The end of the school year at The Children’s House brings celebrations, traditions, and endings. It is important to note the passage of time by honoring each developmental milestone. It helps the children to mark their place in the continuum of their development with memorable experiences.
During her countless hours of observing children, Maria Montessori noted very distinct characteristics in each developmental age group. She called them Planes of Development. The first plane spans from birth to six years, the second from six to 12, and the third from 12 to 18.
The “Stars” of The Show
The first plane of development encompasses a child’s most profound period of physical and cognitive growth. In just six years, a child goes from being completely dependent on adults to being able to ride a bike, read, independently meet her own needs, and care for the environment and those around her. Because the change is so great, this first plane requires three separate classroom settings: Nido, Young Children’s Community (YCC), and Primary.
At The Children’s House, we respond to this developmental growth by providing children with increasing freedom and responsibility—from walks on the school grounds to community field trips and tasks that help them learn to care for one another and their environment. At the end of this plane, we celebrate the children by giving them prominent roles of the planets and comets in our Dance of the Cosmos celebration. It only makes sense for them to be the “stars” of the ceremony as we honor the completion of this foundational developmental plane.
Spreading Their Wings
Around the age of six, children move into the second developmental plane. This plane is marked by a move from concrete to more abstract thinking, the development of reasoning ability, and a focus on social relationships. In the elementary classroom, students work collaboratively, utilizing the strengths of every individual to complete work and care of their physical and social/emotional environment.
The culmination of this second plane at The Children’s House is the trip to Montessori Model United Nations (MMUN), where all of the skills they have acquired during this plane culminate in the writing of position papers and working on teams of children from all over the world to ponder solutions for real life issues. They are certainly ready to spread their wings in this way and prove to themselves and others their level of maturity that has come from this conscious phase of development.
The Middle Years
The third plane of development marks the ending of childhood and the passage into adulthood. In early adolescence (ages 12 to 15), young adults are exploring and coming to terms with integrating different aspects of themselves. This is a period of rapid growth and early adolescents need enough food and sleep, as well as time to process and reorient. All Montessori classrooms nourish the whole child—academic, emotional, social—but the adolescent experience adds personal reflection to particularly support students at this phase of growth.
Our school provides these experiences through a variety of outings and overnight trips to give real life, hands-on experiences with the topics they study in the classroom. They are given the responsibility to independently plan and execute itineraries of their outings. Students support each other and work together to problem solve when mistakes happens or conflicts arise. Graduating eighth years get the spotlight and take the stage to deliver speeches reflecting on what life at the school has meant for them and who they aspire to be as they move on to high school and older adolescence.
Being the parent of a high-schooler who spent her life at The Children’s House from three months through eighth grade, I can tell you firsthand why marking the passage of each plane of development with traditions and celebrations is so important. My daughter looks back with clear memory of being a comet in the Dance of the Cosmos, traveling to New York City the first time to discuss the rights of the child at MMUN, and, her final speech reminiscing and giving thanks for the experiences—thanks to teachers and friends—and the lasting memories she made here.
Traditions and celebrations are a deeply-rooted part of our school community. As the school has grown over the last 35 years, these events have evolved along with it to appropriately represent growth through all three planes. Endings can be bittersweet, but we choose to celebrate them to mark the completion of one chapter of life and the potential that held with the passage to the next plane.
In 2015, The Children’s House published a strategic planning document, Strategic Plan 2015, that guided our decisions through the 2017-2018 school year. The plan was generated through a comprehensive phase of discovery that included input from focus groups, research on best practices from independent schools nationwide, an organizational assessment, and goals set by our Board of Directors.
Over the last four years, this strategic document was integral in creating priorities to strengthen and grow our school community. Major accomplishments include launching our adolescent program (TCHJH), adding 2,600 square feet of classroom and fine arts space, strengthening our fiscal health and building cash reserves, and implementing new methods of communicating with families.
With the dedication and focus of the board, administration, faculty, and staff, we were able to accomplish all of our goals, putting us ahead of our expected timeline. It took every member of this community to reach these goals and we are proud of where we are today.
In the fall of 2018, we gathered again to generate the next iteration of our plan. Building on the thorough strategic planning work carried out in 2015, the board set to work to create a vision for the next 3-5 years. Valuable input from our dedicated staff was collected to generate a new vision for the future of our school community.
