BY JESSICA MAKI, MONTESSORI TEACHER
begins with Cosmic Education. Cosmic Education is the keystone of Montessori
Philosophy. It was Maria Montessori’s
belief that cosmic education allowed for a clearer understanding of the natural
world and each person’s connection to it. With this notion in mind children
explore, research, plan and execute projects about their communities and the
world at large in a variety of meaningful and purposeful ways. Montessori is
To help our
students gain a deeper understanding of various cultures and their individual
place in the world, each year at Eagle Harbour Montessori we select a different
continent to delve into with the intent that at the end of child’s 6 years at here,
they will have cycled through all of the continents. Students engage with both
physical and political geography during their studies. Upper elementary
students are responsible for choosing a charity to help foster deeper
involvement. With the help of our Parent Advisory Committee, various artist in
residence programs complement our continent study. In the past students have
participated in Bollywood dancing, Taiko
drumming, created paintings of Thai elephants, and learned the art of African
storytelling. This year we are studying Europe with workshops in Commedia and Renaissance
dance, as well as, a handbell performance.
much of our learning is a shared experience, my passion has been helping my
students become exposed to the larger community, while exploring the notion of
collective learning. We have been working with Rockridge high school and their
Foods 9-12 classes for the last 3 years. In the past, K-5 students and high
school students have taught each other Swahili dances, Vietnamese songs,
prepared and cooked authentic meals, all while exploring traditional etiquette
and ways of sharing food.
recently, the Kindergarten students attended Rockridge to make gingerbread
houses in the style of Amsterdam’s canal houses. Before venturing to Rockridge
my students engaged in a month-long inquiry of The Netherlands. In the initial inquire and analyze phase students explored
a variety of architecture styles throughout The Netherlands. Students generated
questions around different housing styles and their purposes, along with
questions about lifestyles in different homes. As they developed ideas, students
looked at a variety of canal style houses and practiced drawing them on graph
paper. Then, we travelled to Rockridge to put our drawing into action and see
if we could create a solution. K students were buddied up with an older student
whom they had to explain their plan to. Together they drew a new plan
incorporating some requirements the high school students had come up with such
as a boat, a bicycle and a sidewalk. The constructing of the houses took
roughly an hour and a half. Both Ms. Skehill, Rockridge teacher and myself were
astounded at the level of engagement and problem solving we observed. Students inquired
about the placement of windows, and how many windows a structure could have to
remain stable. They problem solved about
how to make chimneys, and ways to make their bicycles stand upright. All the
while we were impressed to see children speaking to each other with grace and courtesy,
patience and tolerance. Upon the completion of our houses we came back to our
school (quite awkwardly… canal houses don’t travel well) to debrief and evaluate our day.
have a family night when we all come together to share a meal and celebrate the
traditions of the respected continent with the larger Eagle Harbour community. We
just spent an evening celebrating the European culture. Many EH families came
out to share in a potluck style dinner, from lasagna to meat pies to perogies.
Each grade performed a Renaissance dance under the guidance of the artist in residence,
Catherine Lee. While parents mingled, EH students made swords, bedazzled
goblets and handheld windmills. Families were encouraged to join in on the
dance lessons throughout the evening, while musicians played along to music
from many generations ago. I am always in awe of these nights as an educator.
It is a great chance to catch up with families and past students and really get
to see in action what a truly amazing community we have at Eagle Harbour
For over thirty years now I have been a passionate educator in our school system and raised three of my own children to adulthood. I have seen many changes and made many observations along the way. I believe we need a comprehensive, collaborative, integrated system that educates children through to maturity to become respectful responsible, industrious citizens. I would like to look at our education system through a different lens.
Maria Montessori observed that children go through four distinct phases of development as they grow, learn and mature. Montessori described four planes, each of which lasts 6 years:
• Infancy (Birth to Six)
• Childhood (Six to Twelve)
• Adolescence (Twelve to Eighteen)
• Maturity (Eighteen to Twenty-Four)
As the needs of the child change at each stage, so must the environment change and the experiences within that environment. There are many theories of child development but one of the features I find unique about Montessori’s theory is the final stage of development when a young person prepares to make the transition to adulthood.
