23 Jun, 2015
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.)
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.
These are kids who start learning the fundamentals of math when they’re three, and learn cursive before print, for example:
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:
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):
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.