- The following first appeared in The Floyd Press on November 26, 2014
Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experience in the environment. – Maria Montessori
Every Wednesday, elementary students at the Rising Sun Community School (RSCS) prepare a hot lunch and eat together. Like a scene from a Thanksgiving feast, tables are lined-up family style. Place settings are set with care by the children and the seasonal menu is primarily locally grown.
“It’s great, especially because I helped make it,” said eight year old Ruby Dowd about Wednesday’s lunch of quiche and salad. She spoke about whisking farm-fresh eggs and adding vegetables – chard, kale and garden onions – to the mixture.
Eight year old Unika Stallings explained how she helped make salad with vegetables picked from the school garden, while another student offered guidance to a four-year old that was reluctant to try quiche. “Just take three bites,” she suggested.
At a recent open house, Susan Saunders, a certified Montessori Primary teacher and the school’s founder, explained why Montessori classrooms include a wide range and mix of ages. The Primary classroom serves children from 2 1/2 to 6, while Elementary students are 6 to 12. Older children help younger children with work that they have already mastered. The younger ones absorb learning simply by being near the older children, Saunders said.
Saunders showed open house visitors the math and language curriculum areas in one of the Primary classrooms, saying, “Math is as simple as numeration, all the way up to operations and decimal placement and place value.” As for language skills, she pointed to materials and areas designed for self-directed work, saying, “We believe children write to read by putting their own words into sounds first. We also teach cursive.”
“We have a huge focus on cultural studies, not only physical geography but our place as citizens of the universe,” Saunders continued while pulling out a collection of map puzzles along a wall decorated with flags from all over the world. “We also have a
strong focus on conflict resolution and peace studies. It happens at this age. When they have trouble, there are always tools for them to use and a quiet spot for them to go to.”
“This is the world of the three year old,” Primary classroom assistant Stacy Dowd said, as she showed off shelves of enticing Montessori materials for sorting, pouring and washing. She explained the Montessori focus on practical life skills, activities like mom and dad do at home that develop a young child’s fine motor skills, concentration, sense of order, task completion and self-esteem.
“It’s a prepared environment. Everything is set up from left to right to train the eye to read,” said Dowd, demonstrating how a child might balance and carry a tray of materials to the table. Practical life skills might include napkin folding or using dressing frames to master buttoning. Watering plants and polishing is a “big lesson,” Dowd said. At the snack corner, children match serving size count to a prompt card and wash their own dish after eating. Putting materials back in their place is part of the Montessori curriculum, and courtesy lessons are modeled by teachers.
In one of the two Elementary classrooms, teacher Alison Dragoui showed visitors her student’s curriculum areas. The language study area includes grammar boxes, word study and handwriting materials, dictionaries and poetry. “The majority of our language work is incorporated into the curriculum of biology, cultural studies and science. We do a lot of report writing,” she said.
Dragoui, who is soon to complete her Montessori Elementary teacher certification, showed a 3D topical map of Central America that her students made with clay, sand and watercolors as part of their culture and geography studies. “Everyday we do memorization of math. There are math operations and big math work for students that are ready.” A second elementary classroom serves as space for self-directed science work. Art, movement and peace areas are always open.
At one of the school’s several peace areas during the open house, 3 year-old primary student Nora Howell was engrossed in a sand tray Zen garden. Her mother, Jessi Howell, said she recently enrolled Nora’s 5 year-old brother, who likes science and math, saying, “I feel like it will be a concrete foundation for his future.” Programs at the school are designed to fit each family’s needs, schedules and budgets, Saunders said.
Before hot lunch on Wednesday, children worked individually or in small groups. They transitioned from activity to activity with ease on their own or under the guidance of teachers. Some were absorbed in work that they did on floor rugs, others showed their work to their teachers. Toddlers are also part of the school community and are integrated into the primary classroom for part of the day. There was group time, lesson time, free choice and outdoor play.
Located in a large farmhouse on Bethlehem Church Road, the school uses a holistic approach to education, as outlined by its founder Maria Montessori. “We care about the whole child and the family as an extension,” Saunders said. She referred to school parents as a “committed group” and spoke about how much fun it’s been to watch a grassroots effort grow from eight students in 2012 to as many as 30 today. “We want to serve the community. We want to teach children to be good citizens of the world,” she said.
Note and Update: For more information on RSCS call 745-2229 or visit the school’s website at risingsunfloyd.com. Watch a video of RSCS storytime HERE. Search “rising sun community school” on youtube.com for a video clip of group time at RSCS. The school will be moving to their new location at the JacksonvilleCenter for the Arts in January.