In each plane of development, the most dramatic change happens during the first three years and is followed by consolidation during the second three years. The first and third planes have some similarities in that there are the most dramatic development and needs. The second and fourth planes are also similar in that they are more stable periods of development.
There are few Montessori infant care centers (0-3) in Greater Vancouver but many preschools or CASA programs. Following that, there are some Montessori elementary programs with lower (6-9) and upper (9-12) classes but virtually no adolescent or post-secondary programs. The bulk of Montessori education seems to be focused at the preschool level, however the Montessori philosophy is not limited to one or two age groupings.
In my ideal world, there would exist a Montessori campus to house a system of education that would take children from birth to adulthood (0-24) in a cohesive, systematic way. I would like to give the reader an overall view of the planes of development, explore the possibilities of such an environment, and ask some questions.
FIRST PLANE OF DEVELOPMENT- INFANT CARE
Montessori infant care might look something akin to our current Strong Start programs, for example. Would it not be ideal for parents with newborns to be immediately connected with a center where they could access resources as they make the transition to parenthood? For those parents returning to work when a child is a year old, would it not be best for that child to be cared for in a center where the parents have already made connections with the caregivers? Montessori style infant care is designed for the first three years of life with an environment that supports the needs of the infant and toddler. Following that, there is the Montessori CASA or 3-6 program that many people are familiar with. In the CASA, there is a greater emphasis on the intellectual development of the child and his or her emerging independence. At this stage, self-regulation or “normalization” (to use Montessori’s term) is taught and fostered in preparation for the second plane of development. The first plane of development is a very sensitive period with a focus on direct sensorial experiences, as the child is primarily learning through all of his senses.
SECOND PLANE OF DEVELOPMENT-ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
In the elementary program, the child expands his or her social view of the world and begins a more intellectual period of learning. Children at this stage have great energy and an established personality. At this stage, children are insatiably inquisitive and ask many questions. The Montessori teacher as guide, while teaching basic skills, fosters the child’s inquiry and encourages exploration. During this plane of development, children want to explore and it is a sensitive time for developing morals and ethics. “Rules” and justice become very important.
The three-year cycle is an essential element to Montessori education. Allowing children to stay in the same Montessori environment with many of the same group of children and teacher through the full three-year cycle is critical for them to build a very strong, stable and consistent community. Children can concentrate on the learning process without worrying about the transition and spending time to adjust to new teachers and a new environment every year. Similarly, teachers are able to make strong connections with children during these years and can therefore give them better support based on individual needs.
The Montessori method works best when a child can experience all three years of the cycle. The first year lays the foundation for learning for that stage of development and the subsequent years build upon that foundation. In the second year, children explore the lessons and materials of the first year in more detail, and in the third year, children begin to apply their learning with intention. A mixed-age, group environment also contributes to the moral development of children as they learn and practice respect for others, become sensitive to others’ needs, and collaborate and build a sense of community spirit.
The third year of each plane of development in the Montessori environment is comparable to a senior year. Third year students are confident in who they are; they are the role models and leaders of the class, taking younger children under their wing to teach and nurture. These older students pass along what they have learned to the younger children and celebrate the younger students’ learning and acquisition of knowledge and skills. Third year students know how hard it was to learn these skills and are keen to show their peers.
The third year is a rite of passage. When children are removed from the environment too early, without having the opportunity to celebrate the conclusion of their work cycle, it robs them of the satisfying sense of completion. The final year of the three-year cycle in a Montessori program gives the child the chance to develop leadership skills and to apply his/her knowledge in a new direction — and that is a valuable opportunity every Montessori child should be afforded.
