Author Archive | Cara Gregory

Peace Day Everyday

“Averting war is the work of politicians; establishing peace is the work of education.” Maria Montessori

Last week students at Discovery Montessori School celebrated International Peace Day. We participated in an art installation project “Pinwheels for Peace” and all of our students made their own pinwheel to plant in our garden. While making their pinwheels, children shared their thoughts about peace and what that means and included some keywords on their pinwheels. It was really sweet, but way more impressive than the events on International Peace Day is what happens each and every day in our classrooms.
I have to admit. I was skeptical. I had seen the Peace Corners in Montessori classrooms and heard about the Peace Curriculum from the pros. But, could a group of 15 or more preschoolers really ever be described as peaceful? How was that possible!? (says the mom of only one preschool-aged child) Fast forward a few months and I am now one of Montessori’s biggest fans. Routinely I go up and down the halls of our school to check in with teachers, and I am not kidding when I tell you that I cannot tell which classes are inside until I get to the doors (which are always open) and look inside. It’s worth repeating. The classrooms are so calm and quiet that you can’t even tell there are children inside unless you are close enough to see them!
So, how does it happen? Is there magic in the essential oils? Are children in a Montessori school just naturally more Zen than others?
From what I have learned, there are several important factors working together to create and foster this kind of peaceful and productive learning environment. Montessori classrooms are known for being “prepared environments”. An incredible amount of time and thought goes into setting up the classroom in a way that allows children to work without a lot of help from their teachers and to follow their own interests.
Additionally, Montessori teachers lead by example. The old adage “do as I say not as I do” does not apply in Montessori classrooms. Teachers make a real effort to ensure that they are modeling the behavior that they want to see and speaking to the children in a way that they want for them to speak to each other. They are masters at this and I assure you it isn’t always easy!
Perhaps the most important example of how Montessori classrooms achieve a peaceful atmosphere is that it is a priority for the teachers, and often families who choose this approach for their children. Teaching kindness and positive social skills are a common thread that weave in and out of all aspects of the day from greetings, to collaborating to conflict resolution. For me as a parent this is invaluable. I feel like there is no better time to support and develop good social skills than when children are really young. Our culture is a busy one. Technology has allowed us to be available to almost anyone, anytime, anywhere. Often I fear this results in us not being present or fully-available to the people right in front of us, and they are the most important. Developing these skills takes practice just like any others and it seems like our kids may not have as many opportunities as we did when we were growing up. Also, by creating a peaceful classroom we create a more productive classroom and one that facilitates concentration and learning. We all learn best when we are relaxed and feel safe and secure. We learn better when we are not being bombarded with noise and too much busyness. It’s a rare win –win!

Like a Family

Like a Family      mixed age playground

While there are many well-documented academic benefits to mixed-aged classrooms, perhaps what appeals to us most about it are the social benefits offered through this grouping.  The opening of Discovery has been incredible and wonderful in so many ways.  One thing that has been especially heart-warming is watching the special friendships forming and the kind interactions between “our” children, and the opportunities offered through mixed-age groups has been obvious.

Our classrooms are already beginning to feel like little families.  On a daily basis we see the older students nurturing the younger ones, teaching them about the routines, and showing them what to do.  We also see the younger children looking to the older ones for both guidance and at times comfort.   When we’re outside, if there weren’t obvious height differences, you would be hard pressed to pick out children by age.  They swim in and out of different play routines with different friends and there are no age boundaries for them in this imaginative and explorative play time.  They take turns being leaders and followers, and the leader could be a 14 month old, or a 6 year old.  It’s really something special to see!

Friends forever

Even longer than forever...

Some of our most valuable friendships are formed when we are very young. As adults when we see 3 and 4 year olds playing together we think it is sweet, but the bonds that are formed at this age are quite unique. We are our true selves without any of the trappings of society’s expectations of who we should be. My first friends were Lyle and Sally. We have all gone in different directions and don’t see each other often, but when we do we seem to revert back to our younger selves. The last time I saw Lyle I had to tell him I was running a marathon and he proceeded to show me that he could do a handstand. It was as if we were back on the playground seeing who could run the fastest. Sally has always been cooler than me. She knew all of the cutest actors and best music and I just agreed with her. She is still cooler than me, but when have the opportunity to go on a hike we are once again little girls finding bugs and flowers. When you get together with your childhood friends you know that you will be loved no matter what because they loved you from the start.
While we are excited to be able to offer a quality educational program here at Discovery Montessori School, we are equally excited for the opportunity to foster such important friendships.

Top 10 Benefits of Montessori

math activity

Sending your young child to preschool can be an emotional experience.  In addition, deciding which preschool to send them to can be a difficult and complicated process.  Before having my children, I had never really thought much about what an important decision this is.  Skip ahead a few years and it is now so important (and exciting) to me, that I am now a co-owner and operator of Discovery Montessori School! Several of my friends have asked “Why Montessori?”.  Here is my personal “Top 10 Reasons for Choosing Montessori”.

