The time is approaching and soon parents of 4 year olds are going to be deciding whether their child is going to continue their education into the Extended-Day Kindergarten program or move on elsewhere. For some, this decision can be daunting, and understandably so. First, there is the lure of free education within the public sector. Secondly families, who envision their child in one private school through high-school, feel the pressure from those schools who place priorities on children who initially enrolled in their Kindergarten program.

To recognize your child’s journey thus far, will help paint a picture of what’s to come in the Kindergarten year. Through the Casa environment your child has been building an integral foundation for future learning. We simply don’t just teach “things”, but rather we help the children to build the skills to acquire their own personal deep understanding of the world. Skills such as concentration, independence, coordination of movement, and inner discipline. In the short therm, these are skills which will ensure academic success, as they are necessary for more advanced work that requires a longer commitment of time, perseverance when challenges arise, and problem solving. A child who possesses these competencies and who loves to learn, aided with a natural curiosity, will have the capacity to set out and accomplish whatever they choose.

As you can see, these faculties go beyond short term academic success; they are life-long. Your child has also been exposed to a multitude of materials that help develop concrete experiences of abstract concepts such as size, shape, and quantity which is later utilized in geometry, mathematical operations and equations. Sound, colour, and texture is also vital for the child to intelligently interpret his or her world. Your child will be working with various Language materials to help them understand how words are built with sounds and how to recognize the graphical symbols of these sounds. He or she has also been exposed to a rich tapestry of vocabulary that is easily integrated into their daily language use.

All of this has been happening through the child’s experiences with the environment, which has been carefully prepared by the guide (teacher), to ensure that the child is able to spontaneously follow his or her inner needs so as to develop optimally. The timing of these experiences has been imperative as the child at this age forms their personality and character through their experiences. That is, the experiences the child encounters between the ages of birth to 6, will become a part of who he or she is, which includes the faculties and abstract concepts that were previously discussed. The Kindergarten year is the final year that your child will have this special ability to naturally make the effortless acquisition of knowledge a part of who he or she is.

Why Montessori Kindergarten? Previously your child has been building a foundation for future learning as well as forming early concepts. The Montessori Kindergarten year should be viewed as the year of integration; the skills and concepts they have been previously building, are now reinforced and internalized. It’s this internalization process that is key to understanding how critical the third year is in the Montessori program. Without this year to integrate all prior experiences, concepts and knowledge often evaporates as the child has not been given the opportunity to put everything together, test it through hands on practice, and reach mastery.

The foundations are built on, in a variety of ways in the Kindergarten program. First the children are now the oldest in the classroom. They have been awaiting this moment for some time now and the children exude pride and joy on their first day in September. Now that they are the oldest they are in the position of being leaders for the younger children and often enjoy helping their younger peers. Research has shown that the best way to solidify your understanding of something, is to teach someone else. This is no different for the Kindergarten child who chooses to read printed labels to a younger child, or who leads a game with the younger children utilizing the store to combine large numbers such as 2345 + 1378, in a game of addition.

Secondly, the Kindergarten child can successfully work with the more advanced materials as they have the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. The advanced work in the Language area will take their basic reading and writing skills and build on it, giving the child a deep understanding of language, which goes beyond mechanical reading. They will appreciate the nuances of the stories they read as they will have a deep understanding of sentence structure, patterns and the functions that words play. This will also lead to the creation of rich stories and a capacity to communicate ideas more clearly. In the Math area, children will move away from the pure concrete materials of mathematical concepts and will begin to shift to an abstract way of thinking and it will come more easily because of their previous two years of hands on involvement with the materials. They will work with long division, fractions, and basic operations with numbers into the millions.

Deep understanding is something we, in the Montessori community, strive for. In traditional settings, most knowledge is obtained through rote memorization, and then children must do tests in order to verify what they have learned. There is a lot of research that suggests this style of learning does not equate true understanding. Even children who do well on tests, cannot necessarily apply what they have learned to difference scenarios. In the Montessori environment, children acquire a deep understanding of their experiences because it is often the child who does the discovery without being given the answers, through trial and error, hands on experiences with concrete materials, and the autonomy to work on what interests them. It is in this personal discovery that children exhibit true knowledge.

Most importantly however, besides academic excellence, when children are given the opportunity to complete the Montessori Casa Program, which includes the Extended- Day Kindergarten year, self-confidence, independence, critical thinking, perseverance, a love of learning, and the social graces to be positive contributors to society becomes a PERMANENT part of who they are.

Your children are still constructing who they are, and this final year is critical to ensure everything they have built on to date, will remain strong within them, when they complete their task.