If you’ve never visited Bluffview Montessori School and you’re just beginning to poke around our website, here are some of the basics about our school and our approach to Montessori education.
Bluffview Montessori School is a public charter school that follows the teaching methods and philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori. As a charter school, we are an independent public school that is governed and operated jointly by licensed teachers, parents and community members.
Children attend classes in mixed age learning environments. First through third grade students learn together in our Lower Elementary (E1) program. Our Upper Elementary (E2) program includes fourth through sixth grade students, and seventh and eighth grade students learn together in our Erdkinder program (junior high).
We also offer a fee-based preschool program known as Children’s House for children ages 33 months through 6 years. Kindergarten children enrolled in the charter school are included in the mixed age Children’s House environment.
Each classroom has a lead teacher and teaching assistant. Within the Montessori environment, teachers present lessons, but most of the student’s education is introduced on an individual level using manipulative Montessori materials. The curriculum is divided into five main areas: language arts, mathematics, geometry, cultural studies (science and history) and geography. These subjects are often integrated with one another. Art, music (instrumental and vocal), and physical education are taught by teachers certified in those specialty areas. Bluffview Montessori School also operates a library and media center, and provides special education and student health services.
The Children’s House preschool program includes practical life activities, sensorial (learning through the senses), language, math, cultural, and social activities. Children’s House students may enroll in a half-day (7:45- 10:45) or full day program (7:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.). In addition, the school contracts with the YMCA to offer an optional After School Program from 2:15 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Whether you stop by for a personal visit or take our Virtual Tour, you’re going to see a few things that you probably won’t see in a more conventional school. Here are just a few.
No desks… but a lot of life
The first thing most people notice about the Montessori learning environment is the lack of desks for individual students. Instead, students have individual cubbies for holding personal papers and supplies, and they do their work in the best spot for the job. Sometimes that will be at a table with a few other students; other times, that will be on a work rug carefully laid out on the floor. Some students might want to curl up in a corner with a book, while others head out into the hallway to create a really big project that requires lots of space. The fact is, once individual desks are out of the room, there is a lot more space for learning.
The second thing most people notice about the Montessori learning environment is that it is full of life. Light streams in from large windows, and numerous plants sit atop shelves throughout the classroom. And those shelves are filled with all sorts of intriguing work materials.
Where are the teachers?
There are times when our teachers speak to all their students at once, such as during class meetings. But that is more the exception than the rule. Most of the time, the children are working independently. Where are the teachers? Probably offering individual or small group instruction (“presentations” or “lessons”), or possibly quietly observing how each student is doing.
Each child receives instruction and guidance based on the teacher’s careful observation of his or her educational needs. This allows Montessori students to always work to their maximum ability; children who need more help get it, while children who are ready to move ahead are free to do so.
How do you keep all those students on task?
Visitors to Montessori schools often wonder, “If the students are allowed to work independently, what keeps them on task?”
When you come to visit (or watch videos from inside the classroom), you’ll notice that, with few exceptions, all of the students are hard at work on some productive task. In fact, some of the students may seem deeply engrossed in what they are doing—in spite of the lack of direct adult supervision.
At least a few factors contribute to this calm (not quiet, but calm!) learning environment. First, Montessori education assumes that children are naturally curious—in general, they want to explore the world around them. Second, Montessori educators focus on providing the students with meaningful opportunities to satisfy their natural desire to learn—and then, they get out of the way, which leads us to a third factor: When children are given a certain amount of freedom to direct their own learning, they tend to engage in their learning more deeply, and for longer periods of time. Finally, this opportunity for self-directed learning gives students the opportunity to develop self-discipline. That’s why Montessori students have been shown to score higher on measures of executive control. You might say that learning to make responsible choices is part of the curriculum.
In addition to these “internal controls,” teachers guide students by providing curriculum topics and helping students maintain daily and weekly work plans. Our curriculum meets all state education requirements. And although tests are not the primary tool for assessing students, teachers do sometimes give tests—not as a means for determining grades, but to help assess each student’s learning needs. We also participate in the standardized tests required by state law (MCA-III).
Visitors often wonder about the reasons for combining multiple grade levels together in one room—what we call mixed-age learning. This approach has several advantages. First, older students are encouraged to help younger students; this gives the younger students extra help, and enables the older students to develop leadership and teaching skills. Second, a mixed-age environment provides greater flexibility for learning. Not all second graders are at the same place in their learning! And third, placing children in the same learning environment for three years gives teachers more time to really get to know students, which leads to better, more consistent teaching (and learning!).