By Savka Wisecup
Why is the joy of learning the corner stone of the Montessori curriculum? How do students at Glebe Montessori School (GMS) experience the joy of learning?
This quote from Dr. Maria Montessori reflects GMS’s mission: “Joy, feeling one’s own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul.”
Key Montessori guidelines for teaching and learning are in place to help our students experience the joy of learning. These guidelines include smaller classes with a higher teacher to student ratio, trained Montessori teachers who serve as guides to support the unique development of each student and an enriched educational environment with a highly integrated curriculum to encourage hands-on learning. Each level from pre-school to senior elementary (Grades 4-6) is a three-year program, where mixed age groups learn from and interact with one another.
“There is a great sense of community within the Montessori classroom, where children of differing ages work together in an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competitiveness,” said Dr. Montesorri. “There is respect for the environment and for the individuals within it, which comes through experience of freedom within the community.”
The teacher connects with the “whole” child, tailoring the curriculum to support the development and growth of each student, physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually. When students’ individual needs are met, they become motivated from within, pursuing work independently, inspired by personal joy and an eagerness to learn. Dr. Montessori said “an interesting piece of work, chosen freely by a child, has the virtue of inducing concentration rather than fatigue, adding to the child’s energies and mental capacities, and leading him/her to self-mastery.”
Here’s an example of how this process works. The Montessori teacher gathers a few three-year-old students for a group lesson to introduce the continent puzzle map. The students learn the names of the continents, handle the puzzle pieces and have a short discussion about continents. When a student wants to know more, she or he independently selects an envelope with animal pictures of a continent for further discovery. When the lesson is presented to a group of four-year-old students, more details are presented. For those who want to continue, activities such as creating a continent booklet are made available. Each continent puzzle piece is traced, coloured and labelled to complete the booklet. For five-year-olds, there are more advanced activities. Children can engage in interactive materials to explore the names of countries on a specific continent, flag identification and cultural topics such as traditional foods, languages spoken and local customs. Children are invited to embark on personal journeys of self-discovery and learning to further awaken their imagination and curiosity. This is the true joy of learning!
For our elementary students, Dr. Montessori introduced The Great Lessons to spur their imagination and encourage follow-up research and exploration. These lessons are described on montessoriforeveryone.com: “Clearly, these five stories encompass an enormous amount of information about the origins of the world around us. When each story is shared, it should never be left alone – there should always be further study open to the children so that the story becomes the springboard, not the focus. The stories can be referred to throughout the year when new topics are introduced, as a way of providing unity and cohesion to such a wide variety of studies.”
The First Great Lesson, the Coming of the Universe and the Earth, is introduced on the first day of school with an exciting presentation demonstrating how the universe was created with the Big Bang. The Second Great Lesson is the Coming of Life, which illustrates how microorganisms, plants and animals started to inhabit the earth. The Third Great Lesson introduces the Coming of Human Beings, followed by the Fourth Great Lesson, The Story of Communication. The Fifth Great Lesson tells The Story of Numbers. In addition to the comprehensive, integrated elementary curriculum, these Montessori Great Lessons hold enormous possibilities for our elementary students to further research, explore, discover and expand their knowledge of our world and their imagination.
Dr. Montessori believed that learning should be a natural and joyful experience and that it is our responsibility, as educators, to provide an educational framework that facilitates the love of learning. “The child who has felt a strong love for his or her surroundings,” she said, “and for all living creatures, who has discovered joy and enthusiasm in work, gives us reason to hope that humanity can develop in a new direction.”
Savka Wisecup is a Montessori educational consultant.