  1. Montessori is not a trend.

So often in education, educators jump from one trend to the next. Districts and schools spend thousands of dollars on a new math or reading program only to find two years later, there’s something better out there. Providing the “right” educational curriculum has become a constant challenge of “keeping up with the Jones’s”.  One of my good friends (who is also an excellent kindergarten teacher) often says “the only thing that hasn’t changed in the classroom over the last 30 years is the children”.  Montessori schools use a philosophy and tools that have been around for over a century. Montessori schools don’t flip-flop between programs because they don’t need to. Montessori education proves to be effective regardless of whether it is in a private or public school, what country it is taught in or the socio economic status of the students. The philosophy that Maria Montessori developed many years ago still works for our kids today and I know as a parent, it works for my children as well.

  1. It fosters independence.

Everything about a Montessori classroom fosters independence. You first start with the classroom that is prepared to allow the child to do for themselves what an adult would often do for a child.  If you were to observe children in our classrooms, you would find them following their own motivation for learning, rather than the stepwise directions of the teacher. The pride you see in these children who are able to “do it themselves” without asking for help from an adult is incredible. A Montessori classroom provides a prepared environment where children are able to develop independence.

Materials were created to be self-correcting. Students can identify a mistake in their thinking without having an adult point it out to them. Students in a Montessori classroom then have the power to ask for help when they need it, as opposed to an adult telling the child when they need help.

Students begin to realize that they have the intelligence and ability to do things for themselves. This is not only empowering to the child, but gives them such a boost in confidence.

3. Encourages Cooperative Play  

Montessori teachers are trained to be facilitators, rather than directors. This encourages children to share and work cooperatively to explore the various stations in the Montessori classroom.  Children in Montessori classrooms, by the very nature of the environment, learn to respect one another and build a sense of community.  Fostering the development of good social skills is a focus of our classrooms, as we recognize that social skills, in addition to academic skills, are necessary to be successful.

  1. Kids grasp the idea of “why.”

When the reason for, or purpose of, learning a new skill or concept is clear and has direct application, the learning becomes almost effortless.  Too often, I feel, we as teachers are so focused on teaching the content that we teach skills in isolation and therefore those skills are not very useful to the learner.  In math, for example, we expect students to understand operations but never give them the how or why. We come up with acronyms and mnemonic tools to help kids memorize the step without asking why these strategies are even necessary. Montessori allows children to understand the how and the why with materials. Students can actually see a division problem occur as he or she divides each place value. They also have the ability to practice it over and over with the materials until it makes sense to them.

5. The Curriculum is Highly Individualized to Each Student

Students in the Montessori program are allowed to explore activities and concepts at their own pace. This naturally encourages children to try more challenging areas, which accelerates their learning experience. Learning occurs at a comfortable pace for each student, rather than inflicting the same rate on every student in a classroom

  1. Learning is actually fun.

One of my favorite quotes of Dr. Montessori is “One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child”. When you get to learn about botany by dissecting a flower or learn about your favorite historical figure by dressing up as her, learning is engaging and fun. Montessori provides experiences for students to learn from. Learning doesn’t just come from lectures or listening, learning comes from doing and experiencing the world around them. Learning is real and relevant and that’s the way I want my child to learn.

7.  Curriculum Focused on Hands-On Learning  

One of the greatest benefits of the Montessori Method, particularly during the early learning experience, is the focus on hands-on learning. The emphasis is on concrete, rather than abstract learning, as students work on activities that teach language, math, culture and practical life lessons. Teachers encourage students to concentrate on tasks, and they discourage students from interrupting one another, allowing students to focus on activities until they are properly mastered.

There are many potential benefits of a Montessori preschool for children just starting out in the education process. These important early years prepare a student for the learning experience that is to come, whether they continue with the Montessori Method or move to a public classroom environment in the future.


  1. Research supports the Educational Benefits

Research conducted by Dr. Angeline Lillard, a professor of psychology from the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, examined the abilities of children who have been taught in a Montessori school. Published in 2006 in the journal Science, the research studied Montessori students in Wisconsin and found that five-year-olds in Montessori classrooms had higher math and reading skills than their counterparts in public schools. In addition, the study compared 12-year-old Montessori and non-Montessori students. While math and reading skills appeared to be more on par with this age group, social development appeared to be higher in Montessori students by this age.

  1. Mixed-Age Classrooms

Children 3-5 years old are in a classroom together.  This has many benefits.  Younger children have the opportunity to learn from the older children’s models for both social and academic behavior.  If you’ve ever tried to teach someone a new skill, you know that you really have to understand it in order to do so.  Older and more advanced children have the opportunity to deepen their understanding through peer teaching opportunities.  In addition, children have the opportunity to explore different social roles of being leaders and followers.  The mixed-aged classrooms create really special little communities within our larger school community

10.  Emphasis on cultural Awareness

 Unique to the Montessori classroom is a rich cultural curriculum. Dr. Montessori was passionate that the key to a peaceful world was held within the peaceful child. By exploring cultural activities including maps, music, food, and artifacts, with a focus on the similarities on people throughout the world, the child builds awareness of the world around her. The diversity of our families and staff, in conjunction with the cultural materials, help our students develop a respect for all people.