THIRD PLANE OF DEVELOPMENT-HIGH SCHOOL
The third plane of development is a time of great transformation, both physically and psychologically. Logical thinking has developed, but children desire learning that is connected to real life. Although Montessori was never able to create her model high school, she did write about her ideas and envisioned children participating in a self-sufficient community. Ideally, in a Montessori high school, there would be two sub-planes (12-15) and (15-18). Currently, middle schools cater to the needs of children in the first sub-plane, encouraging them to explore interests in real life skills: cooking, homemaking, gardening, technology, fine arts and recreation. Children at this stage need a broad understanding of the humanities and sciences so that they can discover the things that interest them. Schooling at this stage should happen beyond the classroom walls and in the greater community so that young people are encouraged to explore options, such as simple short-term jobs and volunteer opportunites, service work with local social organizations, involvement with student governance and youth action committees, participation in adjudicated fine arts clubs and exhibitions and competitive or league ‘rep’ teams, and so on, that will prepare them for the next sub-plane (15-18). It is at this stage (12-15) when children, who are developing into youth, will hone their interests and make decisions to pursue particular activities, whether it is academics or practical skills, arts or sport. The more broad-based the first sub-plane (12-15) is, the more easily the (15-18) year old can narrow his or her focus with confidence. During this time (15-18), youth need exposure to topics such as psychology, physiology and health, philosophy as well as practical life skills such as personal finance and inter/intrapersonal relationship skills.
FOURTH PLANE OF DEVELOPMENT-POST SECONDARY
The fourth plane of development is the most unexplored territory when it comes to Montessori education. There are some ideas written about it but it is largely undeveloped. I believe this is a critical stage in the development of our youth and that it is therefore worthy of some thought. My vision of this period is two-fold. First, I have observed that many young people benefit from a “gap”-type year, either before or after their post-secondary training, be that university, an apprenticeship, or another training program. Why not embed this as part of our education system and create real opportunities for all young adults to volunteer, travel and contribute, either at home or abroad? This should not be an opportunity that is available only to the elite, but to all young people in some form or other. It has become the expectation that young people will complete some form of post-secondary training prior to beginning a career. Why, then, can it not become the expectation that all students first have the opportunity to experience and contribute to the world in a meaningful way through a “gap” year as well?
Secondly, young people moving from the formal school system into adulthood need assistance with the transition to work. Just the other day, I had a young person tell me she was overwhelmed by the prospect of preparing a resume and going to a job interview. On the other end, I approached a friend who works as a set designer and discussed how he might mentor someone new to the craft. Wouldn’t it be ideal if all young people preparing to enter the work force were put in contact with one or more adults already working in their chosen field, if not for mentorship specifically, at least for a face-to-face conversation that would help the young person understand the real-life complexities they might encounter as they begin their own career? This period may, in fact, be one of the most difficult life transitions a person will go through. Youth are mature, educated, schooled, and ready for the “real world,” but the job market is competitive. Often, experience is valued over information by prospective employers. I believe we must do more to mentor our young people in their transition to work by affording them the opportunity to gain experience and learn the necessary intra- and interpersonal aspects of the work they want to do.
Having taught for many years in both traditional and Montessori environments, working as both a teacher and administrator and raising my own children to adulthood, I have had ample opportunity to observe the fundamental needs of children and youth. I think as a society it is incumbent on us to see the big picture and consider human development across all of the planes. Instead of thinking about development in terms of isolate grades, we need a broader view of education that goes beyond separate subject areas and considers the overall development of the person. Education should not be divided up into discrete ministries. The BC ministry draft curriculum proposal of core competencies is a step in the right direction. It begins the dialogue towards this type of thinking. Why is our system divided into discrete groups- preschool, daycare, high school, and post-secondary- without connection from one to the next? Would not it serve society better if we developed a bigger view?
I think so.
Respect, grace and courtesy are the foundation of how we conduct ourselves in the Montessori world. Schools in general today look to programs that assist teachers in promoting values and character education. Montessorians have always seen values as the foundation of healthy living and we seek to incorporate them in our daily work.
