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“An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking; it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live.”

Dr. Maria Montessori

Even though I’ve worked in preschool classrooms and after school programs for over a decade, I have never thought this deeply about how children learn best. Thinking past the curriculum and the philosophy of most education programs, I was brought deeper into what this all meant. These questions came to me after my visit to Westside Montessori Academy which is when I began to fully appreciate the benefits our children receive from a Montessori education.

Having previously worked at a Montessori preschool as both an education assistant and their music teacher, I enjoyed supporting these preschoolers in their daily lessons. I still, however, did not fully appreciate the extent to Dr. Maria Montessori’s pedagogical methodology she had founded and developed, to support the individual needs of each child. The daily routine here was both structured and unstructured with children having prescribed learning outcomes. Outside of their individual and sometimes small group lessons, students were able to make choices about what learning activities they worked on and engaged with in the areas of language, practical life, cultural studies, sensorial, social studies and mathematics.

What I had not yet seen was how the Montessori method of learning would work in an elementary school setting – not until my recent visit to Westside Montessori Academy in Vancouver, BC.

Upon arriving, I was greeted warmly by my hosts, Sarah Gatiss-Brown and Andrea Nardi, who founded Westside Montessori Academy at Vancouver’s Italian Cultural Centre in 2008 before moving to 5550 Fraser Street last year. As children passed us by in hallways and noticed us enter their classrooms, it was obvious each student and staff member – both teachers and administrators – all knew each other by name as the staff greeted the children and the children greeted the staff. This stood out to me immediately as I felt the sense of community that I had heard about in Montessori education, though this is the first time I had witnessed it with children ages 5 to 12 in this Montessori elementary school.

As I was given a 17000 square foot tour, I spent the better part of my morning taking this all in, marvelling to myself about how well everything was organized and presented for the children. Every classroom we stepped into seemed to have so much going on with projects and presentations taking place all around me! Though so much work was taking place, it also felt very child led in the sense that the students seemed to be taking the lead in each activity, and with more enthusiasm than I’m used to seeing in an education setting, while their teachers seemed to be quietly observing, nearby. It felt communal in the sense that the students seemed to be supporting each other and co-learning together in a very natural way.

“It’s been a while since I taught in the public system but I do think our community is different in a sense that everyone knows everyone else.”

Andrea Nardi

BC PARENT: What an amazing space you have. I can’t believe you’ve recently moved here as you feel settled in. It feels so organized and everything is beautifully presented for your students, as invitations for learning. Your library, I would be in heaven to have had this as a student!

WESTSIDE MONTESSORI ACADEMY: Thank you. We didn’t know what we were missing until we realized how much we use this space. It is so open and cozy. It’s a place where everyone gathers. It’s also the place where many go to spend some quiet time on their own, or with a classmate or their Reading Buddy.

What Are The Benefits Of A Montessori Education? - BC Parent Newsmagazine

BC PARENT: How would you describe the environment of your school?

WESTSIDE MONTESSORI ACADEMY: We would describe our school environment as more than just an educational institution – it’s a nurturing community dedicated to fostering lifelong skills and values. Here, every student will not only receive a high-quality education that aligns with the BC curriculum, but they will also be immersed in our beautiful environment, designed to inspire curiosity and the students’ love for learning.

BC PARENT: We understand that you are a non-profit organization. Can you explain how this works as an elementary school.

WESTSIDE MONTESSORI ACADEMY: Our commitment to being a non-profit organization ensures that our primary focus is on providing an enriching educational experience rather than generating profit. We take pride in offering a low-fee structure to make quality education accessible to a diverse range of families, believing that every child deserves the opportunity to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.

BC PARENT: How do you follow the BC Curriculum while also offering an individualistic learning experience for each student so they can learn as they develop?

WESTSIDE MONTESSORI ACADEMY: There are lesson plans and unit plans for each subject area of the curriculum and our teachers give whole class lessons, small group lessons, and individual lessons. These are based on unit plans and that information is then recorded for each student on a master checklist so that teachers can keep track of what lessons each student has been given, and whether they have mastered the concept before moving on to the next lesson. 

