Parents looking for a hands-on, non-traditional approach to education may be interested in exploring schools offering the Montessori approach to instruction. The Montessori method arose from the early 1900’s teaching and philosophy of Italian teacher and physician Maria Montessori.
Dr. Montessori believed that children, especially young children, learn best through interaction with their environment. Montessori schools typically provide enriching, educational activity centers for children to explore. Children usually have the freedom to choose their own learning activities based on their interests, but are guided by a Montessori teacher, often called a directress.
Unlike traditional education with its stress on learning through teacher instruction and written work, the Montessori method stresses learning through independent, hands-on activities. Children are encouraged to physically explore their environment. The basic academic subjects, especially in the early years, are taught through manipulatives. Teaching the “whole child” and learning through the engagement of all of the senses is especially important in the Montessori approach.
Also, unlike traditional classrooms which are separated by age, Montessori classrooms are divided into multi-age groups, usually encompassing several traditional grade levels. A key concept in Montessori is the belief that children learn though interaction and guidance from their older peers in a community-type classroom.
There are several Macon area schools that follow Montessori teachings. Montessori of Macon offers the widest range of age levels and has programs for students up to age 14, or ninth grade.
Montessori of Macon offers a toddler program for age 18 months, two primary levels for children ages three to six, two lower elementary levels for ages six to nine, an upper elementary for ages nine to 12, and a middle school for 12 to 14 year olds.
Started in 1991 by a group of parents who had previously been homeschooling their children, Montessori of Macon is about to celebrate its 20th year in Macon. The school is unique in more than its Montessori approach. It is still operated by a board of elected parents who oversee school operations.
The school’s education director Elizabeth Irwin started out volunteering at the school 18 years ago when her children were enrolled there. She eventually became a teacher and later moved into administration. Three of her own children have graduated from the school.
Ms. Irwin believes that the developmental approach to learning at the school makes a huge difference in the education of their students.
“We’re very different from a traditional school in a lot of ways,” Ms. Irwin explains “I’ve seen this method work for so many children that I’ve become a firm believer in Montessori and the way it instills a love of learning.”
Children at the school learn a lot from each other, Ms. Irwin says. Older children in the grouped classes help the younger children and even teach some lessons. It’s a system, Ms. Irwin says, that benefits all of the age groups.
The classrooms are designed for children to work together in small groups. Without the constant direction of a teacher, Ms. Irwin explains, children help each other, and develop a strong sense of acceptance and community that wouldn’t be possible in a traditional setting.
Montessori education is often very nature-oriented, and Montessori of Macon students are encouraged to work in school gardens. This year, the school moved to a new nine acre campus with two creeks for children to explore. One of the outdoor science activities the children conducted recently was to test water samples from the creeks.
Montessori of Macon currently has an enrollment of 138 and is accredited through the American Montessori Society and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
St. Andrews Montessori School is another Montessori school in Macon that offers classes for ages 18 months through third grade. Although started primarily as a preschool program in 1986, the school has expanded to offer lower elementary classes.
Ms. Mangham has a master’s degree in early childhood education and was a public school teacher for over seven years before becoming a Montessori teacher. She co-founded St. Andrew’s in 1986.
St. Andrew’s has a current enrollment of 62, and is accredited through the Montessori Educational Program International.
Warner Robins Montessori Academy is also a nearby school offering Montessori education. The school has both a toddler and primary program, serving children from 18 months to six years old.
Affiliated with the American Montessori Society, the school curriculum follows classic Montessori teachings. The current enrollment at the school is 50.
– By Julie Washburn Souza
Montessori of Macon
855 Tolliver Place, Macon, GA 31210
St. Andrew’s Montessori School
501 Bass Road, Macon, GA 31210
Warner Robins Montessori Academy
221 Everette Square, Warner Robins, GA 31088