T he Enriched Montessori schools model can be used as a template for European schools that are emerging in America and elsewhere. This model is adaptable to any budget and culture. It can be used for home-schooling and classroom environments.
Rebeca and Mauricio Wild spearheaded this enhanced school model in their preschool through high school learning center in Ecuador. The Wilds shared their inspiring experiences in parent circles during their annual visits to Europe during the 1990s.
Today, there are approximately thirty schools adapting this model to their community’s specific needs. Schools have emerged especially in the German and Spanish speaking parts of Europe, Austria, South Tyrol (Italy), and Spain. Many of these parent-initiated schools were established in family houses with between five to thirty families participating.
This model is based on Maria Montessori’s approach, where children’s natural development and inherent joy of learning is nurtured. There are manifold opportunities for self-directed and hands-on learning in a lovingly prepared environment. Now, further enrichment elements have been added to the original Montessori template. Free play from the Waldorf kindergarten, art and community from the Reggio Emilia approach, and creative contributions from other educators are all included.
Preschool and kindergarten-aged children learn together in prepared environments. Elementary school children share their environments with middle school kids. In addition, middle school kids also have environments specifically for them.
These schools offer intentionally prepared indoor and outdoor learning environments that change with the needs of the students. Each environment is prepared for self-directed, hands-on learning. Each provides a great variety of hands-on materials developed by educators such as Montessori, Seguin, Nikitin, Steiner, Freinet, and many others, including new materials developed by the parents. These materials cover the traditional elementary and middle school curriculum and more. In addition, children find ready for their independent use: tools from daily life, games, toys, art supplies, countable and uncountable objects, natural elements such as gardens, sand, dirt, water play, and more.
The hands-on materials are presented in structured environments. Depending on the size of the house, there will be a room / shelf / corner for math, language, foreign languages, history, geography, science, arts and crafts, music, imaginative and block play, theatre stage, wood-shop, full kitchen ready to use, eating areas, as well as outdoor areas for academic study, play, PE, free movement and more. Children can move freely throughout these learning environments and decide spontaneously what they would like to do in the present moment. Everything a child does is seen as part of a learning process: movement, play, emotional processing, conflicts between children, resting, and of course the work with the hands-on learning materials.
Teachers and/or parents, known as learning companions, are always present. They facilitate, inspire and assist learning processes. Learning companions make sure the children are not interrupted in their play or work, that healthy boundaries are respected, and that all things go back to their places. Through healthy boundaries and house rules we can allow the children as much freedom and independent movement as possible while everybody feels safe.
Guided lessons are provided as additional learning opportunities by the learning companions and invited experts such as a baker, policeman, or architect. Children can choose if they would like to participate in specific lessons that can be day-long or continue weekly. As children grow older, excursions to the adult environment are offered: a bank, doctor, nursery, farm and the like.
The whole school is structured to fulfill the child’s genuine needs for safe exploration, healthy boundaries, movement, play, hands-on and intellectual learning, communication, timelessness, emotional safety, tension release, and time in nature. The need for being witnessed and making personal choices is honored. Learning companions take responsibility for the environment and make sure authentic needs can be fulfilled as much as possible.
Children learn in self-directed ways. Their spontaneous activities, curiosity and genuine interests are regarded as the inner guidance that leads to appropriate learning opportunities needed in the moment. Learning companions respect the children’s genuine interests. All lessons and offerings are based on free choice.
Children feel safe to be who they are. In this way, disciplinary problems are minimized. Companionship and trust can develop between adults and children. With their respectful presence and the principles of non-violent communication, learning companions offer to accompany personal emotions as well as conflicts between children. In fact, some schools offer specific areas for these authentic internal growth processes. For example, a cozy beautiful place for sadness, silent spaces for resting, a structured and safe place for friendly rough-and-tumble, and a place for chatting and eating.
Since children co-determine their learning process actively, these schools do without a pre-set curriculum. Children have a folder with a check-list of all topics and required skills of the curriculum. They cross a topic off the list each time they have mastered a subject. There are no involuntary tests, nor comparative grades. Educators give each student feedback on their personal progress. Goals can be reached within five to eight years.
These schools acknowledge that parents are deeply connected with their children. Learning companions share responsibility, concerns, and ideas with the parents. Parents are invited to participate in the school in many ways. In fact, parents can choose to be learning companions on a regular basis at most of these schools. All situations, conflicts, and joyful events are received as opportunities to grow in understanding, awareness, and caring for all the children, parents, and learning companions involved. These schools are aware of providing a central point for community development. They foster peace and productivity while eliciting the very best each participant has to offer.
In today’s — and tomorrow’s — self-directed, hands-on-learning schools, Maria Montessori’s lineage can prosper and grow.
Photo by Bain News Service. Maria Montessori. Circa 1910. (LOC).