Nearly a century ago, Dr. Maria Montessori developed a method of education that focused on student-led activities and independent thinking rather than on lectures from teachers, memorizing facts and figures or passing standardized tests. She was determined to create a nurturing environment that encouraged children to think, dream and imagine – and to see the entire world, not just their classroom, as a learning laboratory.
The Montessori Method challenges students to reach their potential, but, at the same time, to learn at their own individual pace. Academics are important, but a child’s social, emotional, intellectual and physical development are emphasized as well. Students are inspired with independence and with confidence in their ability to succeed in a world that values these traits.
Charles Towne Montessori School, established in 1972 and the only institution of learning in South Carolina certified by The Association Montessori International, is preparing to give its students the opportunity to remain in its fertile learning environment for a few more years.
Beginning in August, it will expand its holistic approach, now offered to children from 15 months through the sixth grade, to seventh and eighth graders. Their classrooms will be housed in a brand-new, 2,500-square-foot building that will offer enhanced technology, a full kitchen and a large outdoor area for kids to grow their own plants and vegetables – space for children to build and create, according to Head of School Susan Burkhardt.
She said the decision to add a middle school was made after receiving input from parents of children who have reaped the benefits of Charles Towne Montessori’s methods.
“We asked them what they would like to see – what would provide a better experience for their families,” Burkhardt commented. “They realized what it does for their children, and they said they would like to see it go further.”
Lead Adolescent Teacher Elizabeth Seney added that the new, high-tech building is only part of the attraction for middle-schoolers seeking an environment that is conducive to learning as well as to helping them cope with an awkward and difficult time in their lives.
“It’s different than a normal school environment,” Seney said. “We really honor the needs of children at that age. We consider the whole child, not just the academic part. The Montessori Method allows for a lot of expression in different areas of their social and emotional development.”
Seney, who brings 19 years of education experience to Charles Towne Montessori, spent five years as a math specialist and generalist at Hershey Montessori in Ohio and later started her own business, writing curriculum for schools, including for the school where she now teaches.
Seney explained that elementary education at Charles Towne Montessori is unique in the Lowcountry. Rather than studying math or history for an hour at a time, students are in class for a two-and-a-half-hour block in the morning and again in the afternoon, all the while learning about a wide range of subjects. There’s always a theme that ties everything together, and the learning environment generally expands well beyond the classroom.
"For example, when we studied Westward Expansion, we visited a blacksmith and learned how railroads and wagons were made. We came back to the classroom and talked about iron alloys, which led to a discussion about the periodic table, which led to molecular formulas, which led to Algebra” Seney explained. “Algebra brought us to communication during the 1800s, which circled right back to the history of inventions during Westward Expansion. It’s a big web of learning largely guided by student interest.”
For more information about Charles Towne Montessori School, visit www.charlestownemontessori.org.