Carolina Parent and Montessori Children’s House of Durham Facebook Chat

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On May 15, 2014, Carolina Parent hosted a live Facebook chat with the Montessori Children’s House of Durham. For those who missed this event, here’s a transcript of the conversation!

Carolina Parent Magazine: Welcome to the Carolina Parent and Montessori Children’s House of Durham LIVE Facebook chat! Today we’ll be talking with Happy Sayre-McCord, Head of School, along with Lyn Dickinson, Office Manager and current MCHD Mom, about the Montessori mission. Welcome, Happy and Lyn! Onto the first question: What is a Montessori education and how does it work?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: Good morning! We are so glad to be here. That’s a great question to start with. Montessori education was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, and is founded on the idea that a child’s developing neurology makes him or her eager to learn, and driven to master skills through practice and integration. Equally essential to cognitive development, Montessori values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, and emotional. It has been proven to be a successful model in diverse settings and cultures across the US and around the world for over a century.

Brenda Larson: I have a question for Lyn Dickinson, as a Montessori parent … did your children begin with Montessori or did you move them from traditional school? What prompted your choice? What results have you seen in your children?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: Brenda, thanks for your question. As a parent, Montessori was new to me. I was a teacher in public school and had my infant daughter in a local daycare setting. My husband, a Montessori grad himself, suggested we consider this option. After the first observation of a Montessori classroom, I was hooked. My daughter is now almost 6 and has been at MCHD since she was 3, and her social and academic development has been amazing. Her teachers have helped me become a better parent!

988861_267974123382934_6712589774196850062_n.jpgCarolina Parent Magazine: Sara R. from Durham asks: I’ve heard that Montessori schools have interesting tools and objects they use to teach children. What are some of those tools and objects and how does that work?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: There are some materials invented by Maria Montessori herself. Her math materials are gorgeous – the children use them for basic 1-10 counting, all the way up to finding square roots and trinomials. Many things in the classroom, however, are everyday objects, which the children use for fantasy and non-fantasy play. Come and visit a Montessori classroom, and we’ll have fun showing you! Here is a 4 year old using Montessori math materials to explore the squares and cube of 6. (Montessori Children’s House of Durham’s photo at right)

Carolina Parent Magazine: Do your teachers have a specialized degree, other than a degree in Education, to teach the Montessori curriculum?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: When you see a Montessori classroom in action, the hum of activity and orderly cooperation is amazing – even in the Toddlers – and you know that Montessori teachers have excellent classroom management down. We are often asked, “How do they do that?!” They also are trained to support the wide array of learning styles found in any group of children. Montessori teachers are certified in one of the nationally accredited training programs around the country.

Carolina Parent Magazine: Can children start in a traditional educational environment and then transfer into a Montessori program? Is it a difficult transition? What age do you think is best if you’re thinking about making a switch?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: Yes, children can start in a traditional education program and transfer to a Montessori program. It is not a difficult transition, but the younger the transfer occurs, the easier it will be.

Carolina Parent Magazine: A Carolina Parent twitter follower asked: There are a LOT of Montessori schools in the Triangle. How do you even begin to sort them out and then pick one? What should a parent look for?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: Any time you find a good teacher, you’ve found a good classroom. Make sure the Teacher has her Montessori certification from a qualified training program, and interned under an experienced teacher. Above all, observe in the classrooms. See if the children work independently, resolve conflicts independently, and care for themselves independently (according to their age). How much are the adults doing for the child, or how much are they teaching the child to do for themselves? How much respect is there shown between adults and children, between children, and between adults? There are other questions you can ask, such as: how much of their annual budget goes directly to the classroom? Find out what the school’s long-range plan is. What is the rate of turnover among the Assistant teachers? Do the teachers have to supervise lunch, or is there a lunch support staff so teachers can collaborate, plan, and refresh every day?

