Eat the CAKE! The Importance of the Montessori Kindergarten Experience.

So you made the hard decision: you found a Montessori program that you love! You’re happy, your child is happy, everyone can settle down and enjoy the ride, right? Not so fast! There’s a big decision coming up. It seems far away at first, because — c’mon — one milestone at a time, please! But, sooner than you’d like to face it, it will be here: it’s time to think about kindergarten. The Montessori kindergarten experience is unique and, before you dismiss it (because, public school is FREE!) take the time to understand what is actually happening during this final year in an authentic Montessori program.

The Montessori kindergarten year, is a big one. If we think of preschool as the gathering of ingredients, and pre-k as the mixing of ingredients, then we can liken kindergarten to putting the pan into the oven and pulling out a CAKE! 

The Three-Year Cycle

Dr. Montessori identified four distinct periods of growth, called the Planes of Development. They are approximately 0-6 years, 6-12 years, 12-18 years, and 18-24 years. Within each six year period, there are two, three-year cycles and they can be roughly summed up with the familiar concept of “beginner, intermediate, and advanced.”

The basic concept is that we move through cycles of development, building upon, and perfecting, that which came before. And every few years, we start out again as a beginner in a new phase of development. We do that over and over again until our adult brains are fully developed. And even then, if we’re doing it right, we keep learning, growing, as we age.

In a Montessori preschool program, the 3 to 6 age range is evident in our mixed-age classrooms. Those children are experiencing their three-year cycle together in the following ways:

  • Beginner 
    • The preschool year, from age 3 to 4. 
    • Lots of new information, lots of new experiences, lots to see and do.
    • Attention is largely inward; self-focused
    • Looks up to older peers, as one would an older sibling
    • Learns through hands-on experience and observation
  • Intermediate
    • The pre-kindergarten year, from age 4 to 5. 
    • Taking that foundation of information and making sense of it. 
    • Learning to organize and create order 
    • Strengthening bonds with peers, finding their “place” in the classroom environment
    • Learns through experimentation and observation
  • Advanced
    • The kindergarten year, from age 5 to 6. 
    • Emphasis on practice, refinement, and mastery
    • Adopts the role of Leader in the classroom and among peers
    • Builds confidence
    • Develops strong peer bonds, relates comfortably to teachers and adults
    • Attention turns outwards 
    • Develops interest in and begins to understand more larger matters relating to our world
    • Learns through teaching, experiencing, reflecting, and talking — lots and lots of talking!

It All Comes Together

Montessori is a sequential program that moves from concrete to abstract; from simple to complex. This can most easily be seen in the math and language materials, where a foundation is first laid and then built upon, but it exists throughout the classroom.  Children spend two years experimenting and discovering. Kindergarten is where they master what they have only just begun to learn. 

By the end of the Montessori kindergarten year it is not uncommon for children to be reading and doing complex math operations. They might be bringing home creative writing stories or booklets filled with math facts. This doesn’t just happen simply because they are in kindergarten. It happens because two years of work has come before it. 

Two years of counting, sorting, and hands-on experience with math: numerals, quantities, thousands, hundreds, tens, units, and more! Not to mention two years of sounds, letters, tracking from left to right (the entire classroom and all lessons are organized this way), and a language-rich environment. Montessori kindergarteners are writers and readers and math lovers!

There are the Practical Life activities (scrubbing, polishing, pouring, sewing) that have instilled the importance of organization, completing multi-step activities, and attention to detail. And the Sensorial materials that have trained their eyes to discern slight variances in shape, color, size, texture, and even smell and sound.

Let’s not forget the Science and Geography lessons and materials that provided a foundational understanding of our Earth and our natural world. Kindergarteners are enthusiastic animal lovers, passionate recyclers, and budding scientists.

And the Art? Two years of creative art opportunities are just the tip of the iceberg. They’ve learned the basics of color, shape, and technique. Now Kindergarten Art is coming and it’s the highlight of their third year.

The Importance of Closure

Have you ever had an experience cut short on you? Maybe you were working on a project and your boss came up and said the project had been scrapped due to lack of funding. Or you played sports in high school and had to sit out the last half of your senior year, due to an injury. 

Closure is so important for us, as human beings. We like things wrapped up. It makes sense to us. We plan for it and seek it out and your child is no different.

The kindergarten year provides closure for both the child and their family. It’s the tying up of the bows and the crossing of “t”s and dotting of “i”s. It’s a logical end to a natural cycle. We close out the year sad to say goodbye, but satisfied at a job well-done. It’s time to move on.

The ingredients have been gathered and the batter has been mixed. When children are allowed the opportunity to complete their third year, they get to eat the CAKE!

When You’re On the Fence

For many families the question of whether or not to send their child to a Montessori kindergarten program boils down to a couple of basic (and important) details: time and money. Maybe you have older children already in elementary school and it would be easier to put them all on the bus in the morning. Or perhaps you have a younger child who’s ready for preschool, but the cost of multiple children in the program is prohibitive.

If you’re on the fence about whether or not to enroll your child for their Montessori kindergarten year, talk to their teacher. Get an understanding of where your child is within the three-year cycle. What are they working on and what is coming next? 

After two years in the classroom, your child’s teacher knows them really well! They can tell you what to expect for the remainder of the current school year and what their kindergarten year might entail. While we don’t have a magic crystal ball to predict the future, years of training and experience come in handy when it comes to anticipating how a child will fare during their kindergarten year. We know their likes and dislikes and can tell you what aspects of the Montessori kindergarten program will be both challenging and delightful for your child.

If finances are a concern, speak with the school’s director. Chances are they’ve had many families in a similar situation, and they might be able to offer financial assistance in the form of a modified tuition payment plan, reduced tuition in exchange for professional services, or a multi-student discount. The success of a school’s Montessori program depends on a thriving, three-year cycle. We want your child to stay for kindergarten just as much as you do!

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