I was honored to attend a morning session at the Khalsa Montessori Camden Campus to see a day in the life of Maxwell at school. Let me preface this post by admitting that when Max was enrolled here for Kindergarten, I was not fond of the idea. This is an older building. There is a garden area that different people maintain and some climbing things and sandbox, etc in the play yard. I had a school in mind on the east side that had a fancy playground, state of the art signage and a huge paved parking lot. Mind you, I had never been inside of either school, so I really was judging a book by it’s cover. That turned out to be a huge error in judgement on my part.
Walking into the classroom, the difference between Montessori and the “regular” 2nd grade classroom is startlingly evident. There are no long rows of desks lined up. Desks are scattered here and there for individual students. There are tables and chairs – some that seat 4 or 5 students and Max’s table that seats 3.
Class begins in a very calm semi-circle in the middle of the room. Laura, (the kids call her by her name) read a story about how Nome, Alaska got its name. The children all speak in quiet voices. One child has brought something to share. He described his item and then asked if anyone had questions. Immediately, Cristian (Max’s best buddy) raised his hand and when called on by the student, he inquired “how much did it cost?” I had to stifle a laugh while his mother turned around and apologized to the mother of the sharer. After the sharing time in half circle, the teacher stands and that is the student’s queue to find a partner in the room and sit down on the floor to solve some math problems and then grade each other’s work. The teacher doesn’t have to tell them what to do because they know their daily routine. There are timers (2 or 3 students with watches) and they calmly give the time according to their watch, when asked.
After this exercise, they are handed their own notebook with their weekly assignment sheet in the front. It is amazing to watch these kids make their way through their assignments – one right after another and then check the boxes to note their progress. I was there a bit less than 2 hours and in the time left after the group setting, Maxwell completed a math board for addition, subtraction, division and multiplication; finished an assignment in adding fractions;
read a story and had me ask the test questions; pulled out a money drawer and counted the money and had me check his answer (there is a hardware cabinet and each drawer has a different amount of money); drew a clock with the hands at 10:45; completed a “tower” worksheet where he had to distinguish the prefix from the root word; and then had permission to work with the bead board that teaches the decimal system. After each assignment was completed, he would fill in the box and have me initial his page. The one and only time he interacted with the teacher was to ask permission to work with the beads
On the drive home, I marveled at this concept of teaching. 2nd graders and 3rd graders are in the same class with different assignments, The idea is that the older kids can offer assistance to the youngers. While this class time was going on, kids were allowed to move about the room quietly and to even strike up conversations with each other. Not once did I hear a loud voice or a teacher reprimand.
And I wonder how more kids would have done in school without the chaos and rigidity. A calm and quiet environment giving the 8 and 9 year olds the decisions of which assignment to complete first and allowing them to move about to deter all the fidgeting that I remember in school – what a nurturing setting to make your way through a day at school.
Color me impressed.