Testimonial from a former parent and current teacher

Mountain Laurel Elementary Arts

I have been in the field of education for many, many years – literally beginning with feeding orphans at Saint Josephs’ orphanage in Dunmore, Pennsylvania when I was a Brownie in third grade. I have worked in special needs schools, public education, and Montessori schools. 

Each year I enjoy the wonders of the primary classroom with children between the ages of three and six. Each year I marvel at the toddlers and how adorable and competent they can be in a world where most adults have no idea just what they are capable of. And then each year (twenty-four total at Mountain Laurel!) I am invited to the elementary and middle school performances. What a treat. 

In a society that undervalues the arts in many educational settings, the arts are very much alive at Mountain Laurel. I won’t even say the arts are alive in Montessori schools in general, because all Montessori schools are not created equal. What I witness in our school warms my heart and convinces me why I sent my children to Mountain Laurel. 

First of all let me say that each family with children in our schools past and present have varying talents and diverse interests. We have children who take music lessons, dance lessons, play sports, act in theatres, join choirs, join scouts, are avid readers and nature enthusiasts outside of school… and the list goes on. Each child brings to the class parts of their families and their personal experiences. This is true in any class in any school. The difference in this Montessori elementary is the opportunity to explore their interests in class and therefore expose and teach others. 

This elementary class has a piano and an electric keyboard, and I hear children playing them very often when I am transitioning from place to place in the school. There are various percussion instruments and tone bars. There are Orff instruments (xylophones, metallophones, glockenspiels), recorders, and varied stringed instruments. When children bring their instruments to school they expose others and spark interest. When they practice piano at school others are learning from them at the same time. They sing together and perform just like a choir with rounds and solos. Our middle school students all (or so it seems) learn to play guitar. They showcase their talents in the performances and learn from their teachers in private lessons and with staff at school, and they learn from each other. 

Children also practice dancing at school. In the past we have had ballerinas, gymnasts, and currently have children learning Irish dance. It is spectacular to see them performing in class and practicing with each other. Like most things that happen in the Montessori class there is more than meets the eye. Through dancing the children learn about different cultures and perfect their coordination and get exercise to name a few benefits. They use their bodies and brains and laugh and feel happiness. They do this with basketball, soccer, and football in the woods during playtime. Our students play outside every day with the exception of very inclement weather. 

Children also act and recite poetry beginning in the kindergarten year and moving forward. When my children were in elementary they remember the plays that they wrote and enacted. Currently the tradition is to act in Greek plays and Shakespeare plays each year. The little ones I remember in our primary classes so quickly become the children reciting long lines memorized to perfection on stage. Also, the children create their own costumes – not purchased or adult perfect, but creative (and sometimes adorably funny) costumes from all types of loose-piece materials.

Lastly, there is the use of the hands. This is typical in Montessori class as a general rule. Learning materials typically have movement involved. Sewing is part of the primary curriculum and continues right into elementary with children sewing their own journal pouch the first week of school. In our elementary class, however, the children have the good fortune of learning to quilt each year. It is a tradition that started after my children’s time in elementary, but has been going on for many years now. My girls missed out on quilting, but during their time in elementary they had their own traditions they loved. 

Lastly, let me speak to the writing opportunities and visual arts present across our programs. None of the curriculums in any of my other educational experiences included the opportunities for creative writing that I witness in our school. Beginning with the movable alphabet in primary and moving forward, the emphasis is always on the creative process, which is supported by phonics, spelling, and grammar lessons. This process prompts children to love writing instead of being continually corrected in their writing. Editing certainly becomes a part of writing, but not until the children are ensconced in the creative process. Out of all the things my children gained from their Montessori education, writing is probably one of the most outstanding. Mountain Laurel’s writing successes and visual art successes are showcased each year at the Samuel’s Public Library holiday writing contest. I was so proud as I sat in the audience this past week listening to our students read aloud the pieces they created in class. Please check out the magazine in the library next time you visit. Each year the library creates a magazine incorporating all of the stories and artwork from Mountain Laurel and many other learning environments. 

I had a wonderful time at the holiday performance and the Holiday’s Around the World celebration put on by our middle school students on the last day of school. Our middle school students (under the guidance of very hard working adults) prepared all of the activities for approximately fifty little ones to create little prizes and wonderful memories to expand their knowledge of other places in the world. Acts of service such as this should also be considered an art in my book! 

Carrie Irre, M.Ed.
Teacher and Parent