No small accomplishment: Eastie hosts district’s first-ever Montessori classroom

By John Lynds

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Last week, East Boston became the first neighborhood to host Boston Public Schools’ first-ever Montessori classroom at the Early Education Center on Gove Street.

Twenty students entering pre-school and kindergarten will be taught in the Montessori philosophy.

Dr. Carol Johnson, Boston Public Schools superintendent, promised to provide a free Montessori school in Eastie last year while working on the school budget. She said she hopes to add more in the system, based on the pilot program here.

The Montessori philosophy is a child-centered, alternative educational method based on the child development theories originated by Italian educator Maria Montessori (1870–1952) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Primarily applied in pre-school and elementary school settings (and occasionally in infant, toddler, middle school, and high school), its method of education is characterized by emphasizing self-directed activity, on the part of the child, and clinical observation, on the part of the teacher (often called a director, directress, guide) — to stress the importance of adapting the child’s learning environment to his or her development level, and the role of physical activity in the child’s absorbing abstract concepts and learning practical skills.

“It’s learning through all five senses and allowing children to work on activities that interest them instead of imposing activities,” said Olga Frechon, principal of the Early Education Center. “I love the approach because there is a philosophy to the curriculum; it’s an intellectual program. I think it makes a lot of sense for children.”

Montessori classrooms provide an atmosphere that is pleasant and attractive, to allow children to learn at their own pace and interact with others in a natural and peaceful environment. In the ideal classroom, children would have unfettered access to the outdoors, but this frequently is impossible, given modern-day limited space and cost considerations. In response, Montessori teachers stock their classrooms with nature shelves, living plants, and small pets, or perhaps a window-sill garden, allowing children to experience as much as possible of the natural world, given modern constraints.

In the elementary, middle, and upper school years, Montessori schools ideally adhere to the three-year age range of pupils, to encourage an interactive social and learning environment. This system allows flexibility in learning pace and allows older children to become teachers, by sharing what they have learned.

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