A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A MONTESSORI CHILD
It is dark at 8:00 a.m. on this mid-winter's morning when Teddy and
Jennifer's mom pulls in to the drop off circle at New Gate. Her two
children have been here since each was a toddler. She has made this
trip so often over the years that New Gate feels like her second home.
She works in town and typically can't leave work until after 5 p.m.
Her husband teaches in the local public school and is off much earlier.
He'll pick the children up from the after school Studio program at
4:30 p.m., but if he's late, he knows that they'll be fine until he
arrives. Many working families appreciate its extended day and summer
and Jennifer definitely think of New Gate as their second family.
Jennifer is one of those children who, after eight years at New Gate,
speaks about Montessori with affection and conviction. Visitors often
find her coming up without a moment's hesitation to greet them and
offer a cup of coffee or campus tour. When people ask her if she
likes it in Montessori, she will smile and say "Sure, how could anyone
not love it here. Your teachers are your best friends, the work is
really interesting, and the other kids are like my brothers and sisters.
It’s a family. You feel really close to everyone."
Jennifer walks Teddy, who's 4, to his morning supervision room. After
dropping him off, she walks into the upper elementary class where she
is a 5th grader. She joins two of her friends in the media center,
and sits and talks quietly waiting for class to start at 8:30 a.m.
Teddy's morning supervision is in his normal classroom. After hanging
up his coat, he walks over to Whelma, the staff member in charge of
his room this morning until school officially begins at 9:00 a.m. He
asks if there is anything ready to eat. Whelma suggests that he help
himself. He scoops out a bowl of cereal from a small bin, and adds
milk. He takes his morning snack over to a table and eats. Children
and their parents drift in to the room every so often and gradually
the number of children in the early morning program grows to about
eating his breakfast, Teddy meanders over to the easel and begins to
paint with Teresa, a little girl just 3 who has only joined the class
over the last few weeks. They paint quietly, talking back and forth
about nothing in particular. Eventually, Teddy tires of painting, he
is tempted for a moment just to walk away and leave the easel messy,
but he carefully cleans up and puts away his materials.
At 8:30a.m. his teachers arrive, along with several more children.
Others follow over the next few minutes until all of the students and
the two adults quietly move about the room.
Montessori children work with hands-on learning materials that make
abstract concepts clear and concrete. They allow young students to
develop a clear inner image of concepts in mathematics, such as how
big is a thousand, what we mean when we refer to the 'hundreds' column,
and what is taking place when we divide one number by another. This
approach makes sense to children. Through this foundation of concrete
experiential learning, operations in Mathematics, such as addition,
become clear and concrete, allowing the child to internalize a clear
picture of how the process works.
Teddy and another child have begun to work together to construct and
solve a mathematical problem. Using sets of number cards, each decides
how many units, tens, hundreds, and thousands will be in his addend.
The cards showing the units 1 to 9 are printed in green, the cards
showing the numbers from 10 to 90 are printed in blue, the hundreds
from 100 to 900 are printed with red ink, and the cards showing the
numbers 1000 to 9000 are printed in green again, because they represent
units of thousands.
As Teddy and his friend construct their numbers, they decide how many
units they want, find the card showing that quantity, and place it
at the upper right-hand corner of their workspace. Next they go to
the bank, a central collection of golden bead material, and gather
the number of unit beads that corresponds with the number card selected.
They repeat this process with the tens, hundreds, and thousands.
The children combine the two addends in the process we call addition.
Beginning with the units, the children count the combined quantities
to determine the result of adding the two together. When the result
is nine or less, they find the large number card that represents the
answer. When the addition results in a quantity of ten beads or more,
the children stop at the count of ten and carry the ten unit beads
to the bank to exchange them for a ten-bar: ten units equals one unit
of ten. They repeat this process with the tens, hundreds, and thousands.
It's about 10 o'clock now, and Teddy is a bit hungry. He wanders over
to the snack table and prepares himself several pieces of celery stuffed
with peanut butter. He pours himself a cup of apple juice, using a
little pitcher that is just right for his small hands. When he is finished,
Teddy wipes of his place mat.
Clearing up his snack has put Teddy in the mood to really clean something,
and he selects table washing. He gathers a bucket, little pitcher,
sponge, scrub brush, towel and soap and proceeds to scrub a small table
slowly and methodically. As he works, he s absorbed in the patterns
that his brush and sponge made in the soap suds on the table's surface.
Teddy returns everything to its storage place. When he is finished,
the table is more or less clean and dry. We have to remember that a
four-year-old washes a table for the sheer pleasure of the process;
the fact that it might lead to a cleaner surface is incidental. What
Teddy is learning above all else is an inner sense of order, a greater
sense of independence, and a higher ability to concentrate and follow
a complex sequence of steps.
Teddy moves freely around the class, selecting activities that capture
his interest. In a very real sense, Teddy and his classmates are responsible
for the care of this child-sized environment. When they are hungry,
they prepare their own snack and drink. They go to the bathroom without
assistance. When something spills, they help one another carefully
clean up the mess. We find children cutting raw fruit and vegetables,
sweeping, dusting, and washing windows. They set tables, tie their
own shoes, polish silver, and steadily grow in their self-confidence
Noticing that the plants needs watering, Teddy carries the watering
can from plant to plant, barely spilling a drop. Now it's 11 o'clock,
and one of his teachers, Mary, comes over and asks him how the morning
has been going. They engage in conversation about his latest enthusiasms,
which leads Mary to suggest another reading lesson.
She and Teddy sit down at a small rug with several wooden tablets
on which the shapes of letters are traced in sandpaper. Mary selects
a card and slowly traces out the letter d, carefully pronouncing the
letter's phonetic sound: duh, duh, duh. Teddy traces the letter with
his tiny hand and repeats the sound made by his teacher.
Teddy doesn't know this as the letter d yet, and for the next year
or so, he will only call it by its phonetic sound: duh. This way, he
never needs to learn the familiar process of converting from the letter
name, d, to the sound it makes, duh. Continuing on with two or three
additional letters, Mary slowly helps Teddy build up a collection of
letters that he knows by their phonetic sounds.
leads Teddy through a three-step process. "Teddy, this is
duh. Can you say duh? Terrific! Now, this is a buh (the letter b).
Teddy, can you show me the duh? Can you give me the buh? Fine. Okay,
what is this (holding up one of the sandpaper letters just introduced?" Teddy
responds, and the process continues for another few minutes. The entire
lesson is fairly brief; perhaps fifteen minutes or so. Before long,
Teddy will begin to put sounds together to form simple three-letter
Teddy's day continues just like the morning began. He eats his lunch
with the class at 11:45, after which he goes outside with his friends
to play. After lunch, in the afternoon he does some more art, listens
to selections from a recording of the Nutcracker ballet, works on his
shape names with the geometry cabinet, and completes a puzzle map of
the United States.
the day is over, Teddy has probably completed twenty to thirty different
activities, most representing curriculum content quite advanced for
someone who after all just turned four two months ago. But when his
dad picks him up at 4:50 p.m., his response to the usual question
of "What did you do in school today" is no different from
many children, "Oh, I don't know. I guess I did a lot of stuff!"
Seldin is the President of the Montessori Foundation. He is the
Headmaster Emeritus of the Barrie School, Co-Founder of the Institute
for Advanced Montessori Studies, and co-author of two books, “The
World In The Palm Of Her Hand and Celebrations of Life.”