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23 Jun, 2015

Live, learn, love (Welcoming a new patron: OMS Montessori!)

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Fishbowl patrons

At what age should a child be taught how to slice a banana? It’s something I found myself thinking about as I was chatting with Pat Gere, the director at OMS Montessori. Studies show that kids crave and thrive when given age-appropriate responsibilities, yet we find ourselves in a society that is becoming increasingly fearful of kids walking to school alone, playing at the park unsupervised, or even helping in the kitchen. (More about banana slicing in a moment.)

A peek inside OMS Montessori

A peek inside OMS Montessori

Sometimes I think that if I wasn’t a writer I’d be a teacher. I believe that education is the foundation of everything and teachers have an incredibly important vocation. What can be more important than inspiring a generation of creative, independent, curious citizens of the world? This is why I’m very happy to let you know that OMS Montessori has joined the Fishbowl family as a patron.

I had a chance to visit OMS, meet some of the staff, and see what the Montessori program is all about. Confession: I had no clear idea and had a lot to learn. Although the term Montessori is used by many caregivers and preschools to describe their programs, OMS is only one of three accredited Montessori schools AND they were the first to be established in Ottawa. In fact, next year is their 50th anniversary.

A Montessori education is based on the philosophies of Dr. Maria Montessori. You can read more about her on the OMS website. It’s fascinating stuff.

OMS students range in age from 18 months to 18 years. Yes, 18! Ottawa’s first high school based on the Montessori pedagogy is called The Element and it will be moving to Lansdowne in September. (I’ll be writing more about that later!)

OMS is dedicated to creating focused engagement for students of all ages. Classrooms are communities, a place where it’s normal to ask for help and to offer help, and they contain multi-age groups: 3-6 year olds, 6-9 year olds, 9-12 year olds, etc. Montessori recognizes that children are social creatures who have a lot to learn from one another, no matter the age.

One look into the classroom and it is obvious that students are engaged in joyful learning. The Montessori approach offers an individualized, hands on learning experience in which students are free to explore topics and subjects that interest them, while meeting – if not exceeding – the curriculum at the same time.

A peek inside OMS Montessori

These are kids who start learning the fundamentals of math when they’re three, and learn cursive before print, for example:

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A peek inside OMS Montessori

Montessori children will write before they read. (!) I still have to wrap my head around this.

The Montessori method taps into a child’s natural curiosity and abilities to cultivate a love of learning. It’s child-directed learning with adult support and guidance. Pat told me the true test of a Montessori class is that if the teacher leaves the class, nothing changes. The kids just go on working because they’re so absorbed in what they’re doing. I thought about my own school experience, in which we sat in rows and some teachers ruled by fear and punishment. Shouldn’t learning be joyful? Isn’t learning what life is all about? What happens when kids are fuelled by their own natural curiosity and able to stretch out and get comfortable? Well, this is what happens:

A peek inside OMS Montessori

A peek inside OMS Montessori

Which brings me to the banana slicing. It’s natural that as parents we want to protect our children. We’re afraid they’ll hurt themselves, or make a mess, but the truth is that we all need to challenge ourselves in order to grow, and this appears to be a fundamental truth in a school environment that encourages learning through activity. Children learn through what they do, and adults do too.

The youngest OMS students (18 months to 3 years) explore their senses and learn life skills along with their colours and numbers. Slicing bananas/apples/eggs, and squeezing oranges for fresh juice are the norm here (not to mention the washing up afterwards):

A peek inside OMS Montessori

The curriculum is set up to meet the natural tendencies and characteristics that children have at a particular age, and OMS helps children be focused and engaged learners in whatever they do. And it’s amazing to see it in action.

Curious? OMS invites prospective parents, friends, neighbours or anyone interested in knowing more about Montessori education to contact the school. The OMS office is open all summer. It’s a great time to explore your options and consider the possibilities! For more information, check out the OMS website or following  them on Facebook and Twitter.


5 Responses to "Live, learn, love (Welcoming a new patron: OMS Montessori!)"

1 | Carla

June 23rd, 2015 at 1:24 pm

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I wish the Montessori method was integrated within public schools! Some alternative schools go a long way towards doing more to make school child-paced and centred, but it is not quite there.
Speaking of banana slicing, I’m a big believer that children will rise up to responsibility when they are interested in the result and when it involves their independence. At ours, kids were taught how to use knives at 2 years old, bananas cut first with butter knives, but sharp knives by 2 and 1/2 years old usually. We supervise and teach proper techniques and assist and yes, they have each cut themselves once, but who doesn’t, and they learn how to respect the knife. They revel in the responsibility of cutting the fruits and vegetables for dinner!

2 | Laurel

June 24th, 2015 at 8:09 am

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My daughter Brynn started at KMS – Kanata Montessori School at age 5 after an very uninspired year in the public system’s JK program. She joined as a senior casa and the plan was 2-3 years. NINE years later she graduated from gr 8 and now attends Blyth Academy in Westboro. I can tell you that she was more autonomous, self reliant, a forward thinker and great manager of time by grade 2. She was more equipped and prepared for high school than my son was for first year university. The idea of not being bossed around and the teacher being a facilitator allows children to naturally want to learn and dig deeper because it comes from them and not because someone is dictating or telling them what to do and when. Quite simply, it’s magic and the way education should be:)

3 | Claudette

June 25th, 2015 at 9:36 am

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How I wish we could have afforded Montessori all through the early grades! My kids did a half day toddler and preschool (Casa) program until they started JK and loved it, and found it somewhat challenging to switch to the traditional methods at their public school (but love it now) but in my heart, Montessori is the way to go. I educated myself about their methods before sending the kids and never looked back.

And your pictures….oh. Brings tears to my eyes! Our classrooms looked like that too. Sigh.

Having said that, I think the public education system has come a long way. They’re not where I think they should be, but they are improved in terms of some of the things I remember. Both kids are fine in public school, but I am thankful and happy to have had the opportunity to expose them to the Montessori way of education at an early age.

4 | andrea tomkins

June 25th, 2015 at 10:36 am

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Visiting the Ottawa Montessori classroom was a real eye-opener for me. It’s so progressive. And in terms of our children’s early public educations, they were fine, really. And you’re right Claudette, our public system has come a long way. But I can’t deny the appeal of this kind of education. I really feel like THIS is what learning is supposed to look like.

5 | Margaret Whitley

July 2nd, 2015 at 1:00 pm

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As a long time Montessori Educator, student, parent, and supporter, I am pleased to see your profile of OMS. They are a fine example of what Montessori education should look like and like some of the other comments, hopefully the more people that recognize what true Montessori is and its benefits the more likely we will see it pubicly funded someday-like many other places in the world.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark. We have two daughters: Emma (19) and Sarah (17). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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