The latest NAMTA (North American Teachers’ Association) journal reflected on this topic, exploring respect, grace and courtesy across all the planes of development. “Grace and courtesy is the very basis for Montessori as a way of life, an aid to life, and is at the center of being and consciousness. Grace and courtesy require a personal commitment to presence and become a source of enlightenment and transformation for the developing human.” Schaefer, P. (2014). Social Cohesion, Grace and Courtesy. NAMTA, 40 (1).
At Eagle Harbour Montessori, we endeavour to teach students that grace is the way we present ourselves, courtesy is how we respect others and civility is sort of a combination of both, or, how we conduct ourselves in the world. In order to practice these values, children need to understand self-regulation. They need to know what it is, what it means and children need strategies to regulate themselves, that is, exercise restraint and control one’s will even when it may be challenging to do so.
We know that parents are our partners in this and that this teaching begins at home. However, one can say that it takes a whole community to raise a child and develop these habits of mind. It is important that all the adults involved in a child’s life model these values whether it is a teacher, administrator, coach, after school caregiver, parent, relative or school custodian.
Whether through presentations given by classroom teachers, group lessons by our school counselor, modeling and correction by adults who work at the school, weekly announcements or school assemblies, grace, courtesy and civility are paramount to our work.
Montessori believed that “it is
necessary for the teacher to guide the child without letting the child feel her
presence too much, so that she may be always ready to supply the desired help,
but may never be the obstacle between the child and his experience"
Montessori educators pay close attention to the early learning brain
development patterns that were studied and reported on extensively by the
internationally revered Canadian child development expert Fraser Mustard. (Israelson, 2013, Montessori Method:
Learning that Emerges From Within)
The teachers at Eagle Harbour Montessori are no
exception to this. Our Montessori teachers are trained to observe children to prepare the best
possible environment, recognizing their individual needs and diverting
inappropriate behavior to meaningful tasks. They prepare the learning environment by ensuring that learning
materials are provided in an orderly format. They then introduce and demonstrate learning materials to directly
support children’s learning after observing what a child needs to learn next. Our teachers encourage children to learn
by offering interesting choices to learn a new skill or study a topic of
interest. When students do an inquiry of a topic of interest, they are often
taught skills they need along the way.
At Eagle Harbour Montessori our teachers
work together as a team sharing their unique skills and assets to meet the
needs of students. Ms Hardern, one of our lower elementary teachers with her
background as a special education assistant and a Bachelor of Arts in music
believes in differentiated instruction and providing diverse learning
opportunities that will capture the interest and imagination of
students. She allows and enables each student to work at their own pace
and level, while still providing support and challenge in a way
that motivates them to try their best. Ms Harden’s
talent as a writer is a valuable asset to all.
Ms Maki has completed course work in special education and understands
the unique needs of diverse learners. With her interest in different cultural environments,
she is always embedding cultural experiences into her early learning classroom
environment. Ms Maki has a keen interest
in literacy education and seeks new ways to incorporate literacy learning into
her daily work with students. She has an avid interest in the outdoors and is
our resident garden expert.
Ms Everett started off with an early childhood diploma and certificate
in special needs education. When she transferred her skills into a teaching
degree, she came across Montessori education in her first assignment. She now
has a Masters in Montessori education and is adept at integrating many
well-known social skills programs into her teaching. In addition, she is always finding ways to
incorporate technology as a Montessori material.
Mr Samson has worked in lower and upper elementary environments as is
continually sharing his extensive knowledge and expertise with the specialized
Montessori materials. He did extensive training in Montessori education through
the Vancouver School Board and is a valued Montessorian, chairing the
Provincial Montessori Teachers’ Association. Mr. Samson is our school’s
storyteller with his extensive knowledge of Montessori’s “Great Stories”.
Ms Karlstrom with many years of experience in lower and upper elementary
education rounds out our staff with her expertise in French language
instruction and physical education. She is often seen assisting students to
develop their ability to self-regulate.
