How is WMS different?
There are tangible differences between conventional schools and WMS—from the way classrooms are organized to the way students move through grades—but the most important differences are pedagogical. At WMS, we believe children learn best through active, concrete experiences rather than through rote learning and we have a strong, well-defined curriculum to carry this out.
Since opening our doors in 1965, we have emphasized hands-on learning, self-expression, and collaboration building on the insights of Dr. Maria Montessori’s work by incorporating current research on brain development and learning. At WMS, students learn “the basics” and are encouraged to discover and develop academic interests of their own so they come to understand learning as a life-long, fulfilling process of discovery.
Current neurological research confirms what Dr. Montessori observed more than a hundred years ago. “What Montessori is offering is a wide-scope development of a human person and their consciousness and their brain,” says Steven J. Hughes, PhD, LP, ABPdN, an assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
How do you teach students of different ages in the same class together?
We feel that a mixed age classroom has strong benefits both socially and academically. As members of a multi-age community—one that more closely resembles the “real world” than traditional classrooms—WMS students are continually honing their social skills as they find themselves negotiating their different roles throughout the day. They are expected to serve as role models for their younger peers as much as they are encouraged to aspire to the next level. WMS students take pride in mentoring younger students and look forward to following in the footsteps of older peers.
Academically, our multi-age classrooms allow students to progress at their own pace without having to worry where they rank amongst peers—classmates are always working on different skills. Not only does this foster their self-confidence and motivation, but it also bolsters the idea of the seeing the “whole picture.” When a first-year student sees a second-year student building complex sentences and a third-year student writing entire paragraphs, she can better understand why she’s spending her time identifying the parts of speech and she knows what comes next.
Trevor Eissler, author of Montessori Madness!: A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education, is an advocate of Montessori. We find this “fast-draw video” based on his talk fascinating.
Is WMS right for my child?
A WMS education provides a personalized learning experience for each student based on our belief that every child has an innate desire and ability to learn. Nearly every student can thrive in a WMS classroom—the highly capable child, the dyslexic child, the shy child, the active child—because our classroom program and materials are specially designed to accommodate a variety of learning styles. The school works best for children whose parents choose to work in partnership with our teachers in providing the best education possible.
Can my child enroll in WMS in the Elementary or Middle School even though they’ve never been to a Montessori school before?
While our curriculum does tend to build on itself, students of all ages have successfully transitioned into the WMS community. Because of the mixed age grouping in the Lower and Elementary levels, each classroom’s culture is stable because each year there are returning students.
Enrolling in the Middle School is an especially easy transition, as students are often changing schools at this time and the curriculum implementation changes from the earlier years. Our Middle School program specifically addresses the unique needs of early adolescents academically, physically and socially. The Middle School years involve more rapid growth than at any time other than infancy. We have given careful attention to balancing the early adolescent need for activity and movement and providing a challenging academic program.
If no grades are given, how will my child know how she is doing? How will I know?
Assessment occurs on an ongoing basis at WMS, whether a child is two or fourteen. Teachers have been trained to observe their students carefully and to keep records on a child’s accomplishments and needs. At any given time, a teacher will be able to give a parent specific feedback on a child’s academic performance. Even young children have an understanding of how they are doing, although they may not be able to articulate it.
As students become older, the explicit feedback on their work increases. Upper Elementary and Middle School students take quizzes and tests which are scored and available to them so they can learn from their mistakes. Students receive feedback on written work and, hands on projects. At the Upper Elementary and Middle School levels, they have homework.
Written progress reports are given to families three times a year in Middle School, two times in Upper Elementary, and once a year in the Lower and Lower Elementary levels.
I’ve heard my child talk about the classroom community meetings. Is this part of the WMS social curriculum?
Equally important to the academic curriculum is the social curriculum of a school. How good character is encouraged and developed in our students is something we talk about regularly. Character development is approached both through planned group activities and through personal guidance provided by teachers to each student that varies depending the particular student’s strengths and needs.
All that we do to promote good character is based on the values of respect for one another and responsible citizenship. We model respect in our interactions with children and with other adults in our community. We emphasize that while conflicts are inevitable, there are solutions.
Developing a strong sense of community in the school and in each classroom is our goal. We are convinced that children need to feel a sense of belonging before they can achieve at optimum levels. In some settings achievement is required to earn belonging. At WMS, we believe that a sense of belonging needs to come first.
A community meeting is a designated weekly (or more often) classroom gathering for the purpose of discussing issues that arise in school. Both students and teachers may place items on an agenda for discussion. After compliments are shared at the meeting, both students and teachers provide suggestions to solve the problem to the student with the concern. Though good solutions often arise, the real value of the meeting is the opportunity to feel that one’s concerns are worthy of recognition by the group.
Do children call teachers by their first names?
At WMS, children are taught that good manners necessitate calling an adult by the appropriate title, i.e. Mr./Mrs./Ms/Miss, unless invited by an adult to use his or her first name. Since relationships between staff members and children at WMS are very close, most teachers invite children to call them by their first names. Using familiar names at WMS is a tradition that dates back to the school’s early years.