The Primary classes (Owls and Otters), serve our youngest children ages 3 to 6, including the kindergarten. The Owl Class is guided by Tina Leonard and Nick Pearl, and the Otter Class is guided by Annie Burgess and MacKenzie Henry. The philosophy in these classrooms is to treat the children with respect and dignity while guiding them through their day. When the children are recognized as people with their own thoughts and feelings they feel heard and seen. It invites learning not only for the children but also for the teachers.
The children are primarily self-directed, and they have a sense of ownership over the classroom. It is their space. With ownership, though, there are also responsibilities. This invites learning of how they care for themselves, others, and their environment. These concepts become concrete when the children serve themselves snack, hang their coats, practice dressing themselves, wash their hands, and put away the materials.
Their other academic learning, too, is largely self-directed and comes with responsibilities. They follow their interests with their studies of the materials while also receiving further extension lessons from their teachers. They begin to practice life skills and learning academics from their own internal forces with support from the teachers.
A beautiful and prepared space is a key component of the Montessori philosophy as well as incorporating traditional Montessori materials. Utilizing many different manipulatives encourages the child’s solidification of learning. They practice with hands-on materials to bridge the concrete to the abstract. Seeing, touching, feeling, and, when able, even smelling are ways to offer learning to the children while also sparking curiosity about their world.
Mindfulness and Grace and Courtesy are essential Montessori concepts that teachers as guides encourage by asking key questions like: How are we walking about our classroom? How are we carrying our bodies? How are we moving about others? How are we using our voices? To remind students of Grace and Courtesy the teachers remind students to speak with kindness, say thank you and please, and to ask for what they need rather than telling.
Another way that mindfulness is taught in the primary classrooms is by providing the students materials like glass, porcelain tea cups, and kitchen tools. They carefully and mindfully pick up insects and place them in their home, outdoors, when they find them in the classroom. They walk around their work mats and others works. Students place a hand on the shoulder of an adult or friend if they need or want their attention.
They also practice a “tiny meditation” they call Peace Fever which is appropriate for any age of the primary class. Sitting crisscross, finding their bodies still, being silent and focusing on the breath is how Peace Fever is practiced. They begin with 3 deep breaths and gradually move to 10 deep breaths by the end of the year. With Kindergartners various meditations are practiced including seated meditation with eyes closed, lying down with eyes closed, guided meditations, and walking meditations for at least 5 minutes.
Maria Montessori says, “The first duty of an educator is to stir up life and leave it free to develop.”
Academic subjects such as practical life, sensorial, math, language arts, culture, life science and art are taught in the primary classes. Meeting the children where they are with their learning is crucial to knowing how to help lead them with the academic skills and curriculum.
The teachers try to create thematic units that align with the other classes for the school year. This provides the big umbrella which then encourages handwriting, mathematics, letter recognition, letter sounds, beginning reading skills, as well as including creative endeavors. This big theme that guides the class will also incorporate the Montessori materials that aid in beginning reading and math skills.
The primary classes explore different locations on campus for Outdoor Time while experiencing all of the differences that the seasons bring. Journeys also include venturing out into the bigger community by visiting Elders in an adult day care facility, visiting local farms, and other field trips that are connected to the Thematic Units that help guide our studies.
They connect to the natural world through daily care of plants and animals. The students have started some seeds and have tree leaf identification works. They spend a lot of time outside digging in the dirt, conversing about the earth and observing things like rain, earthworms and “feeling the earth beneath you.”
Thematic Units help bridge this concept as well. For example, when considering the season of Winter that naturally leads to hibernating and migrating animals and their habitats. For instance, if they are studying the water cycle that likely will include cloud studies and where better to see clouds than right outside of the classroom?
In the past the students have learned how to hold a chicken properly, talked about Native American artifacts, pet horses, done plant identification, and more.
The teachers allow the kids to fall down, get dirty, work with sticks and leaves, and maneuver through nature so that they become more aware of their body in the natural world.
Students in the primary classes have opportunities to cultivate creative expression through freedom of choice within boundaries.
Here are few examples of choices within their academic subjects:
Art: watercolor, easel, sewing, finger-painting, sewing. In addition, the Kindergarteners have art class once a week.
Sensorial: Using a blueprint to create specific structures or relying on imagination to create something unique.
Language: Creating books, writing letters, using the sand tray, telling a story to a friend/teacher for dictation.
Drama: Acting out stories in a group setting, with puppets in the reading nook or outdoors.
Math: Patterning or free string with pasta necklaces.
Outdoor play: Building with natural materials, “nature art,” wearing capes to pretend.
Music: Listening to different music that indicates different movements so they know when to walk, skip or gallop. Records are often playing during work period in the morning and songs are sung throughout the day. Both classes have a music class one morning a week, and the Kindergarteners also have an additional have music class during the week.
Students work together in small groups or pairs with a variety of materials: language baskets, creating small books, cards and more. Children are invited to paint with a friend at the easel. The students are often playing school outside on the porch, practice small group yoga, mapmaking, labeling the classroom, and elders will deliver lessons to other children.
A bell is sometimes rung when a child has accomplished a challenging work for that individual and is asked to share about his or her experience was, for example a bead chain that has taken several days. Speaking in front of a large group at our community centering is a another way primary kids practice basic public speaking skills.
The Kindergartners work together on a Science Project each year with everyone participating in caring for the materials, making observations, helping to create the presentation board, and finally representing their project at the Science Fair.
When there is a conflict in the Primary classes the peace talk is used. The Peace Talk is the developmentally appropriate version of the V. O. M. P. (Voice feelings or vent about the experience, Own your part of the conflict, Make their experience your own, then formulate a Plan) method of conflict resolution.
For the youngest children in our community who are just learning empathy and compassion, the process of voicing feelings, apologizing, and hearing their actions had an effect on others affords the youngsters the tools to practice compassion until they are cognitively capable of being compassionate.
Initially as children learn to resolve conflict, they may use a Peace Talk script like this:
The “hurt” child: I feel [emotion] (sad, angry, frustrated, etc.) that you [action] (took my toy, hit me, said I couldn’t play with you).
The “active” child: I’m sorry I [action].
The “hurt” child: Please don’t do that again.
The “active” child: I’ll work on it.
Giving back to the community is another way of creating a sense of belonging within the classroom. The Primary classes learn that respecting yourself, others and the earth is an excellent way to give back to their community. The Kindergartners also have contributions which are ways of helping care for themselves, others, and their environment. These contributions include feeding the class pets, vacuuming the classroom, tidying the materials, watering the plants, rolling rugs, and teaching the younger children.
By creating a sense of belonging in the classroom through the people and things around them, these classes learn to have accountability and respect for their surroundings.
About Mountain Sun
299 Andante Lane Brevard, NC 28712
Mountain Sun Community School does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, national or ethnic origin, sexual identity, gender identity or religion in its educational, admissions, governance and hiring policies and practices.