A different way to teach

INDIAN TRAIL – Randi Eccleston didn’t start out using the Montessori method of teaching, but working at a Montessori school changed her perspective on education.

Now a firm believer in the method, Eccleston hopes to engage Union County children and enlighten parents through a weekly Montessori class at the Indian Trail Cultural Arts Center. Designed for children ages 18 months to 6 years old, the class begins Tuesday, Sept. 10, and will take place every Tuesday from 1 to 2 p.m. at the center, 100 Navajo Trail. Classes cost $10 each or $35 for an entire month.

“This is my favorite age group to work with,” Eccleston said. “I think you’re getting them at a great age, where their mind is ready to learn.”

Eccleston taught for 15 years at both traditional and Montessori schools prior to launching the Montessori classes. She took some time off to raise her children and recently decided it was time to return to work part time.

Seeking to bring the Montessori way of teaching to Union County, Eccleston decided to launch a Montessori program and found the Cultural Arts Center was the perfect location.

The Montessori method of teaching is a very “hands on” way instructors can guide their students to academic success, Eccleston said. Children are typically split into classes that span several ages, and each child learns on his or her own level, she said.

“When you see a Montessori program, it’s a more individualized approach for a child,” Eccleston said. “Instead of teaching the whole class, it’s very individualized. No child is being pushed ahead to do things they’re not ready for.”

Eccleston said the method uses academic games and activities to teach children things like numbers, letters and reading, as well as life skills like pouring their own juice and cereal and how to use a spoon.

“It’s based on respect, dignity and teaching (students) to be independent,” she said. “It’s a little more academic than play, but it’s still all done in play. It’s definitely more academic than traditional preschool, but it’s still a fun, loving, nurturing environment.”

One of the perks of the Montessori method – which can be used for any age group – is the absence of paperwork, Eccleston said. Instead, the method incorporates interactive learning techniques to teach students and keep them engaged, she said.

“It’s more hands on, more concrete as opposed to just the worksheet,” Eccleston said. “You’re not going to see a lot of paperwork, a lot of rope work. You’re not going to see worksheet after worksheet.”

Speaking of her own Montessori classes at the Cultural Arts Center, Eccleston said the typical one-hour session will begin with a “circle time,” where children will listen to a story and sing some songs. She’ll teach a lesson with an activity all children are capable of doing before the children are dismissed to work on their own age-specific activities.

For younger children, activities include paper tearing and learning to work with scissors, while older children work on things like word building to progress toward reading.

“In an hour, we’ll get a lot in,” Eccleston said. “Children that come back week to week will definitely benefit from it.”

One of the most important aspects of Montessori teaching, Eccleston said, is the independence it seeks to instill in children. Because classes include a wider range of ages, it also gives younger children a chance to learn from older kids, while the older students learn leadership skills.

“If you set up the environment correctly, the children can do everything on their own,” she said. “They learn practical life skills (and) independence … in a non-pressure situation.”

Eccleston added she’d love for the method to catch on and inspire more traditional schools to begin incorporating the Montessori way of teaching into their classes.

“I would love to see Montessori practices in traditional schools,” she said. “I just want to get the philosophy out there.”

For more information about Eccleston’s classes, email her at montessorisolutions@gmail.com

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