Many people in our school community attended an elementary school where art, music, and PE were once-a-week opportunities that were earmarked as very special days. Perhaps this is how the term “specialist” was coined.
There are many parts of an elementary classroom at The Children’s House that might look different than we remember our experiences to be. The children are moving freely, placing themselves at different tables, working on the floor, some are engaged in small groups, while others are working alone. Within any moment it can be hard to tell what students are doing because of the variety of work. This is in part because the elementary guide is a generalist, meaning that she has a broad knowledge of information in many different areas, from history, to biographies, to how a seed grows to cubing of a binomial. Work in all these areas, and more, could be happening simultaneously in the classroom.
In addition to these well-trained elementary guides, The Children’s House has specially prepared guides for art, music, Spanish, literature, gardening, kitchen, health and physical education. The role of this guide, or the specialist, is to continue to support the engagement of the child. The specialist has a framework that allows the child to explore the area, maybe art, music, Spanish, for a precise, focused, time. These explorations continue the goal of the elementary child to discover the answer to the question “How do I fit in the world?”
There is an unspoken sense of gratitude for these experiences from the children. It is possible to hear the joy come from the children when they are finally able to play a piece in class that has different parts, where they collaboratively have come together to make music. The ah-ha moments in art when a student takes a chance, trusting the teacher, to try something new, and realizes that she is right, there are no mistakes in art. Knowing that some of the children depend on the large muscle work that happens in PE daily. They return to class sweaty and content. Learning how to use a knife and also contributing to the food preparation for your fellow classmates provides real opportunities to be helpful. Watching the process of growth and then experiencing harvest is a definite perk in our gardening program. It is easy to tell when students are going to or coming from a specialist lesson, their voices are higher, there is excitement in the movement of their bodies, and they usually have much to share about what they just learned.
During recent faculty meetings we've enjoyed lively conversations about how children at each level adapt and explore independence in our classrooms. It is fascinating to take a philosophical topic and see how it manifests in our learners across the span of their time at The Children’s House.
Through her observations, Dr. Montessori recognized that humans have four stages of development, which she referred to as The Four Planes of Development. She noted that children pass through these phases as they construct the person they are becoming, and that in each plane they have different needs and psychological characteristics.
Our discussions beautifully illustrated how our classroom environments are designed around the physical, psychological, social, and intellectual traits of each age group. Dr. Montessori divided each plane of development into three-year sub-planes.
The first plane (ages 0-3 and 3-6) is the setting of childhood, the structure, the foundation. The first plane of a child’s life is one of adapting to the world around them.
The second plane (ages 6-9 and 9-12) is the crystallization of childhood. These children are wanting to know “why”. Their work is independent thinking and moral and social development.
In the third plane (ages 12-15 and 15-18), the student is asking, “Who am I?” They seek to understand their place in society and to contribute to the community around them. (Being downtown is ideal for our adolescents to be able to do this in a real life context!)
The fourth plane (ages 18-24) is a time of setting out independently and achieving economic independence.
Our classrooms are prepared environments that directly reflect Dr. Montessori’s understanding of how humans develop. Having work suited to natural inclinations, leads to happy learners, which you can attest to when you step inside our school.
“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by the experiences in the environment.” ~Maria Montessori