Interview with Betsy Black


As promised yesterday, today I'm featuring an interview with Betsy Black, founder and lead guide of Redland Montessori.  I invite you to click over to read Betsy's bio on her website and to enjoy her answers to some of the questions I posed about her own experience as a Montessori educator and what makes a Montessori education so valuable.

JC: How did you get into Montessori education?
BB: After my son was born, I became very interested in child development as I watched my baby grow and learn.  

As I did more research into the topic, I rediscovered Montessori education, which I had been a part of from preschool through my kindergarden years.  

All aspects of the Montessori Method really made sense to me and the importance of supporting the whole child throughout development.  

JC: Where did you get your training?
BB: I found that I could get my AMI Montessori training at MINW, Montessori Institute Northwest, right here in Portland, having already completed my bachelors degree at PSU.  

While pregnant with my second child, I enrolled in the rigorous 9 month training, while also fulfilling most of my credits toward my Masters Degree in Education through Loyola University.  After graduation, I stayed home with my newborn daughter for a year until I got my first job in the classroom at the Harmony Montessori, where my son was attending.  

The following year, I took one month off to fly to Baltimore, MD, where I finished my last two classes and started my thesis papers to complete my MEd.  I worked in the classroom at Harmony the next year while I worked to finish my thesis papers, and finally graduated with my Masters degree in Education in 2013.   

JC: What made you decide to start your own school?

BB: I knew that I wanted to start my own Montessori school while I was in the training at MINW, where we were taught step by step, not only how to be a Montessori teacher, but also how to run and start your own school.  This goal became a reality when my family was able to purchase a house in Redland, just outside the Oregon City limits.  

When we were looking for houses, some of our main priorities were to find a house that had a space for the classroom, outside space for children, and a good area to explore the wonders of the natural world.  This was my dream to offer a school outside of the the city, where children could have a connection to nature and the outside world, away from the sidewalks, and streets. 

JC: What's the best part about being a Montessori teacher?

BB: The best part about being a Montessori teacher is to be able to see and follow a child in their natural path of development, and assist them in mastering their skills in each step.  

To be able to observe a single child to see where their interest is drawn, and be able to connect them to an activity that ignites that interest and challenges their abilities; then to watch that same child repeat the activity purely out of concentration and interest in their quest to master the skill that the activity hold--these moments are reached with such joy from the child, and satisfaction in their own success.  

In short, I love to get to know each child individually, and support them as they grow following their own path.  

JC:  What makes your school different than other preschools or daycare situations?

BB:  Redland Montessori is similar to many Montessori schools, but it is unique because of its location in a rural environment, as compared to other Montessori schools.  

We are very different from other daycare and preschool situations, in that we follow the Montessori Method, which is to follow each child in their individual path of development.  Most other preschools and daycares are based on group time, and structured group activities.  This is different for a Montessori environment in that Montessori believed that there were different planes of development, in which the first 6 years of life a child is in the first plane.  

From the ages 3-6, a child is in the second half of the first plane of development.  This child is a "conscious worker;" who learns and grows just by being in the adult-prepared environment.  This child must manipulate, touch, hold, and put their whole being into what they are doing.  The child does this through concrete sensorial exploration of the world and environment driven by the sensitive periods, which create a drive and interest in the child to explore and master the environment with all senses individually and on their own.  

This is a period of individual growth, where the child is a parallel learner and cannot work in groups or in combined effort with anyone else.  All of the concrete experiences that the child had in the first plane of development, creates a basis for the child to move into abstraction and reasoning in the second plane.  

All of the materials in a Montessori environment, and the independent choice given to the child in the environment, support this development and drive of the child of this age.  Typical daycare and preschool settings follow a group-based program taking these independent learners and trying to create a learning environment.  

JC: What can a parent expect to see in their child as a result of a Montessori education?

 BB: When a parent enrolls their child in a Montessori school, they can expect to see many different things develop within their child.  They will begin to see their child develop independence and confidence to be able to make decisions and do things on their own.  This helps the child develop an immense sense of self and responsibility that will follow them throughout their lives.  

The child will also learn and internalize a sense of peace and global awareness with respect to others and the environment.  Parents will see their child showing courtesy and a non-competitive nature in social situations, and a curiosity and lifelong love of learning.  

JC: Do children transition well from Montessori preschool and kindergarten to more traditional learning settings (e.g. public schools)?

BB: Children that switch from a Montessori preschool to a more traditional school typically are ahead of their peers and do very well.  Although it is an adjustment for the child, especially when it comes to independence, children adjust very well.  

I have heard from elementary teachers that they can always tell the Montessori children from the the others in the beginning of the year because the Montessori children don't raise their hands to go to the bathroom.  They just get up and quietly walk out of the room.  

Some children show a lower than expected grade in some areas for a short while and this can sometimes be hard for parents to deal with and accept.  Parents should remember that the grading system usually doesn't  reflect a child's true abilities.  Many studies have been shown comparing typical school children's academic performance to Montessori children's.  These studies have shown that Montessori children overall have higher test scores and higher GPAs.  

I can also speak from my own transition from a Montessori environment into a typical public grade school in first grade.  My mom has said that both my brother and I were ahead in math and languages, and had a very easy transition. As for my memory of the transition, I really don't remember having a whole lot of struggles adjusting to the new environment.  


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