BC PARENT: What are your goals for each one of your students?

WESTSIDE MONTESSORI ACADEMY: Here, each child will embark on a journey of self-discovery, compassion, and academic achievement, laying the foundation for a future filled with purpose and success.

BC PARENT: What is unique about the way children learn in your school?

WESTSIDE MONTESSORI ACADEMY: In addition to us following the BC Curriculum and doing it in a Montessori way, with the children being able to work at their own pace and with the Montessori materials, there is also a lot of hands-on learning and group/collaborative learning that goes on here that we would say is what also makes us unique.

BC PARENT: The structure of your program is different than most traditional Montessori schools. Can you explain how.

WESTSIDE MONTESSORI ACADEMY: We are slightly different in a sense that a traditional Montessori school typically runs from ages 3 to 6 years, 6 to 9 years, and 9 to 12 years. We used to do something similar but now that we have more space, we’ve divided our grades so that Kindergarten and Grade 1 is our Primary class, Grades 2 and 3 are Lower Elementary, Grades 4 and 5 are Upper Elementary, and Grades 6 to 7 are Senior Upper Elementary.

BC PARENT: Is there any flexibility in what the children can study based on their academic readiness?

WESTSIDE MONTESSORI ACADEMY: Yes. We also don’t restrict children to their grade level curriculum so they can move on further if they are ready to.

BC PARENT: And how do you structure your academic subjects such as Social Studies and Science?

WESTSIDE MONTESSORI ACADEMY: For Social Studies and Science, we do a two-year cycle, so that over the two years each student is exposed to all of the curricular competencies.

BC PARENT: Can you please explain to us how you go about lesson planning?

WESTSIDE MONTESSORI ACADEMY: There are lesson plans and unit plans for each subject area of the curriculum. The Ministry of Education inspects our records and policies every year and goes through our record keeping. Our teachers give whole class lessons, small group lessons, and individual lessons, based on these unit plans. That information is then recorded for each student on a master checklist so that teachers can keep track of what lessons each student has been given, and whether they have mastered the concept before moving on to the next lesson. 

BC PARENT: I noticed you have pets in many of your classrooms. Can you tell us why and if you incorporate learning into your pet care.

Yes! While our younger classrooms typically have fish and easier-to-care-for pets, our older classrooms have individual student councils that meet and discuss with everyone about how they would like to raise money and how they would like to spend it. In addition to giving to local charitable donations, several have opted for class pets that require daily maintenance — feeding, cleaning etc. — as well as companionship. The students themselves take on these tasks, and it is wonderful to see them accept responsibility and the educational aspects that go with it.

What Are The Benefits Of A Montessori Education? - BC Parent Newsmagazine

BC PARENT: Social-Emotional Development also feels like a priority in your school. Can you please explain.

WESTSIDE MONTESSORI ACADEMY: Our goal is not just to educate the mind, but to cultivate the heart and nurture the spirit of each one of our students. As a Montessori elementary school, we provide an environment where students not only excel academically, but also develop the essential social and emotional skills needed for a lifetime of success. Because true success in life extends beyond the classroom, it’s found in the ability to collaborate, communicate, and empathize. By fostering a holistic approach to education, we empower our students to navigate the complexities of the future with resilience, compassion, and a profound understanding of themselves and others.

BC PARENT: One last question. What are your goals then when it comes to what you can offer to each one of your students?

WESTSIDE MONTESSORI ACADEMY: We prioritize the development of social and emotional skills alongside academic excellence, creating well-rounded individuals who not only succeed in their studies, but also contribute positively to the world around them. In our serene and aesthetically pleasing environment, kindness is not just a buzzword – it’s a guiding principle

Thank you Westside Montessori Academy, for welcoming me into your school and for taking the time to really open up my eyes to a more individualistic style of education. My hope is for each child in our communities to experience such an education where they can all learn at their own developmental pace. Offering a non-profit option with a low-fee tuition is a great place to start so that more families can afford to provide this education option to their own deserving children.

For more information about this school, please visit their website at www.westsidemontessoriacademy.ca

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