Montessori in the 21st Century

October 28, 2016

It has been almost two months since I was welcomed to Cambridge Montessori and it has been such a pleasure getting to know the community! As the school gears up for Sunday's Open House, I have been reflecting upon what makes our school stand out among all of the fabulous public, independent, and parochial schools in our Cambridge area.

Spending this morning in the Pink Room, one of our Toddler classrooms, alongside Charlotte, the lead teacher, and the children helped me focus my lens! I stood closely by as the children slipped out of street shoes and into slippers, served snack and cleaned up spills, and figured out how to move kindly in the same universe as their classmates. Having spent 25 years in what I thought was progressive education, it was only upon joining a Montessori school that I realized one of the simple secret ingredients: Making it, and keeping it, real! The way our youngest children move through the classroom with freedom and independence allows them to solve real-life problems in real-time. 

At Cambridge Montessori, from toddler through 8th Grade, we give children real opportunities to solve real problems: taking off your shoes in Toddler, balancing ceramic bowls on a tray in Primary, time management in Elementary, throwing a carnival for the entire school in 7th and 8th grade. The children learn to communicate and collaborate in harmony through staying with the same teachers and classmates in two and three year cycles. The children are not rushed, nor do the teachers interrupt them from thinking and doing on their own. 

The recent phrase that is being tossed around in the field of education is "21st Century Competency," which includes skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication, and collaboration. Maria Montessori believed in raising children, but she cared more about cultivating competent and capable adults. By simply letting them do for themselves, we bestow a gift to the child: an opportunity to find solutions to each problem.

Children are not born with these competencies, nor do they learn them in isolation. They learn them from their parents, teachers, classmates, and from the environments with which they interact at home and at school. At Cambridge Montessori, we strive to "never do something for the child that they can do for themselves." Because of this, every moment of our school days brings a real life problem to solve! Whether they are escaping from a stubborn shirt sleeve, filling up the pumpkin washtub with water without spilling (and cleaning it up when it does), or removing stubborn shoes, the children here demonstrate great tenacity.

Why are educators just talking about this now? Because we have been too focused on only academic literacy for many years, at the detriment of these "soft skills." The workforce of the future needs both academic literacy, as well as the core competencies as listed above. Maria Montessori knew that the child develops these in unison, along with character qualities such as curiosity, initiative, persistence, adaptability, leadership, and social awareness. Educating the "whole child" is what Montessori espoused, and educators are finally jumping on the bandwagon. Because educating just part of the child seems silly... don't you think?

Secondly, as the world we are living in becomes increasingly abstract, these real world skills become more and more important. Children need to learn to read by reading, understand math by manipulating objects, and appreciate nature by touching, smelling, seeing, and even eating it! The best part about our school is that, from Toddler through Middle School, there is a continuity and a culture of hands-on learning. The beauty of our adolescent program is that the children are stilllearning by doing. They do so by leaving the microcosm that is CMS and entering the world around Cambridge, where they can test out their knowledge, competency, and character. At the beginning of the journey, the materials self-correct, and as the children move through our programs, they get real feedback on their interactions and outcomes. 

In this day and age, when computers can do the work of complex calculations, we need engineers that know when a number is reasonable or not. When faced with unforeseen challenges, leaders need the tenacity to act and the emotional intelligence to round up the right people for the job. When medical professionals encounter an unknown virus, they can use interdisciplinary knowledge to see the problem as a challenge and opportunity for a new discovery.  

Thank you, Pink Room, for a wonderful morning together. If you would like to join us at the Open House on Sunday the 30th at 1:00pm in the Elementary gym, we would love to have you! It is a great chance to see the whole school and speak with prospective parents. Please remember to tell your neighbors and friends, as our word of mouth is the best kind of advertisement.

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