You can see Montessori Children's House of Durham in action below, where you can truly get a glimpse into how absolutely magical of a school it is.
The classrooms themselves at MCHD are so peaceful. They also play an important role in the educational philosophy. Children can be easily overwhelmed with too many things so there is intentional placement of certain items, which are switched out as determined by the teachers. A minimalist approach also makes it easier for children to take care of their space, and know what goes where when they clean up.
The highly trained and kind teachers are there to guide the children's growth as they find friendships, and instilling collaborative work while uniting the toddler’s strong sense of independence with practical success. The toddler room is comprised of 2 classes, the maximum number of students in each class is 12 and they each have 2 teachers, so the ratio is 6:1 or lower. Each class also has two class parents to coordinate volunteering in a variety of ways. For some parents that may mean coming into the classroom, for others with a busy work schedule it may mean helping coordinate the spring fling festival or the like.
MCHD explains what makes their toddler program so unique, "Each year begins with an orientation period that allows for a smooth transition away from a primary caregiver into what is often the child’s first community of peers. The environment is rich with materials to stimulate conversation and the development of language, with manipulatives, pre-math materials, science and nature exploration, and activities for sensory exploration and gross and fine motor development. Children are introduced to art and music from various cultures and have many opportunities for creative expression. Practical life skills relate to care of self and the environment, including toilet learning. Activities often are multi-dimensional: work washing a table, for example, involves both large and fine motor skills, memory recall, logical sequencing of steps, and vocabulary building."
One concept we talked about in my tour was the MCHD application of the montessori philosophy on grace and courtesy. For example, sharing doesn't mean just giving the wanted item to another child, it's negotiating a more complex process of polite waiting and experiencing the beauty of delayed gratification. The opportunity for teaching is in this conflict of two children wanting the same thing. It's teaching children to use words to express their desire, helping the second child to wait and look for a signal that the first is done, and more.
One thing about MCHD that was very touching is how considerate they are of the children's emotional needs. Visitors to the toddler program observe the class through two-way glass in hidden observation rooms, because at that age, children's fear of strangers disrupts the learning environment and seeing an adult often reminds them of their parent. Avoiding that unncessary worry reinforced the school's respect for the children and their autonomy.
Their multipurpose building is utilized as a gym for physical education during inclement weather, and adjacent rooms include music, reading enrichment and an art studio. It also has a full kitchen and can be used as an auditorium for guest speakers and seminars after hours for the community. It's also the after school space, where they offer enrichments, including yoga, karate, soccer shots, dramatic arts, movement and dance, craft making, Lego engineering, philosophy club, odyssey of mind, music lessons and more. Elementary students are challenged with enriching after school clubs, including Odyssey of the Mind, Chess, and Philosophy and Ethics. After school is a wonderful program at MCHD, one of the reasons is that you can enroll in it full time or use it in a drop in manner, which is incredibly helpful to parents.
You can see in the photos below that the outdoor spaces are full of opportunities for gross motor play and letting their imaginations run wild. The classrooms are bright and uncluttered, making for a space where children can concentrate without being overwhelmed.
As a former art teacher I was really impressed with their art program. MCHD's art teacher has been at the school 20 years! As you can imagine, she really knows how to help children express their artistic side. It's more than just art for students as well. Several times a year, they offer a parent child art class on Saturdays and even some adult classes. What a fantastic bonding experience for families!
Learning at MCHD in the multi-aged elementary school is a holistic process. They don't simply get information from books or the teacher, but gain knowledge from a multitude of sources. For example, children in the Upper Elementary planted and grew a vegetable and herb garden, tended it gently to help it sprout, and once everything had grown, they picked it all and combined it into a caprese salad, which they offered to administrators and other classes. Start to finish, it was all about learning how to grow, working on patience while it grew, how to cook, and the importance of giving generously - so many lessons learned just from one garden!
Lower Elementary children, Grades 1-3, are truly coming into their own to take responsibility for their weekly work plan and build time-management and resource skills. While traditional academic studies are individually adjusted to each student’s proficiency, all students get daily exercises in spelling, math, handwriting, grammar and reading in addition to weekly intensive lessons in Music, Spanish, and Art.
For up to date news and great articles on their blog, check out MCHD's facebook page.
Luckily for you, MCHD has several upcoming informational sessions and tours, starting in just a couple weeks. Simply RSVP at the number above. Information about the tour as well as additional dates are on the website. Private tours and observations are also available by appointment daily. So go and see what I experienced - a school unlike any other.
gentle, and empowering educational experience,
you owe it to yourself to check out the one of a kind
Montessori Children's House of Durham. Tell them SoDu sent you!