Red Cottage Montessori provides tools so children can set own academic paceThere are no rows of desks. The walls are not covered with dry erase boards, and students aren’t assigned textbooks.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
There are no rows of desks. The walls are not covered with dry erase boards, and students aren’t assigned textbooks.
For anyone who attended traditional preschool or elementary school, walking into Red Cottage Montessori might seem strange. But even so, there is no shortage of learning happening in the single-room school.
“The main idea of the whole room is that children learn reading, writing and math just like they learn to walk and talk,” teacher Kai Coyle said.
That means that each of Red Cottage’s 15 students works independently and at his or her own pace. They also direct their own learning, meaning students decide what they want to work on each day, and how long they want to spend learning a skill or project.
“It’s very much a free choice, but it’s a choice within limits,” said Coyle, a licensed elementary school teacher and who trained with the Association Montessori Internationale.
Maria Montessori, the founder of this educational method, established that the children’s house or classroom has four different sections designed to teach distinct skills: practical life skills, sensorial skills (shapes, color and sound), math skills and language skills. The learning tools in each area are simple and made out of natural materials.
“We try to stay away from plastic,” Coyle said.
Children learn counting, addition and math using rods, wooden blocks and beads. They learn letters, writing and spelling with sandpaper letters, wood-cut letters and cardboard letter tiles.
But before the students can use any of the materials, they must be shown how to use them properly by Coyle or assistant Midge Bolt, something they do only when Coyle feels students are ready to move on.
“When I see (a student) is ready for something new, I show them what to do next,” Coyle said.
And while students may work independently, Coyle is able to follow their progress closely and knows what each student has mastered and what they need to work on.
“I can tell you exactly what letters and sounds they know,” Coyle said.
She also knows when it’s time to guide students in a new direction. “We also talk a lot about ‘Is this challenging you or giving your brain a break?’” she said.
Coyle said the idea is not to limit students with things like grade levels, but to push them. That means that Coyle’s 3-, 4-, 5- and 6-year-old students are learning things like long division and sentence structure, things not usually addressed until students are in grade school.
“The idea is that all of this can be achieved,” Coyle said. “That we really should not put limits on what children should learn.”
That also means students shouldn’t be held back by skills they haven’t mastered yet. For example, 3- and 4-year-olds don’t have the motor skills to hold a pencil. But in the Montessori classroom, they’re able to write out their ideas using letter tiles. They also don’t need to worry about correct spelling or punctuation; that will come later, Coyle said.
“It’s getting the idea down,” Coyle said. “If they took the time to spell correctly, they’d lose the thought.”
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Coyle had four extended-day students in the classroom. Lily McCargar was learning to identify isosceles, scalene and equiangular triangles. Hannah Tomanek-Titus was counting into the thousands using blocks and beads. Dylan Overman spelled out words using letter tiles, and Kingsley Alsop was writing about how caves are formed.
“Montessori believed we should hold students to very, very high standards,” Coyle said.
Still, because students are never pressured or compared to their peers, Coyle said Montessori techniques makes children into lifelong learners.
“The work at their own pace (in a) peaceful, supportive, calm environment,” she said. “Montessori children love to learn.”