WMS people

Wednesdays at WMS: Montessori 101 with Pat

Parents gathered in the library Wednesday morning for a lesson in “Montessori 101” from Pat Werner, Head of School Emeritus. “Aside from Maria herself, as far as I’m concerned, Pat is the ultimate Montessori guru,” said Laura Martin ‘86, Assistant Head of School for Enrollment Management. 

Pat joined WMS in 1975 as the school’s first LE teacher. Laura was one of her students. “She’s taught me everything I know about Montessori,” said Laura. And though we all chuckled at the hyperbole, the fact is that it’s not too far from the truth. Though Pat takes little credit for her role in the Montessori movement, she has always been at the forefront. 

Pat retired from her position as Head of School in 2018 and has remained involved in the school, providing coverage in classrooms, leading teacher workshops and parent education classes. As to why she continues to remain active in the school? “It has to do with passion,” she said. “I’m passionate about children. I’m passionate about Montessori, and I’m passionate about this school in particular.” 

Maria Montessori was an Italian physician, educator, feminist and innovator who is acclaimed for her research-based educational method. She opened the first Montessori school—the Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House—in Rome on January 6, 1907. Subsequently, she traveled the world and lectured extensively about her scientific approach to education, attracting many devotees. Her method quickly gained momentum here in the United States with enthusiasm from prominent innovators like Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. Unfortunately, support for the Montessori method would wane for several decades.  

When Elvira and Otis Charles founded Washington Montessori School in 1965, they were advised by Helen Parkhurst, a renowned educator, and founder of the Dalton School, who had studied with Maria Montessori in the early 1900s. 

Before demonstrating a few materials for parents, Pat explained several fundamentals of the Montessori method including the following. 

  • Freedom Within Structure
    Montessori classrooms give children the freedom to explore and develop to their fullest potential while working with materials, in groups and independently, within a prepared environment. The method is guided by the concept of respect—respect for self, respect for others and respect the environment.

  • The Work of the Child
    A child’s work is inward, with the purpose of producing a human being, an integrated personality, a complete and optimal individual. A child has no interest in external goals, results, or products. In contrast, an adult’s work is outward, with external goals of producing visible results.

  • Absorbent Mind
    From birth through age 6, a child experiences a period of intense mental activity that allows him or her to “absorb” learning from the world.

  • Sensitive Periods
    During sensitive periods, the brain is most likely to strengthen important connections and eliminate unneeded ones in a specific part of the brain.

  • Prepared Environment
    The prepared environment is intentional in both physical and psychological purposes. The Montessori classroom contains all the essentials for optimal development with nothing superfluous. There is order, beauty and simplicity. Everything is child-sized to enhance the children’s independent functioning.

  • Multi-age Groupings
    A hallmark of the method, multi-age classrooms allow younger children to learn from older children and older children to reinforce their learning by teaching concepts they have already mastered. The structure also mirrors the world beyond the classroom, where individuals work and socialize with people of all ages and dispositions.

  • The Teacher
    Responds empathetically to children’s feelings, Sets clear and consistent limits; carefully observes each child; models behaviors and attitudes