Kindergarten at Guidepost

Explore why the third year of Children's House, which corresponds with the age that children traditionally start kindergarten, is so critically important.

Our Children’s House programs, like all high-fidelity Montessori programs, exist on a three-year cycle. Not experiencing the culmination of the first two years of work and progress is like stopping a movie before the happy ending, or riding 2/3 of the way up the Empire State Building and then turning around and riding back down again, before you see the view from the top.

The First Year of Children’s House: Preparing the Foundations

Children come into our Children’s House classrooms between 2.5 and 3 years old. They are newly in control of their bodies, capable of a great deal, and eager to work. Their eyes grow wide at the amazing materials arrayed before them on shelf after shelf. They can’t wait for their Guide to start “presenting” those materials to them—a quiet, beautiful ritual where the Guide demonstrates a material to an individual child, and then offers it to the child to use. Each of those moments feels like a special, private gift. Children are inspired to use the materials with purpose and reverence.

We start them off with Practical Life exercises: real-world exercises tied to daily life, that emphasize the beauty, complexity, and causality inherent in the daily work of living a human life. Caring for oneself; preparing food to eat and to share; maintaining an orderly, clean, beautiful shared community environment; gaining ever-increasing independence. This is work that is inherently motivating to young children because it allows them to experience themselves as developing human beings and project themselves as one day being adults, fully capable and confident in living their lives in an adult world. They feel incredible pride in the work they do. This is where earned self-esteem develops. It is also the means for developing all the core cognitive habits that are necessary for any kind of academic learning, such as concentration, executive functioning skills, self-control, emotional regulation and so much more.

The Second Year of Children’s House

From this foundation, starting in the first year and continuing into the second year, children launch onto a sequence of carefully ordered materials, each designed to teach a particular skill or concept.

• The Sensorial Materials train the senses, the window to all learning. Children learn to compare, contrast, match, grade, sort, order, and describe with precise language, across the full range of sensory qualities. The powers of observation and perception developed through these exercises are the basis for scientific thinking. They train your child’s ability to grasp the world, categorize and conceptualize it, and then use that data to delve into deeper causes.

• The Language Materials also begin in the first year of Children’s House and continue into the second year. We start with spoken language, systematic vocabulary building, and the development of phonemic awareness. From there, children learn the letter sounds and common phonograms, and begin writing words. They also work with a variety of exercises designed to develop the hand’s coordination and strength for writing with a pencil.

• The Math Materials arise out of the Sensorial Materials in an elegant progression. The child first gains sensory experience with quantities—then learns to measure those quantities. The math materials progress from counting and measuring, into all four operations to the thousands place, and all the way through to an introduction to fractions.

The Third Year of Children’s House: The Capstone Year

The third year of Children’s House, corresponding to the traditional age children start Kindergarten, is when all the preparation and earlier learning come together and flower into highly advanced academic work. Children who stay for the third year gain access to more advanced academic curriculum as compared to their peers in traditional programs. This is achieved by the highly motivating and exciting Montessori materials, which build deep understanding, allowing children to gain increasingly abstract knowledge while working with their hands.

Children also benefit from the position of leadership that they have earned in the classroom over the course of two years of work. They have the satisfaction of looking back at how far they have come, and helping younger children to travel that same distance. This is invaluable in helping children to take a “growth mindset”: the mindset that learning and skill mastery is the natural result of effort and practice, and that any new learning or skill is open to anyone who puts in that work.

Children who leave in the middle of Children’s House to attend a traditional Kindergarten will often be bored and frustrated. They’ll enter a classroom where most of the children have never been in school before, nor engaged in any serious academic learning. The teacher’s focus, then, will be to help those children just learn how to be in a classroom, rather than much real work or challenge to occupy the mind and body. Children from a Montessori background will have little to stimulate or challenge them the way they have become accustomed to. Depending on the child, this can lead to negative behaviors, as the child casts about for some kind of outlet for their developmental energy. Montessori children will also be confused by the rigid structure, where everyone does the same thing at the same time and no one is allowed to be active without following an adult’s instruction.

If a Guidepost near you doesn’t currently offer an elementary program, which will further capitalize on the child’s gains, a much more natural transition from Montessori to a traditional school program takes place at 1st grade. By this time, the rest of the child’s peer group has settled down to being in school, and the general expectation is that it is time to get serious with learning. By this grade, most traditional schools are better equipped to meet the needs of a child who is academically advanced compared with peers, and to offer challenges that feed the child’s mind and energies. Meanwhile, in that last year of Children’s House, all of the preliminary work your child has done to build up their cognitive powers and solidify component skills all comes together and flowers in impressive academic learning in the Capstone Year in our Montessori program. Rather than being bored or frustrated, most children will experience a leap forward in both their academic abilities and their inner confidence—and that solidified sense of self will carry them forward into the remainder of their education, and their life.