Carolina Parent Magazine: Bill W. from Chapel Hill sent in the question: The Montessori curriculum seems kind of unstructured. Does this benefit a type of student who performs well with structure?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: People often worry about this. There is a great deal of structure in the Montessori classroom that supports each child’s independence. They must follow ground rules at all times of grace, courtesy, care, and respect. The materials keep layering the child’s abilities, through much practice and integration, allowing them to leap from success to success. New work is brought into the classroom every week, and the children are given a lesson in how to use it. The teachers of course are there to remind of rules, to teach in the moment a child needs their support, and to help them see what can be learned next. So yes, since most children perform well with this kind of structure, most children thrive.

Carolina Parent Magazine: Tara L. from Durham asks: What happens when a child graduates from MCHD? What type of schools do your students go after they leave MCHD and how do they perform in a traditional setting?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: MCHD students enter all the kinds of schools available in the Triangle. Parents of our alums tell us that they are well-prepared academically, have learned lots of social leadership skills which ease their entry into a new setting, and that they love to learn and are the kind of student all teachers love to have in their classes.

Carolina Parent Magazine: Roger P. from Raleigh asks: I’m frustrated with the public school system and I’m considering a Montessori education for my child. How do child from traditional schools transition into a Montessori classroom?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: It depends on the age of the child. For younger children, they transition well. Older children (grades 2 and above) can have some catch-up to do in familiarity with our materials, and the work cycle of the classroom. Probably every Montessori school in the area has seen it work well even for older transfer students in individual cases. There are private, public, and charter Montessori schools across the Triangle. We started a regional organization, the Triangle Montessori Schools Association, to help parents find the school that fits their family best.

Carolina Parent Magazine: How do Montessori graduates perform on standardized tests?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: Very well. Test-taking is a skill like any other, and at MCHD we teach this skill at the appropriate ages, so that they are prepared for middle and high school.

Carolina Parent Magazine: What do Montessori school students learn that students in public or private schools don’t?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: Montessori students learn to question without being disrespectful. They learn that collaboration leads to better results for everyone. They learn that they are responsible for themselves, for each other, and for the world they are inheriting.

Carolina Parent Magazine: Abigail F. from Cary would like to know: Does graduating from a Montessori School give a student an advantage when applying for college? Why?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: Yes. We have yet to meet a Montessori student who wasn’t engaged, articulate in their enthusiasm, and sure they were going to make something of the world. They believe in themselves, because they have been demonstrating for their entire childhood that they can, they do, they care, and they matter. Who wouldn’t want that student as part of their freshman class?

Carolina Parent Magazine: A reader from North Raleigh asks, “How is creativity encouraged?”
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: By letting children explore, experiment, and integrate. Most Montessori materials are multi-dimensional, and can be used in a variety of ways, and many patterns are embedded, waiting to be discovered. Our children regularly surprise us with the new ways they see things and use them – even though some Montessori materials were invented over 100 years ago! Looking at old things in a new way is the foundation of creativity, whether it be in the arts or science.

Lauren Isaacs: I’ve read that Montessori education is based on the philosophy of “follow the child” and the teachers kind of follow the child’s lead in terms of learning speed and interests. How can you do that in a classroom of 20 kids?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: Montessori teachers are trained in child development, so they can easily see, “what does this child need next?”, and in a wide array of ways to support the diversity of learning styles that is every classroom. Because Montessori students can work independently much of the time, the teacher is available to help those who need her or his help.
Lauren Isaacs: Interesting, thank you!

Darrell Goins: Do Montessori schools have a religious affiliation?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: Darrell, that’s a great question — sorry we missed it earlier! No, most Montessori schools do not have a religious affiliation. Some church-affiliated schools can have a Montessori program.

Myra Wright: What is the Montessori philosophy on discipline in the classroom?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: Myra, that’s an important question. Our approach is twofold. First, we teach children skills appropriate to their age for resolving conflicts every day. The core is the “stop rules”. If I say stop, you have to stop, even if you were having fun. Teachers help the children speak for themselves, listen to each other, and respond appropriately. Next, when a child is throwing sand in the sandbox, for example, the teacher will say, “I see you are not able to be appropriate in the sandbox. Go and play on another part of the playground. When you are ready to be appropriate, you can try again.” We want to keep everyone safe and to express our faith that a child can and will make an appropriate choice in the future.

