PRE/PRE-K/K (AGES 3 - 5)
The journey to self-empowerment begins at the earliest ages, with a thoughtfully designed curriculum for 3- to 5-year-olds that prepares children to navigate their bodies in space, the social environment, and their physical surroundings. During this time, our students gain a critical sense of mastery that lays neural pathways for future classroom experiences, and they gain comfort and confidence with Montessori practices. Our Early Childhood Program is not just daycare. We educate the senses of our young learners as a precursor to the more complex learning that will come later. We provide them a vibrant culture, precision materials, and a caring, committed community where these innate drives can thrive.
A Window Into the Classroom
The Early Childhood Program at Montessori Family School is located at our Berkeley Campus (north side of UC Berkeley) and nurtures young children’s quests for independence. Our EC classrooms look different than what you might think of as traditional “preschool”. The learning environment consists of carefully prepared activities—hundreds of options, from painting to map-making, letter formation, math-related blocks and beads, and on and on—just waiting for the children to choose them. In this carefully constructed world, our students seek out their own interests and pursue their capacities, obtaining assistance and guidance from highly trained and experienced Montessori teachers who understand how to nurture autonomy and personal growth while making a child feel safe and supported at all times. Children take personal responsibility for choosing their work, returning materials to their proper places when completed, and tidying up their workspaces as needed. This ownership, in turn, means children derive pride from their ongoing accomplishments. They learn a crucial lesson: They can do it!
During the 2020-2021 school year with COVID-19 precautions in place, each classroom at the Early Childhood campus is headed by a trained Montessori teacher and can have up to 10 students.
For a taste of the types of learning materials that populate our rich learning environments, we invite you to visit this page at the American Montessori Society (of which MFS is a member school): https://amshq.org/Montessori-Education/Introduction-to-Montessori/Montessori-Learning-Materials.
Vision for the Early Childhood Program
We see each student graduating from our EC program fully prepared to continue charting his or her own course of learning, and while beginning to manage the meaning of first-time failures, finding every success in the stages to come. Our children are small leaders (with big ideas) over their own paths of learning.
Goals for the Early Childhood Program
Our goals are that children refine their gross motor skills, obtain a sense of competence over their own bodies, become comfortable and confident in maneuvering a Montessori classroom, develop a deep-seated sense of self-confidence and competence, and obtain a solid cognitive foundation for beginning reading and math concepts. They also learn to become part of a community, including learning from and providing guidance to others, making enduring friendships, and constructively grappling with inevitable moments of conflict.
Schedule of the Day
Children at the Berkeley Campus can start in before-school care as early as 8:00am (please inquire regarding El Cerrito). Children arriving for the regular school day can be dropped off between 8:45am-9:00am. We have a designated drop-off area, where a teacher or staff member will be waiting to greet children. A teacher or staff member will walk students into their classroom.
Students begin the work period in the classroom at 9:00am and this continues until lunchtime. During the work period, children can eat a snack, visit our cultural studies area, work individually, in a pair, or in a group doing different activities.
Lunch begins at 11:30am and continues until 1:15pm. Students have time to eat their lunch and get substantial outdoor time on our large play yard. Those students who stay for a 1/2 day will be picked up by a parent/caregiver at 12:30pm. Children who nap will have supervised rest in the nap room between 12:30pm-2:35pm.
The children come back into the classrooms after lunch and those students who do not nap will have a quiet time. During quiet time the children may listen to music, hear a story read aloud by a teacher, or read to themselves. Quiet time lasts for about 30 minutes.
In the afternoon, students will have another work period until 3:00pm, when regular school ends. Students who are picked up at 3:00pm will be escorted by a teacher or staff member to our drop-off/pick-up area until their parent/caregiver arrives.
Students may be in Afterschool Care until 6:00pm. Afterschool is a fun and engaging time of day with structured activities and time for free play on our yard.
Program of Study
Studies by Maria Montessori and contemporary researchers support the notion that the first several years of a child's life are crucial in shaping his or her personality and ability to learn. Children learn more during this period of time than at any other, and set important patterns for the future. Skills learned become the foundation that help them grow in independence.
Each of our preschool classrooms is divided into five distinct areas, each of which is devoted to learning about a particular subject.
Practical Life Studies
Practical Life activities are designed to allow children autonomy. Developmental psychologists indicate one of the primary drives of the preschool child is “to do it myself.” Practical Life teaches children to take care of themselves and their physical environment. MFS students prepare their own snacks, learn to tie their own shoes and zip their jackets, and clean up after themselves. All of these activities take place in an environment that nurtures the whole child and supports their natural curiosity and love of learning.
In the Early Childhood program, our Cultural Studies materials cover geography, anatomy, botany, zoology and simple physics. Children study the solar system, the earth and its layers, the animals and plants that live on the surface of the earth, and the rich history of different cultures. Materials include maps, puzzles, flags from different nations, and teachers actively incorporate songs, music, and foods from around the world to support our Cultural Studies.