We are pleased to share our Strategic Plan Version 2019 which will be used to uphold the vision of high-fidelity, independent Montessori education for all of our 247 students. We are excited by what the future holds for The Children’s House and look forward to sharing the journey with you.
As part of my morning routine, I read “The Management Tip Of The Day” from the Harvard Business Review. This recent entry (from February 25th)—which I think applies to business and the way we educate our students here at The Children’s House—so piqued my interest that I thought I’d share:
Weave Learning into Your Everyday Work
We all need to keep learning new things to grow in our careers. But sometimes the urgency of our schedules gets in the way. To find time for learning, make it a part of your day-to-day tasks. One way to do this is to look for ways to pick up skills from those around you. Notice how your boss handles a negotiation; ask sales people about industry trends; get feedback from your peers after you give a presentation. Of course, there will be times when something piques your interest but you’re too busy to explore it. When this happens, try creating a “to-learn” list: write down concepts, ideas, and practices that you want to return to at a later time. And create a learning channel for your team, whether it’s through Slack, SharePoint, or somewhere else. Add links to resources you’ve found valuable — it will encourage your colleagues to do the same.
Learning how to negotiate by observing other students and adults…Get feedback from peers after a presentation or an action…Take note of something you want to learn later when there’s time to explore it.
Doesn’t this sound like a typical Montessori classroom?
One of the beautiful things about a Montessori classroom environment is that learning for children is interactive, joyful, and often effortless. Never forced. Rich learning experiences are happening constantly, from a multitude of angles. And the real beauty is that sometimes children don’t even know it’s happening. The idea of “weaving learning into work” is fundamental and a function of daily life in the Montessori classroom. It’s natural. And as our students grow and, eventually, move into higher education and adult life, learning is what they love because it’s part of who they are, something they have always done, and found joy in everyday of their lives.
Think back to a time when you were a child, passionate about learning something new. Whether it was experimenting with new words, creating art, riding a bike, or how a science experiment worked, it is likely that you practiced repeatedly to a point of great satisfaction. By continuing to have interest and engage in the activity, you mastered the skill without even knowing you were working hard to learn.
Children are born with an innate sense of curiosity. They look at the world with wonder, excitement, fresh eyes, and an insatiable desire to explore their world and learn. Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could do something to help perpetuate that wonder and love of learning as they continue to grow up?
The greatest gift we can give our children is to provide them the time and space for their curiosity to work its magic-- to slow down, encourage exploration, provide them opportunities to engage with the world, and be patient. Learning is a natural process that happens best when we provide them with the right conditions and don’t interfere.
When I talk with parents about their hopes and goals for their children, one of the things that is at the top of nearly every parent’s list is that their child is happy and loves learning throughout his or her life. Naturally, in Montessori, we revel in the chance to talk about life-long learning. Our environments and methodology provide the perfect place for every child to learn through interest, freedom to act on their curiosity, and uninterrupted time.
Activities, or what we call “work” in our Montessori setting, is beautiful, orderly and inviting. The materials beacon the children to explore them through their order and simplicity. Every activity is specifically designed to aid the child in learning a specific concepts. No bells, whistles, or complicated instructions included.
With support from a Montessori teacher or “guide,” the child is encouraged to choose work based on their interest and ability. When the perfect balance of challenge and interest is achieved, a child becomes deeply engaged in their work and concentrates to a point where they hardly notice the activity of other children around them. And, this “sweet spot” of engagement, is what keeps the child coming back for more-- to explore new challenges and continue to be interested in the world around them. And to love their work.
The world’s leading researcher on positive psychology and happiness, psychologist, Mihaly Czikszentmikalyi, referred to this deep engagement as flow, or a state of concentration or complete absorption with an activity at hand. He describes it as being in the grove, fully immersed in the task at hand. He states:
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
In a world that is increasingly becoming more fast-paced, technology driven, and distracting, there has never been a more important time to provide opportunity for our children to have uninterrupted time. In their Montessori environment, the children have long, blocks of time to be curious, choose work that is interesting and challenging, experiment trying things, fail and repeat.
Step into a Montessori classroom and observe sometime. You will see children engaged with their work, happily learning on their own or side by side with a peer or two. The activities they will be working on will be as varied as the individual children are themselves, chosen based on their interests, abilities and curiosity. And, given uninterrupted time to engage doing things they enjoy, the natural consequence is that they love what they do.