Beth Poland Shugg: Can you explain how children are grouped together in a Montessori class? I’ve heard it’s not necessarily by age.
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: Children are in classes according to developmental similarities. These are in 3-year groupings: ages 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and so on. We have mixed-age classrooms because each child is unique – not all 3-year-olds, or 7-year-olds, will learn things at the same time or at the same pace. The model is different than what is traditional – the whole group is not doing the same things at the same time, so the older ones are doing more advanced work according to their individual skill level. Younger children see the attractiveness of what lies ahead – “I want to be able to do the multiplication work!” Having the array of curriculum out for all the ages means that each child will do the work he or she is ready for right now, no matter their age. When a child is ready to read, she’ll start reading.

Carolina Parent Magazine: I think that just about wraps up our chat! Thank you Happy and Lyn of Montessori Children’s House of Durham for sharing their time with us to answer reader questions (and ours too)! Lots of great information to digest. Thank you!
Montessori Children’s House of Durham: That was a lot of fun! Thanks to Carolina Parent for providing the opportunity to chat. -Happy and Lyn

And here are some questions that we didn’t get to in the chat, but that Happy was able to provide an answer for:

How do the children get lessons? 
In several ways. Most Montessori classrooms present at least one lesson each day to the entire class. Other lessons are presented to smaller groups, according to their skill level (making plurals out of words that end in ‘–y’, for instance). Individual children come and ask for a lesson throughout the day. Most importantly, the teachers are constantly circulating through the room, and helping students with the next step, or re-presenting a lesson that needs reinforcing, or inviting a child to an area of the classroom they haven’t spent much time in lately.

How far up (in grades) do you go? 
At MCHD, we start with our terrific Toddlers (18 months and up), and go through the 6th grade.

Who qualifies to be accepted as a Montessori student?
Any child does! There are programs for infants up to high school in the Triangle. 

Are all Montessori Schools 100% private pay? 
No. There are private, public, and charter Montessori schools across the Triangle. We started a regional organization, the Triangle Montessori Schools Association, to help parents find the school that fits their family best. Many private schools offer some kind of tuition aid.

What makes Montessori a better education choice for my child than traditional private or pubic schools?  
Montessori children learn, and act as responsible citizens, because they want to, not because of external rewards or motivators. Because they experience, from very young ages, the pleasure of learning for its own sake, they love it, and always seek more. They understand that as a classroom, they can accomplish more by working together rather than competing with each other. These are skills that make every person successful throughout life. Look at what employers are seeking in prospective employees, and you will see the characteristics that Montessori schools develop.

What’s the reason you have most often heard from parents about why they’re choosing a Montessori education?
Because they want the individualized education.  If their child is a fast learner, or needs time to ‘figure it out for themself,’ or just has to include an element of art in every assignment, their teacher will adapt her lessons to this unique, individual learner. Their child will progress through the curriculum at exactly the right pace for him or her, every week and every year.

What role is there for the arts in a typical Montessori program? 
A central role! Art and music is a choice every day in every classroom at our school. Children are joyous, creative, expressive people! From grades Kindergarten through Sixth at MCHD, students also work with our Art teacher to learn technique, art history, and that they are, every one, an artist. Our After School offerings include drama, music of various kinds, movement, philosophy, and more art. 

Is it difficult to switch from an elementary and middle Montessori program into a mainstream high school program? How do teenagers fare with that?
Montessori students are able to take charge of their learning (“could you offer a course in Russian history? I’m interested in that”), have great executive function skills, and they know a LOT! (any child older than 4 can tell you what an isthmus is) They also have learned as much about how to resolve conflicts, speak up for themselves, and care for others. We hear that they typically take on leadership roles in their new school. 

Categories: Early Education, Health and Development, Preschool Development, Preschool Early Learning