This week, we’d like to tell everyone about Malta Montessori. Although not in Saratoga Springs proper, it is the closest Montessori school around, and with a reputation that precedes them, we wanted all of our readers to know about it. Malta Montessori is located on 100 Saratoga Village Boulevard in Malta, right off Exit 12. It is nestled in the Suites of Malta Commons, and the classroom is warm and inviting, filled with many materials to keep children interested from the moment they enter the building. There is also a wonderful outdoor area, with plenty of room to run and play, as well as large slide and climbing apparatus.
Montessori is an approach to education with the fundamental belief that a child learns best within a social environment which supports and respects each individual’s unique development. Dr. Maria Montessori, the creator of what is called “The Montessori Method of Education,” based this approach on her scientific observations of young children’s behavior and realized that young children learn best in a homelike setting, filled with developmentally appropriate materials that provide experiences contributing to the growth of self-motivated, independent learners. Montessori’s dynamic theories included such innovative premises as, children are to be respected as different from adults, children are able to learn from their environment, including people and materials, the most important years of learning take place between birth to age 6 and that children create through purposeful activity.
Montessori looks at educating the whole child; social skill development, emotional growth, physical coordination and cognitive preparation. The teacher is viewed as the designer of the environment as well as role model, demonstrator, moderator and observer of activities. Obviously, the environment plays a huge role within the school and much emphasis is placed on creating a safe and positive climate. Since Montessori believed that creativity flourished in an atmosphere of acceptance and trust everything in the room, including the room itself, materials and social interactions must all be supportive of the learner and allow the child to experience the joy of learning, time to enjoy the process and ensure the development of self-esteem.
I had the chance to sit and meet with Kerry Brader, the owner and primary teacher of Malta Montessori. She has so much passion for what she does and you can’t help but feel excited as she is showing you everything around the classroom. As I said before, the materials used in this school are specifically designed with Montessori education in mind, either by Maria Montessori herself, or other Montessorians. The room is divided into four major parts. The first area is Practical Life, where children learn scooping, spooning and pouring with glass and ceramic dishes and utensils. The purpose of this area is to develop fine motor skills in preparation for holding a pen/pencil, concentration, caring for the environment and cleaning up after themselves. I need one of these areas in my own home. It is amazing to see how the children process and learn these skills when given the opportunity. The second area is the Sensorial Area which focuses on heightening sensory awareness in order to become better observers and in turn, better learners. The third area was the Language Area which involves all types of letters and words in preparation for reading. One of the most interesting activities I found were the sandpaper letters and the learning experiences that go along with these. Kerry says everything here is multi-sensory. The sandpaper letters are made as such so the children can “feel” the letter, then they “hear” the sound, they “see” the letter and perform a movement while making the sound, in order to form muscle memory associated with the letter. The children then have a moveable alphabet which they use to sound out words with the sounds they have already learned. I was amazed to see a five year old sitting in the corner, reading a book with sentences. He then followed us to the fourth and last area, the Math Area where he began playing with the multiplication bead board – I kid you not! This area is absolutely extraordinary and you really have to see it to believe it! Kerry took me through all of the learning devices and I thought if every child learned math this way, everyone would love it. Kerry explained how with every area, but especially math, learning starts with the concrete and then moves to the abstract. Children learn the numbers by seeing what that number means. For example, “this is the number 1 and here is one stick, this is the number 2 and here are two sticks,” and so on. They have materials so children can “see” numbers into the thousands. They can then move onto addition, subtraction, multiplication and division with four digit numbers.
A typical day at Montessori starts with children being dropped off outside by their parents. The purpose for this is to ease separation – the child is leaving his/her parent, they are not being left. They are responsible to go inside and take off their outdoor clothes and put on their indoor shoes. They are then encouraged to engage with any of the items they find interesting that day. Children are allowed to play with anything they want for as long as they want. Montessori believes that children learn at their own pace and it is important to allow them to find what interests them. After personal play, the class meets for circle time, which involves going over the calendar, weather and other important items of the day. I loved the way they practice their calendar. Each day is written on part of a long roll of paper. They put the season, temperature and other necessities for the day, and at the end of the year, they roll out the entire time-line so children can be aware of the concept of a year. There are so many examples of this type of learning going on at this school, I don’t have the room to list them all! After circle time, the children return to the activities of the four areas and pick what is best for them. The teachers are fully aware of each child’s level and developmental rate within each of the areas. They help guide them through new learning experience when the children are ready and show an interest to move forward. For Kindergarteners, their daily plan is loosely defined with three or four projects to be completed that day. The children can choose which to do first, how long to spend on it and decide when to move on to the next. If they complete all of their activities for the week, they get to enjoy “Free Friday” filled with their choice of activities and the chance to visit the Lower School (grades 1st through 3rd). This gives them incentive and motivation, and also teaches them the importance of time management.
Malta Montessori was established in 2006 and is currently enrolling children from preschool to Grade 6. The preschool is made up of 3-6 year olds with a 10:1 – teacher:student ratio. Multi-age education is an important part of their curriculum, as they find younger children model themselves after their older counterparts, and the older children take pride in their own responsibility. The school offers half-day or full day options for preschoolers, five days a week. Once the children are old enough for Kindergarten, five full days of school is the norm.
In terms of discipline, Montessori spends the first month of school teaching Grace, Courtesy and Peace Education as their theme. The children also have the option of visiting the peace mat if they need some “alone” time. This is a section of the room, set apart from the others, where children can go and have quiet time. There are books, music, a yoga mat with photos of yoga poses, pillows and small items to play with. Most discipline is handled by conflict resolution, which the children learn from the beginning of the year.
One of the most important things to note about this school is the teachers passion and dedication to this philosophy and curriculum. Each one of them has a Bachelor and Masters degree as well as certification in teaching Montessori education. You can tell how much they love their work when you enter the classroom, and how much the children love them. They are proud to show off their work and excited to try new things. Remember my friend I was telling you about, the little boy who was reading and multiplying? He came up to me at one point and read a page from his book. He told me how he is up to Level 4, Book 4 and by the time I left, he had finished Book 7. The joy and excitement for learning is tangible here.
To find out more about Malta Montessori, you can visit their website here, or call Kerry Bradley at 633-1971 and schedule a private tour. You won’t be disappointed!