As the school day begins at The Montessori School, Jacob, a preschooler, welcomes a classmate into the building as an older student holds the door for them. After exchanging greetings with the teacher, Jacob and his friend choose lessons from low shelves around the room. As the morning progresses, the students have uninterrupted time to focus on lessons of their choosing, quietly observe classmates as they work and create, or work in small groups as the teacher introduces a lesson or activity. This is a typical Montessori morning!
Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) developed the Montessori method of teaching after observing her students and other children in educational settings. She strongly believed that children have an innate and natural desire to learn and will absorb knowledge from their surroundings, if supported. Dr. Montessori developed learning materials and classroom environments that encourage curiosity, independence, and hands-on experimentation.
Research has demonstrated that a proper Montessori education provides students a significant edge in the following areas:
- Intellectually, through enhanced critical and creative thinking
- Emotionally and socially, through an understanding of oneself, one’s talents, and learning style
- Morally, though developing respect for and responsibility towards others and the environment
- Organizationally, though developing effective planning and logistic skills
Dr. Montessori’s methods and philosophy have been available to children in the Chattanooga area since 1973 when Bobbe Spink founded The Montessori School in a house on Signal Mountain.
Now located close to downtown, the school is a non-profit that has grown to include three toddler classes, four preschool classes, a full elementary (grades 1-5), and middle school (grades 6, 7, and 8), with total enrollment of 245. The mission of the school is to educate children in a way that promotes independent learning and emotional growth, and embraces differences using the Montessori approach.
If you visit a classroom at The Montessori School, you will see this mission in action. Teachers closely observe students like Jacob, serving as encouragement and support, but allowing the children to try and fail and try again in order to develop independence, initiative, and persistence. The children move at their own pace and are allowed the space to make decisions once they know the rules and expectations in the classrooms. The environment is very carefully prepared, so that the lessons are accessible. Furnishings are appropriately sized for the grade level and walls and shelves are kept very neat and clean.
The classes at The Montessori School are multi-aged; for example, preschool classrooms include three-, four-, and five-year-olds. As a three-year-old, the students look up to the older children and want to learn from and emulate them. The older children are happy and proud to serve as mentors and helpers. Children of all ages will very eagerly take on responsibilities if they are developmentally appropriate and we see in our students that they feel accomplished and trusted when they are given jobs to do at school.
In addition to learning to take care of themselves and each other, students are taught to care for their environments. They learn how to clean up after themselves, prepare food, take care of plants and pets, and to share responsibility for their classrooms and homes. Even as toddlers, Jacob and his classmates were learning how to put their things away, set their tables for meals, and properly handle the lessons and books in the class. Now in the preschool, Jacob is confident about the important role he plays in his class and at home.
Once the students reach the elementary and middle school classes, they are self-starters who are learning how to manage their time well. They are able, with guidance and support, to choose how to structure their days, allowing time to do lessons, take PE, study art and language, and take care of their classrooms. They are also encouraged to consider their role in the larger community. For example, our Middle School students currently serve as Junior Board members for a local social service non-profit, are developing a business plan for an entrepreneurial start-up, and welcome local leaders into class for Career Fair days.