The teachers at Eagle Harbour Montessori regularly
collaborate and team teach deferring to the expertise of one or another. Within
this strong culture of respect for various teaching experiences, respect for
each child and modelling ongoing respect for
all children and their work is paramount.
One of the most important skills, if not the
most important skill we teach in school is how to read. Reading is a skill that
children need to learn in the early years. Research indicates that proficiency
in reading by grade three is critical to academic success (Wennersten, M. “…Why
is Third Grade So Important?” Interdys.org, 2013).
This summer I took the opportunity to immerse
myself in multi-sensory language education or the Orton-Gillingham method. Samuel Orton, much like Maria Montessori,
discovered and pioneered methods while working as a physician. Orton observed
and studied children with language processing difficulties and then brought
together neuroscientific information and principles for remediation. The OG
approach, much like the Montessori method encompasses multi-sensory teaching
and learning. It is systematic, direct, emotionally sound and teaches children
synthesis, application and metacognition.
The OG approach is a good fit with the Montessori
program as it embodies many of the same principles. OG follows the learner, it
is multi-sensory and hands-on, it encourages positive correction procedures and
is conducted with respect, grace and courtesy. OG can be embedded into
classroom practice, small group instruction or used one to one with learners.
While some may see OG as an intervention program for struggling readers, it
encompasses all aspects of language including sentence analysis, composition,
morphology and grammar making it a program for even the most gifted learner.
We are fortunate to have a trained OG tutor
as part of our team at Eagle Harbour. Our students benefit from a variety of
talents our staff offer and this will be one more way that EH Montessori can
serve our student community.
Children in a Montessori environment learn that everything in the universe is connected. In a Montessori school children learn that there are symbiotic relationships not only amongst the natural world but also in the world of humans. At Eagle Harbour Montessori you do not have to look far to see this at work. Our school is an organism at work- a place where students, staff and parents co-exist; a place where the teaching and learning is interconnected and flows.
Yesterday at Eagle Harbour Montessori, the students worked alongside their parents in the next step to develop the natural play scape and outdoor classrooms. Children were raking, digging and hauling brush from the forest to enhance the natural playground. They spontaneously found jobs to do and you could see them finding satisfaction and a sense of personal dignity in contributing to meaningful work.
Earlier in the week, our students connected with secondary students who prepared and delivered an authentic African food experience. As the secondary students shared their understanding of the ritual of an East African meal, the elementary students taught them to sing and dance in Swahili. Later in the day, Eagle Harbour students presented an exhibition of their year-long inquiry into African culture. They taught their parents to games such as Mancala and Kudoda; parents worked alongside students making Wadoobe pouches and Kufi hats. As the students rolled out mats to sit on and enjoy some African food, parents learned that they didn’t need to worry that they had forgotten to bring cutlery…in Africa you eat with your hands off of a shared plate. Eagle Harbour students shared their third world knowledge using first world tools- research on various African animals developed into iMovies and understandings of African countries became PowerPoints and Presis.
Conversations about civilization and human history in the Montessori elementary classroom help children understand that humans are one single unit through space and time: what is happening to people in one part of the world affects the rest; what happened in the past affects the present, which, in its turn, determines the future. As I engage in conferences with each of our students about their learning from our inquiry into Africa, I am amazed at the connections they have made. Without realizing it, they have learned about such concepts as: colonialism, economics and the impact of various styles of governance.
Amongst all of this last week our students and parents were able to find time for expressions of gratitude to staff… notes of thanks, gifts and treats popped up everywhere at Eagle Harbour. As always, the Montessori values of respect, grace and courtesy were evident.
We know that schools provide a social network for families. At Eagle Harbour Montessori there is a strong social culture; it is a school community that inspires students to become a responsible, caring and contributing member of society through various experiences.
that it was important to teach children about their place in the universe, the
interdependence of all living things and inspire them to earthly stewardship.
