Greene Towne Montessori
2121 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103 / Website
A few weeks ago I got a chance to tour Greene Towne Montessori with Erika Goldberg, the Director of Advancement.
Being a Montessori school, Greene Towne falls under the progressive category. Some key differences in a progressive school like Greene Towne Montessori are:
• Have a philosophy that drives everything they do
• Looks at the whole child with an emphasis on emotional well being
• Plan their introduction of new skills at the most optimal time in a child’s development timeline
• Have teachers that are specially trained in the philosophy for a period of years
• Classrooms are mixed ages
• Children often remain with the same teacher for their entire time at the school
• Self-confidence and independence is a very important part of the philosophy.
A Montessori style education is really new to me. Erika and I talked for a long time about what makes a Montessori education different so I could start to understand the fundamentals. The phrase “structured freedom” stood out to me the most. If you are quick to quietly judge (in your head… like me), the words structured and freedom kind-of fight each other. If you are a Montessori newbie, bear with me, because by the end of my visit I completely got it and grew to appreciate how much thought has gone into the Montessori method. In other words I was drinking the hypothetic sugar-free kool-aid by the end of my tour.
I think it is hard to really get a sense of the Montessori method just from reading or talking about it.When I got into the classrooms and Erika showed me what the children do everyday things started to come together. Every single thing in a Greene Towne Montessori classroom has an educational purpose and is laid out or designed a very specific way. Everything in the classroom is child-sized and every room includes a real kid sized kitchen. In each classroom there are stations or educational activities / projects. This is where the “structured” part comes into play. The children have many but very specific things that they play with throughout the day. There are no giant bins of trucks. There are no buckets of Duplos. Stay with me.
In the morning from the time the child arrives until 11:45 a.m. the main focus is independent work time. *The Toddler House schedule is slightly different. This is where the “freedom” comes into play. Children chose what they would like to work on. They set themselves up somewhere around the room, place their name tag next to their project, and get started. Kids might take a few hours or up to a few days to complete their project. There are tons of projects all over the room. They might vary from map building to matching to mathematics though skip counting with special beaded chains. Each child learns how to complete their project independently with their teacher as a guide when needed. I saw little ones working at tables, spread out on a big fluffy rug, or at a station. The name tag thing is key. Children are taught to own their space and respect other classmate’s work space and boundaries. It is less of a “mine all mine” situation and more so the kids can have their project on the floor, in the room with their name tag, and everyone knows to respect the other person’s work.
This is also tied in with another Montessori concept. They prefer to encourage children to take turns instead of sharing. Sharing implies that you are lending something to a person and then they are going to give it back as it was. When you share food that is not the case. When kids are sharing a toy they are really taking turns because they both can’t play with it at the same time. Since my visit I have stopped using the word share and started asking my boys to take turns instead. They spend less time hovering over each other and more time letting the other one have “their” time with the toy.
As I am typing this I realize that you might not be able to picture a group of preschoolers picking their own projects and plugging away happily next to each other without even so much as a side swipe to their buddy or a whine. I am telling you the rooms were as peaceful as it gets. *Also another progressive school trait.
How do they pull this off? Majority of these children have been in the Greene Towne Montessori program since they were 18 months old. The foundation of independent work has always been apart of their learning. From very early on the children are taught how to be independent and set up for success.
The “set up for success” is a another cornerstone of the Montessori method and is another thing that took me a while to grasp. The first example I was shown was a very simple bracelet making station in the Toddler House. On a segmented plate was a small glass jar of beads and a pipe cleaner with a twist at the end. This stations is everything a child would need to make a simple bracelet including the end twisted by the teacher. When a child is done making the bracelet they clean everything up and restock the plate for the next child.
So my first thought was… everything is done for them. Shouldn’t they have to go get the beads, grab a pipe cleaner from the pipe cleaner supply bin, and figure out what to do when all the beads slide off? I think you get where I am going with this. At Montessori the goal is to build the child’s competence, which is the ability to do something successfully or efficiently. I understood the concept but it did not really hit home until the next example.
The children are responsible for filling a small child’s size pitcher of water at the child sized kitchen sink. Would you ask your toddler to do that? Right now I would not ask my six year old to do that. That is because I am honestly doing it the wrong way. The pitcher is child sized for starters. On the inside of that clear water pitcher is a piece of tape. The children know, when it is their turn to fill the pitcher with water, to fill it up to the piece of tape. Now you have a 2-3 year old filling a pitcher of water on their own. Next they are getting a glass of water on their own. Then they are pouring a glass of water for their classmates. Correct me if I am wrong but that kind of independence is not going on in every preschool around town. #Success. #Lightbulb #Competence
I get that these are small examples but this is where my light bulb went on on what makes Greene Towne Montessori different. Everything the child does is geared toward building their competence. Now keep in mind I did not say confidence. Confidence is the belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance.
Think about it. If you spent as much time on building up your competence at a skill as you did your confidence you would not need to sike yourself up to speak-in public, interview for that new job, or tackle a new task. Why? You actually know what you are doing. Confidence without being competent is just smoke and mirrors.
Things to note
- The biggest thing I want to call out is that if you have a child that will not make the September age cut off for kindergarten consider putting them in a program like Greene Towne Montessori for preschool through kindergarten. Many preschools do not teach up to their oldest children and that last key year can be anything but productive.
- A child can only enter the Greene Towne Montessori program at certain ages. Make sure you do your research on when they can enter the Primary School.
- Greene Towne Montessori is broken up into two buildings that are a block apart. One building is the Toddler House, while the other building is the Primary School. Both have access to private outdoor playgrounds.
- There is also a wonderful art room and gym on the upper floor of the Primary School.
- Children work independently and in groups.
- Greene Towne Montessori is one of the few preschools that do offer financial aid.
- Greene Towne is one of the few preschools that have a Kindergarten program.
The Kindergarten program is adjusted slightly to mimic a more typical classroom setting to prepare the children for first grade at their new school.
- 2016-2017 Tuition schedule can be found on the admissions tab.
I could go into more detail about the school but it is one of those things that you really need to see. Talking to Erika was wonderful but it really did not click for me until I was in the classrooms, observed the children doing their independent work, and got to check out the projects they were working on. If you are considering preschool I strongly encourage you to go to their Spring Open House on March 22nd. One because you have to see it for yourself and two because spring open houses are the best. They are less crowded, calmer, and you actually get to talk to the teachers. When we were looking for preschools I never knew there were this many out there, let alone specific methods like Greene Towne Montessori. Know all your options!