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A New School of Thought

Malkie Schulman

Imagine a classroom without desks. Imagine teachers who don’t rely on textbooks. Imagine students who choose what and when they want to learn. This is the popular Montessori educational approach — and it may be coming to a frum school near you

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

school supply It’s 9 a.m. Four-year-old Bentzion hangs his coat in his cubby, exchanges outdoor shoes for indoor shoes, and steps into the classroom. If he wishes, and he usually does, he runs to Morah Miriam for a good morning hug. From there, he marches over to a shelf to choose a “work” (a set of manipulative materials designed to teach a particular skill). This morning, he starts with a sand tray from the alef beis work area. He brings it to a table, pulls out a chair, and then slowly traces an alef in the sand tray with his fingers. 

Sitting beside him is three-year-old Levi with a project from the practical life corner. It contains a glass bottle filled with blue liquid, a large dropper, and a smaller glass pitcher.  Holding the dropper bulb in a three-finger grasp (preparation for gripping a pencil correctly) and squeezing it so the blue liquid is sucked into the tube, Levi transfers the colored water to the glass pitcher.   

Around the classroom, children are busy with their individual “works.” Morah Miriam roves around the room; she is on call, waiting to assist any child who needs help.

Bentzion, now finished tracing the alef, returns the sand tray to its proper place and approaches Morah Yocheved, requesting an adding lesson. Together they walk to the math work area. Today, they will be learning the number 4,500. First she holds up the number on a card.

“This says 4,500,” she enunciates. 

She pulls out bead cubes (cubes made of varying numbers of gold beads). She takes four of the thousand-bead cubes and lines them up side by side. 

“This is four thousand,” she tells him. 

She lines up five of the hundred-bead cubes.

“This is five hundred.” 

Pulling all the cubes together, she says, “This is four thousand five hundred.” 

Nearby, at the practical life corner, three-year-old Ephraim is painstakingly cutting a tomato to put in his salad. He peels the cucumber and slices it. He pours on dressing. He takes the child-sized sweeper and dustpan and cleans up the fallen peels. The best part is next – he gets to eat his salad! Afterwards, he takes his bowl and utensils to the sink and washes them. Once dry, he puts them back on the designated shelf, ready for the next child’s use. 

Sounds incredible? Welcome to the world of Montessori.


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