A MONTESSORI EDUCATION
When I first opened our preschool in Hollywood in 1985, the name Shir-Hashirim seemed to be just right. Shir-Hashirim translates literally as “Song of Songs,” but the biblical meaning may be closer to “Song of Creation.” Although our name is Hebrew, we honor many traditions and we welcome students and employ faculty and staff without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.
When you enter our “house for children” — the phrase and concept are original with Maria Montessori — you may be struck by several features of our everyday educational experience. The first impression may be of the silence of the children’s involvement. Our students are between two and six years of age, and many parents, seeing bunches of such young children, expect to witness significant levels of noise, if not outright chaos. A primary commitment of the Montessori method is not rigid discipline but trust that if children are presented with materials finely tuned to their emerging capacities, they will become naturally absorbed in exploring simultaneously, and through an exquisitely quiet interaction, the possibilities of both the materials and themselves. A Montessori Education is renowned for following the child by respecting his or her individual pace of development, not simply as a philosophical tenet but in the very practical terms of constantly assessing when the child is ready for which new challenge. It is the sustained experience of personal involvement in frequently changing tasks that underlies the development of the independence we see in the classroom, and that many parents report seeing in their homes and as they accompany their children out in the wider world.
The second surprise may come from noting how the children help and learn from each other. Teachers present new materials and supervise their use, but the children frequently help each other. Our classrooms mix ages that are separated in many educational settings, and this mixing leads naturally to older or more experienced children helping novices in given tasks. The young child naturally looks to the older with respect and for guidance, and the older or more experienced child often learns most profoundly from teaching, an experience we share with them.
You may also be surprised to see the range of activities inside and outside of the school. In our classrooms every day, students practice activities in mathematics, language, science, history, geography, reading and writing. Our programs change as our staff, family backgrounds and student interests change, but to give an indication, as of this writing we offer art, music, dance, drama, and yoga, as well as instruction in French, Mandarin and Spanish. The children, as beginners, will often show the roughness of primitives, but also, if you observe closely, you will see that they display the positive aspects of the primitive in the sense of simplicity and profundity in the experience of discovery.
The motivation of our staff is continually refreshed by observing these features — the children’s solo involvements, the mutual benefits of altruistic relations with each other, and their immediate grasp of aspects of arts and sciences that we realize we had always failed to appreciate. In addition, in our twenty years of experience, we have enjoyed enormously the constantly evolving international community that has evolved around us in Los Angeles, and that surprises us every year by offering us new possibilities, for example a grandfather visiting from Singapore who plays guitar as he sings in Chinese, delighting the children who can make out words they have learned from their Chinese teacher; or a mother’s introduction of Hindu food and dances at her child’s birthday party; or the “industry” parents who may rush back from a movie set or a Las Vegas show to help us design state-of-the-art sound systems, create a tapestry-like stage background, or edit the recordings of multiple cameras into a DVD of one of our plays. We delight in the reality that each person — child, parent, and staff — brings something unique and valuable to our community.
We invite you to visit our school and spend some time in our classrooms. Watch how the children interact with one another, and with the adult teachers (in Montessori we call them guides). See how responsibility and independence are fostered, and how the child-appropriate environment makes it possible for children to discover their abilities. Please join us for a tour and see why children love being here.