high.
Teachers in the Birch Lane Montessori program have a California elementary teaching credential as well as an additional Montessori credential. These teachers have received, or are in the process of completing the necessary course work for, a credential from an AMI or AMS certified teaching program.
Entering kindergarten parents may choose to enroll their incoming kindergartener in the Montessori program. Children are also sometimes enrolled in first grade, and occasionally at later grades, particularly if they have experience in a different Montessori program. Current registration and enrollment information can be found here. For additional information on enrolling in Montessori, please contact the office at Birch Lane at (530) 757-5395.
The Montessori Method provides freedom within a structured setting. Children spend time doing both teacher-led and child-led activities. In teacher-led activities, the teacher assesses each individual child’s level and decides which jobs (Montessori’s term for a learning activity) are appropriate for furthering that child’s understanding in a particular topic area. The teacher then makes sure that the child knows how to do the next appropriate job. Sometimes she teaches the child individually or in a group and sometimes she has another child teach the job to his or her peer. This allows Montessori children to experience teaching others, a valuable form of learning. Multi-grade classrooms (e.g., K/1 and 2/3) allow teaching, learning, and collaboration amongst various ages of children as well.
Another element of structure in the Montessori approach is the emphasis on self-correction and self-assessment. The child is encouraged to independently assess his or her work and learn from errors. For example, many jobs have a built-in mechanism that indicates that a mistake was made and provides the child an opportunity to self-correct.
Educational learning tasks are called “jobs” in a Montessori classroom. Montessori materials were carefully developed after observing and researching what children need as they grow and develop. Montessori jobs are organized into five areas: language arts, reading, literature; math and geometry; cultural studies; practical life; and sensorial education. Jobs in each area are organized to guide children from simple and concrete concepts to more complicated and abstract ideas. Each job has a specific objective that builds on what was learned in previous jobs. Children are encouraged to master a job before moving to the next job in a topic area. Here is a sampling of what children might learn in each area in a kindergarten class:
In addition to working on jobs in these areas, Birch Lane Montessori children, like all Birch Lane students, have lessons in art and music, visits to the library, and classes in physical education, gardening, and computers. Teachers and the Birch Lane counselor also teach conflict resolution and how to work together effectively, and emphasize the development of mutually respectful relationships, compassion, and other humanistic qualities.
Work plans detail the jobs or types of activities that a child needs to complete in a given week. A work plan allows a child to choose when and how long to spend on each activity during the daily work periods. Work periods are long enough to allow a child to do several jobs or to delve into a topic in depth. This helps a child learn how to manage his or her time, but also allows a child to work until his or her project is completed instead of being required to move onto another topic because the lesson is over. Kindergarteners do not start out with work plans, but they are introduced to them later and then continue to receive them through 6th grade.
While managing a class of 30 children is a challenge for any teacher, a Montessori teacher’s role is to observe and interact with individual children in short, focused exchanges while providing the structured learning environment to keep children engaged. Montessori teachers believe that children have developmental tasks to which they are drawn in succession. The teacher is there to provide materials and a rich learning environment, as well as to observe the children, help them learn new jobs, and guide them in their work when necessary. The materials themselves are unique and are arranged to move a child from the simple to complex and the concrete to abstract. The carefully designed materials are used by children alone or in pairs and have elements that tell children when they have made an error, allowing for self-correction. This gives the teacher time to pay attention to individual students even in a large class.
One of the wonderful things about the Montessori approach is that it can work well for all children. For example, one of its goals is to let every child work at his or her individual pace. The classroom structure, in which the teacher tailors jobs to each individual child’s level, accommodates children who need more intellectual challenges as well as those who need more assistance and support. Maria Montessori, the founder of Montessori education, believed that every child is gifted in his or her own way; they all have their strengths.
Some wonder if this means the Montessori classroom only works well for self-directed, focused, independent children. While it is true that Montessori emphasizes independence and time management, children do not need to enter the program with these skills already developed. The Montessori method and its classroom environment encourage the development of self-discipline and executive functioning (i.e., planning) in children. The Montessori classroom allows children to practice these invaluable skills at a young age, and thereby prepares them to more fully develop these skills as teenagers and adults.
Because the Birch Lane Montessori students must meet the same academic standards as all students in California, Montessori students generally transition to a traditional classroom with little to no difficulty. Birch Lane Montessori parents have reported that their children are very good at managing their time when they reach junior high, likely because they have practiced it throughout elementary school with timely completion of their work plans.