Mountain Sun Embraces Montessori Philosophy

A pre-kindergarten student learns how to count. (Courtesy photos)

by Kayla Leed | Brevard, NC

Mountain Sun Community School, located at the Brevard Music Center, has offered the children of this community an independent, inspired education for nearly a decade. For children ages 3 through middle school, Mountain Sun combines Montessori education with outdoor exploration, artistic creativity and community service.

An important part of the Mountain Sun’s educational philosophy is rooted in the century-old practices created by Maria Montessori. It is a style of education that incorporates mixed aged classrooms, student-chosen activities within a given range of options, blocks of work time, freedom of movement, and a experiential model which gives the student the opportunity to learn concepts from hands-on experience. These concepts are brought into each classroom at the school, and developmentally appropriate materials are available in each class grouping so that children can find their level of challenge.

As Annie Burgess, teacher of the Otter Class (ages 3-6) puts it, “Montessori education looks like an orderly place where children are engaged in purposeful work and the adults act as facilitators, and it sounds like the steady productive hum of peaceful chatter among children.”

“Educating those who have misconceptions about Montessori can be challenging. Contrary to what it might look like to a casual observer, the Montessori classroom is highly structured and academically rigorous. While there is freedom within the structure, there are work expectations and goals that students and teachers create together,” said fourth through sixth grade, Monarch class, teacher Becky Langerman.

The education at Mountain Sun Community School recognizes and accepts that children are naturally curious.

“Montessori is empowering for children. It allows them to explore at their pace while knowing the expectations. They become responsible for their learning and are able to experience success and failure as choices, rather than an external judgment,” said first through third grade, Acorn class, teacher Brigid Fox.

Teachers play a key role in all styles of education, and teachers at Mountain Sun Community School have a specific job to keep their space “alive” in order to cultivate and guide the kind of learning that stimulates lifelong learners. Keeping the classroom alive is recognizing that each space has a purpose and every object has a home. This allows students to realize the importance of respect, placement and cleaning up after themselves. This plays a great role in developing awareness of the consequences of actions.

The practice of independence is key for guiding the students to learn accountability. Students at Mountain Sun have the ability to choose how to use their work period, which is usually about three hours, and they are responsible for contributing to the classroom’s tidiness by washing their snack plates, wiping down tables or sweeping the floors. This not only teaches independence and accountability but also what it means to be a part of and serve a greater community.

“For elementary students, Montessori believed that learning beyond the classroom was essential, in addition to cultivating their connection with the natural world. A large part of our curriculum takes place outside of the walls of the classroom,” said Langerman.

Her students participate in camping and backpacking trips throughout the year, which the students raise money for by hosting bake sales, selling their art or other entrepreneurial efforts.

Outdoor education allows the students tremendous freedom of movement. It connects them to the natural world which creates an ample amount of respect for the world surrounding them. These students grow passionate about things like endangered species, bird migrations, Native American cultures and more.

Fox said, “Montessori fosters real ownership of a child’s learning. It allows for an in depth research of projects which interest the child.”

A student leads the Monarch class.

This encourages greater independence and the opportunity to explore more deeply the subjects they have become passionate about through their enrichment classes, outdoor education or play.

Giving the students the chance to be the guides of their own learning experience creates community members that are aware of themselves and each other. Each student understands how actions affect peers and the natural world, and the child also knows how to communicate his feelings and expectations in a productive way.

Tina Leonard, teacher of the Owl Class (ages 3 through 6) observes that practicing grace and courtesy and peaceful conflict resolution is an important part of building this community.

She said, “This time in the lives of these young children is the beginning of recognizing the feelings of others, of being brave and listening while taking responsibility if another person has been hurt, and of consciously working on behavior changes after these talks.”

As a result of these intentional practices and freedom within boundaries, the parents, teachers and children of Mountain Sun have created a community that knows respect, independence, peace and connection. The environment at this school creates a vital sense of belonging for all who enter.

As Maria Montessori said, “The first duty of an educator is to stir up life but leave it free to develop.”

(Mountain Sun Community School is a nonprofit 501c3 independent school in Brevard. For more information, call (828) 885-8555.)

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