Montessori Through the 5th Grade Print E-mail
by Laura Howes
(KMS parent, 1998-2003)

Many elementary parents wonder whether they should leave their child in Montessori education through the 5th grade, or transfer the child earlier to a conventional school. They reason that the longer the child is in a Montessori classroom the harder the transition will be.

But our experience has proved the opposite. Having enrolled our daughter at KMS for grades 1 through 5, we have found that Mary entered Greenway Middle School this past fall with all the skills needed for success there: the ability to work independently and with a group, to plan ahead, to do library research, to rewrite essays and to rework math problems, to ask questions, to participate in community discussions, to conceive creative solutions to peers' problems, and on and on. And while Mary may have been pre-disposed to excel in some of these areas, all of her natural-born talents and strengths were nurtured at KMS and her weaker areas were strengthened considerably. We could not have invented a better elementary experience than the one she had with Ms. Coburn and the several assistant teachers over her 5 years there, including Ms. Jennings and Ms. Carsen for the last two.

Usually somewhere during third grade, KMS parents wonder specifically about math skills. Compared to their conventional school friends, Montessori students can appear to be "behind" in easily measured areas, such as the multiplication facts. But the Montessori emphasis on understanding an operation, like multiplication, means that when the student does get it, he or she truly understands it. The student can explain it to someone else, the student has a visual and tactile knowledge of the operations, and, as a result, he or she experiences a deeper level of intellectual engagement with math than do many students who learn the math facts solely by rote. When the elementary student stays with the Montessori method through the fifth grade, achieving the four-minute math challenges along the way, he or she is able to complete a learning curve in math that will probably mean more in the long run than having memorized the multiplication table by the end of a certain grade. In all the instances I know about, students who have stayed through the 5th grade do very well indeed in middle school math. In one case, a KMS student emerged as a talented math tutor in his middle school; in other cases, KMS students have accelerated to pre-algebra in the 6th grade. Montessori students get the "big picture" in math, as in the other subject areas.

Our daughter has also benefitted tremendously from the Montessori curriculum in science, social studies, geography, and language arts. Two brief examples must suffice here. In Mary's new school, students write a great deal in all of these areas. Mary's confidence in her written work distinguishes her at the new school, as does her willingness to re-work a piece of writing to make it better. For one early assignment, the students were required to hand in a first draft by a certain date. By that date, Mary had handed in two drafts, had gotten them back, and had reworked them. So she was turning in her third draft at the same time others were turning in their first drafts. Her final essay was much stronger as a result of this process.

In geography, Montessori students seem light-years ahead of their conventional school counterparts. In a school discussion about the recent tsunami, Mary knew the name of "that big island off the coast of Africa" (Madagascar) that many of her classmates seem never to have noticed before. Indeed, all of her teachers remark on Mary's positive attitude toward schoolwork and learning, which I know for a fact "Ms. C" cultivates every day at KMS.

Mary's Latin teacher put it this way: "The thing I really like about Mary is that she gets excited about new material. Other students say 'Do we have to learn this?' or 'Will this be on the test?' But Mary is eager to learn and is always interested in new lessons." For us, that says it all. A love of learning is natural in humans. A school that does not extinguish that natural desire is surely good. An elementary school that supports and encourages that desire answers to a higher ideal and can provide a solid base for all future endeavors. Thank you, KMS!

[Fall 2004]