To quote Montessorians, Michael and D’Neil Duffy
“Cosmic Education is intended to help each of us
search for our cosmic task as a species and as individuals. To do this, we must
understand ourselves in context. It is only against the background of our place
in the universe, our relationships with other living organisms, and our
understanding of human unity within cultural diversity, that we can attempt to
answer the question, ‘Who am I?’” (Michael & D’Neil Duffy,
Children of the Universe: Cosmic Education in the Montessori Elementary
This school year, our
students are learning in depth about life in Africa. For me, it is deep and
meaningful in that I have been able to bring first hand my experience in Africa
this summer. What started out with a digital photo story of graceful giraffes
moving across the Serengeti, children singing at school in a Masai village and
Ms Stevenson petting a sleeping cheetah has become an opportunity for our students
to learn about social justice, economics and the opportunity to make a
The first thing to
intrigue our students was the unique African handshake that has three parts to
it. Then… it was being able to carry something on your head- our youngest
students have been inspired to practice walking around with books on their
heads these days! But while our youngest students are enthused by African
animals and the faces of everyday life, the older students have began to ask
thoughtful questions as they have learned about people such as: Nelson Mandela,
William Kwamkamba and Kwabena Darko. I never realized how rich and deep this
teaching would become. In a few short
weeks, the students have heard about apartheid, slavery and economic
challenges. Their questions beget more questions and then there are moments to
process, contemplate and reflect. At times we take a break from the big and seemingly
unanswerable questions and take out the African djembes and engage in some song
Through digital access
our students have learned about organizations that inspire hope such as Free
the Children and the We Day movement.
And now as our parents plan a fundraiser to continue building the Dream
Big Montessori School in Africa the students are dreaming up their own ideas so
that they can contribute.
As they say in
Swahili, ‘pole pole’ (which means slowly slowly)….change takes time but
individuals can make a difference.
MariaDSCN0639.JPG Montessori would
be pleased to see that Eagle Harbour students are indeed finding their place in
the universe and making connections.
“They (children of the first plane) have already
absorbed the immediate environment and the restricted society they and their
families have dealings with. You must try to give the child what he now longs
for: the understanding of the world, how it functions and how it affects the
life and behavior of humanity.” (Maria Montessori, To
Educate the Human Potential.)
This past summer I had the opportunity to visit and work with Montessori teachers in Africa. As a Montessori teacher working in the developed world it was inspiring to see teacher colleagues passionate about their work despite third world challenges. We quickly discovered common interests, challenges and questions. Despite living in different countries, continents and working in different systems, Montessori teachers share a common philosophy about teaching and learning. Although we struggle with the workload of creating and maintaining a prepared environment with enough material to accommodate many needs and interests, we enjoy knowing that children’s interests are ignited and respected, learning is personalized and integrated and formative assessment is just a part of what we do.
Montessori teachers are very passionate about the work they do. Many Montessori teachers find their vocation and become inspired to further their training after making a connection with a Montessori environment. Montessori teachers are specially trained and teachers working in the public system acquire training above and beyond the mainstream requirements at their own expense. It is always heartwarming to hear the individual stories of Montessori teachers and how they came to find their calling. Eagle Harbour teacher Jessica Maki compares the Montessori classroom to a garden; one where each student, like a plant, is unique and needs different amounts of love, sunlight and water. “The Montessori environment allows me to observe and facilitate each child’s needs on a daily basis.” EH teacher Roland Samson says that he enjoys his work as a Montessori teacher because “the philosophy not only allows the students to have choice and freedom but the teacher as well. I can change my lesson minute by minute depending on what the students are doing. The fluidity of the class is fun and engaging not only for the students but the teacher too.”
The Montessori environment is much like an organism; where each piece is interdependent and part of a cohesive whole. “Montessori education offers more than just a great foundation,” says teacher Sarah Everett. “What I love most is knowing that my work helps every student to belong and achieve their potential –that’s what inspired me to choose to become a Montessori teacher.”
As I visited Montessori classrooms in Africa, I noticed that the teachers had worked hard making materials by hand in order to provide students with the same materials we find in classrooms here. More importantly, our colleagues were keen to modernize their approach to create a climate of respect, grace and courtesy not always evident in the traditional schools of the third world. Today, I would like to pay special tribute to our Montessori colleagues worldwide who share our passion and commitment and seek to foster the virtues of the Montessori philosophy.
