March 15, 2019
What is this Montessori Thing about “Mixed Age” Groups?
Your great, great grandparents will surely remember the old, one-room schoolhouse where grades 1-8 were all together. It was like having 30 brothers and sisters all learning, sharing work and excitement, under one leaky wooden roof.
Sound like chaos? It wasn’t. Not then. Not now.
During MSA’s second year, our primary class of students became well established in its new, single-room pre-school building on Sam McGee Road. Picture forty children, two Montessori teachers, two and a half assistants (one carried her baby papoose-style on her back), a hamster, a bird, a few snakes, and a fish tank - all filling the air with joyful promise in the area now divided into two of our toddler classrooms. MSA's young families didn't want it to end.
And so, in 1975, our "one-room elementary schoolhouse" was established. Built by parents to accommodate their growing primary students, their older siblings, some brave and curious newcomers, and two new teachers who covered all subjects in grades 1-6, our second building filled up with 30 happy souls excited to learn and develop together in a brand new environment. The education and experiences that took place within those four walls (currently Tish McAlister's Primary One classroom) remain truly inspiring!
Today, even though our upper grades grow gradually more distinct in their age groupings in a way that is commensurate with their development and academic demands, MSA still upholds the Montessori model of mixed age groups across the whole campus and age ranges. From primary through lower and upper elementary classrooms, you'll still find three age/grade levels grouped together. In middle school, it's two grade levels together, and in high school - one to two.
What is the underlying principle of this "all-in-one" classroom approach? Spend just one hour inside one yourself - listening and watching these mini-communities in action - and the answer becomes clear as day. Here you'll likely catch a five-year-old tying the shoe of a three year old, or a third grader reading to a group of first graders. In the Middle School you might find the grade levels reviewing Spanish words together, or even a high schooler presenting a special demonstration of the physics of things “floating or sinking” to a group of risers.
As Maria Montessori recognized, understood, and fully appreciated (discussed in the last Montessori Matters) - children don’t come “standardized.” They each have their own time table to unfold. Within MSA's "all-in-one" three year time span and more individualized programs, every child has a much better chance to achieve to his full and natural potential while, simultaneously, his risk of being isolated by feelings of "being left behind" - OR feeling "ahead" - are minimized.
These three-year spans actually make life easier for the trained Montessori teacher as well. While she has two thirds of her students already acclimated to the workings of a vibrant and smoothly-functioning classroom, the youngest in the group can look up to and emulate their "elders" engaged in good behavior and exciting work. The elders, knowing they are leaders, embrace the role in a most caring way. In turn, they can find even their own motivation and satisfaction increased. In that sense, there are approximately 16 other “mini-teachers” available to help or explain or share a discovery.
After just a few cycles of this process, by the time a student reaches Upper Elementary, his awareness of “I can’t do this yet, but I see I'll be able to soon - and then help others learn to do it” has taken root. The "student" learns that becoming the "teacher" is a natural progression of hard work and age. The "teacher" learns that there are responsibilities - and rewards - for this role. The elders in each classroom prove to be gentle giants to the newbies at each level. (Extra bonus: there is a gentleness of spirit that is retained all the way into parenthood for many a Montessori-educated student!)
Sounds like valuable life lessons to me!
Yet even among some of the apparent "blurring" of development through the grade levels, there are also significant and distinct steps. So many rites-of-passage, for example, lay right before the eyes of the 7th grader eagerly anticipating her 8th grade year: taking early high school classes, 8th grade projects, 8th grade retreat, 8th grade speeches, and the Native American naming ceremony at Promotion to name a few.
Through this dynamic process of mixing and matching the ages, there is a deep sense of community for all as illustrated in our flag ceremony every Monday at 12:30. Middle schoolers raise the flags, 4th-6th graders provide a quote for the day, high schoolers lead the ceremony and respond to the quote - and every student greets his teachers with a handshake and mutual word of “blessings.”
All this living and learning together, sometimes for eighteen years, proves quite a joyful and important foundation for the multi-layered worlds of college campuses, corporations, communities, and countries still to come for MSA students.
Montessori School of Anderson is one of only 25 such "complete" Montessori programs in the U.S. (infant - high school programs). And for all of us here - students, parents, teachers - being a part of this community, and this process is a blessing.
We look forward to much more.
Dates to Remember
March 11-21 - MAP testing
March 17 - MSA Open House, 1-4PMMarch 19 - End of Quarter 3
March 22 - Teacher professional development day, no classes -- extended day available
March 25-29 - Spring parent conferences
March 30 - Spring Benefit at 6:30PM at the T. Ed Garrison Event Center
April 11 - Barbecue, Lower Elementary Play
April 15-22 - Spring Break
April 23 - Annual Meeting and Report*
*Note: The Annual Meeting/Report was initially listed on April 11; it will be held on April 23. We apologize for any confusion.
All Programs Closed Friday
Rising Star Tennis Tournament
Learning Backgammon in Games Club
Toddler One Flower Arrangements
Pi Day in Lower Elementary
- Using circles to find the ratio of diameter to circumference, which is 3 times and a "little bit". Students tested many circles, big and small, to find this special relationship that is the origin of pi.
- Children colored "cityscapes", using the decanomial bead bar colors on graph paper in the order of pi.
- Children wrote Pi-Ku's - special versions of the Japanese poem style, where students used the pi sequence to dictate the syllables in each line of their writing.
- Children are stitching bead bars onto a strip of fabric in the pi sequence.
Children came up with ideas of their own as well. Dr. Hill also showed up as guest chef. She worked with children to prepare bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches with hash browns! It was a fun day that Lower Elementary will be celebrating over many more days to come.
Fluor Engineering Challenge
Gummy Bear Catapult
Primary Three Activities
A student is putting letters sounds together to discover the word they make while using a tube to help transfer the sound back to her ear.
This student reads his sight word books to another friend.
Food preparation invites students to take pride in preparing food for not only themselves, but for others as well.