Montessori approach a different way to learn

February 08, 1998|By DON AINES

Montessori approach a different way to learn

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - In 1907, Dr. Maria Montessori opened her first casa dei bambini in Italy. In this "house of childhood" for the children of Rome's tenaments, she put into practice her educational theories.

The Montessori method, allowing children freedom of movement and learning at their own pace, spread rapidly through Europe and to the United States. Mary Jane Bittle, who, with her husband Harry, owns the Montessori School of Chambersburg, said there are more than 5,000 Montessori schools in this country.

"We teach the three 'Rs': Respect, responsibility and resourcefulness," Bittle said last week of the school's programs for toddlers, preschoolers and elementary students.


Parents are invited to observe classes this week at 2011 Scotland Ave.

The toddler class, for children 20 months to 3 years, can be observed between 9:15 and 10:15 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Children's Houses A and B, for ages 3 to 6, can be observed from 9:45 to 10:45 a.m. today through Friday and the elementary class can be seen from 9 a.m. to noon each day.

There will also be an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

"Our teachers are more like guides. As the children have more of a desire to work on more things, we guide them," Bittle said.

Instead of individual desks, Bittle said children work together at tables or on floor mats.

"A child learning linear counting could be sitting next to a child doing addition and subtraction," she said.

This allows for what elementary director Pat Pope called "peer teaching ... Children learn from children." She called the Montessori method less "teacher-dominated."

Pope started in public schools, but has taught at Montessori schools since 1970.

"I found the Montessori approach much more effective. You see children make incredible leaps in figuring things out for themselves and becoming better learners," she said.

Bittle said once children master a skill using their own resources, they move onto the next level with greater desire and confidence.

"We're very material-intensive," Bittle said. The children's houses are crowded with activities designed to stimulate a child's senses in a home-like atmosphere.

When Bittle started the school nine years ago, there were just four students. Now, from toddlers through elementary, there are 67 children at the school.

Peter and Becky Jablin of Chambersburg have two children attending - Aaron, 9, and 8-year-old Katie. Their three older children attend public schools.

Peter Jablin said his son attended the preschool program and wanted to go on to the elementary class. "He was doing work he wouldn't have gotten in public schools for another two or three years," he said.

"For kids who can organize themselves, it's a wonderful experience. They're expected to have an amazing amount of responsibility at a very young age," Jablin said.

He also likes the fact that the children do their work at school. There's very little homework and the children's time at home is their own.

"Our house is homework central for the older kids," he said.

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