The beginning of the school year is always full of anticipation and excitement. On our first day back as educators, Artistic Director Christopher Gaze inspired us with his passion for the arts, telling us how significant educators had encouraged him to pursue his dream. Passion is where it all starts….the questions begin, the exploration follows, we then connect, investigate, reflect and share as a spiral of inquiry takes us on a journey. Learning does not only happen in classrooms….our quest for knowledge can take us in many directions be it virtually, spiritually or physically.
My passion to teach and learn took me to Africa this past summer – an amazing adventure and experience. Every day was filled with wonder, investigations and reflections. I look forward to sharing my passion for the people and their culture, my knowledge of the history, geography, language, arts and sports and the deeper connections made with the Montessori community there. The countries in Africa face many challenges but also many opportunities! The great Nobel Prize winner Nelson Mandela stated “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Through education we grow, develop, change.
At Eagle Harbour there is a lot to look forward to this coming year…It’s our first year as a K-5 Montessori school, we are welcoming several new staff and our new garden and natural play scape are ready to go! We’re excited about pursuing our cultural education initiative as we focus on Africa, continue our work on conflict management and use all the tools available to personalize our learning.
As Montessori teachers we always have a starting point….respect, grace and courtesy. This year I think our second step could be a look at Mandela’s book for children of African Folk Tales where the whole village learns that “children are the ones who hear truly and whose eyes are clear-they are the eyes and ears of the tribe.”
As they say in Africa ‘Hakuna Matata’- no worries! Let the passion for education begin : )
EH Montessori Explores First Nations Culture
Cultural geography is a key
aspect of the Montessori elementary curriculum. At Eagle Harbour Montessori we
have decided to place special emphasis on a continent a year with our children
covering all continents in their 6 years here. In addition, we will choose a
country in each continent to focus on in depth. This year we studied North
America with a particular focus on First Nations culture.
Our students began their
exploration by working closely with community elders Wendy Charbonneau and
Sahplek from the Squamish First Nation learning about the culture through
stories, drumming, song, beading and animal totems. We invited the young Takiya
who spoke passionately of her work in the environment and the inspiration from
her grandmother to work towards her goals. Our learning continued at the Grouse
Hiwus House where our students also tried snowshoeing. In February, we
journeyed to the Squamish Big House and learned about cedar bark, carving,
weaving, hunting, fishing and food gathering while making bannock and soup with
hot rocks. It was experiential learning at its best as we gathered around the
fire to stay warm on a very cold winter day! Each of the students was named in
a traditional naming ceremony. Eagle Harbour hosted a family style potlatch
with the Eagle Dancers where our students showcased the various dances and
songs they had learned in their clan groups. Our inquiry then took us to the
Museum of Anthropology where our older students learned about the many uses of
cedar and the younger students further explored various totems and their
meanings. Through the Talking Stick Festival we learned about Metis jigging
with Yvonne Chartrand and the dances and drumming of the Git Hayestik with Mike
Dangeli. Last Friday we were entertained by the Damelahamid Dancers where we
learned yet more stories of Cree and West Coast nations.
Meanwhile our students have been
involved with the BC Fisheries Salmonoid project and Streamkeepers raising
salmon and releasing them into our local creek at Parc Verdun. The staff at the
Seymour River Hatchery and Education Center helped our students learn about the
importance of salmon to the environment and the importance of safe, clean water
to sustain the life cycle of salmon.
Connections with local community
partners has extended our students’ knowledge and it has been remarkable to
observe the deep understanding our students now have of our First Nations
people and their culture. Eagle Harbour students are able to relate stories, demonstrate
songs they have learned, identify First Nations symbols and themes, and compare
and contrast various aspects of the culture.
Eagle Harbour Montessori is proud
to show its knowledge of this rich heritage!