When a child arrives in the early childhood classroom, he or she is ready to explore written language and build upon oral skills. MFS Language materials facilitate an array of hands-on learning experiences. The materials are kinesthetic, auditory and visual, appealing to the multi-sensory modes that children use to acquire information. MFS teachers deliberately both listen as much as they talk, in order to engender autonomy and ownership in young learners. Developing articulate thinkers happens as we support young children in the act of articulation.
Starting with sandpaper letters, children explore phonics, letter formation and writing mechanics. We recognize that some children are ready to jump into reading well before Kindergarten, whereas other children will take more time. We appreciate and support each child's pace.
Montessori Math materials are world renowned. They include concrete manipulatives that give each child a sensorial experience of mathematics, which allows them to later move into abstraction with a real foundation and understanding of math and its underlying concepts. Young MFS mathematicians may work with numbers beyond 1000, delight in materials made from golden beads that help them to experience place value, and begin to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and fractions as well as problem solving, all while employing their hands to explore and experience what numbers really mean.
Sensorial materials – the blocks, beads, rods, spindles; really all of the beautiful materials Montessori created – are carefully calibrated to heighten, develop, and refine the senses of the child. Maria Montessori believed that sensorial experiences began at birth and what comes into the mind of a child comes through his or her senses. Recent findings in neuroscience support this. It is through the five senses – tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory, and gustatory – the child studies and learns about the environment.
One crucial aspect of sensorial learning is that materials further develop a child’s sense of discrimination because the work asks the child to pay careful attention to the size, shape, and weight of an object, among other qualities. Children find the sensorial materials beautiful and inviting and what can look like merely play to the untrained eye, is a child’s full engagement in exploring discrete and sequenced information, developing
a heightened sense of classification. Additionally, the sensorial materials are self-correcting and with the child able to self-check for correctness, independence is also promoted.
Sensorial materials exercise and heighten the child’s senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. As children order and organize the materials, they are also developing neural pathways in the developing brain. Research shows that both math and geometry rely on the exploration of the Sensorial materials, as children are exposed to shape, sequence,
size, and general relationships.
"We are inspired by Montessori, and I would like to think that Maria Montessori would be pretty excited if she saw what was going on."
- Salman Khan, Khan Academy
AGES 4.5 - 6
Kindergarten Bridge is offered to ensure every child is ready to take on the challenges of Lower Elementary, the next phase in Montessori education, involving a mixed classroom with grades 1-3. KB is ideal if your child has no Montessori background and would benefit from exposure to sensorial materials and experiential learning, or if your child has Montessori experience but is too young for first grade. We are happy to discuss which classroom might be most appropriate for your child.
KB at MFS is located at our El Cerrito Campus. In this small classroom, two trained Montessori teachers instruct a maximum of 14 students. This low teacher/student ratio affords children highly individualized attention as they transition to the more rigorous learning experiences that lie ahead in LE. Children who enter on the younger end of the spectrum may spend two years in KB.
Program of Study
KB follows the same Early Childhood program as described above using developmentally appropriate materials. As throughout Montessori, KB emphasizes the experiential nature of learning. Children move at their own pace, pursue particular subjects that are of interest to them, and teach and learn from each other.
To meet their broader developmental needs, children participate in a number of weekly resource classes, such as music (using the Orff Schulwerk system), art, and physical education.
GRADES 1 - 6
In Elementary, children's minds and bodies are more developed, and they begin to build off past successes to tackle increasingly complex, longer-term projects. LE students at MFS start to take on true ownership over their studies, compiling and tracking their own weekly Work Plans. They flex their creative and intellectual muscles in a classroom brimming with possibilities. They adopt and actively benefit from peer-based mentorship, as the learning environment begins to more closely resemble a self-sustaining social organism.
Windows Into the Classrooms
Lower Elementary at MFS comprises up to 48 students across Grades 1-3, with a teacher-student ratio no higher than 2:14.
Upper Elementary is made up of no more than 36 students from Grades 4-6, with the same maximum teacher-student ratio.
In these environments, children progress at their own pace, taking on with careful guidance whatever math or reading projects they may be ready for, but obtaining extra assistance with whichever materials may be more of a struggle. Most importantly, they are learning to master their own immediate surroundings and manage their own academic world, rather than simply accumulating knowledge and skills. Leadership development is long a tenet of Montessori philosophy; through our program, students are preparing to become leaders of their own lives, whether they know it or not.
Vision for the Elementary Program
Our vision for the Elementary Program is that students develop a high level of ownership over their own work, and become leaders of the classroom itself, managing goals, time, resources, and project execution, as well as personal relationships within the school. We expect to see children taking initiative, showing management skills, and being both a peer mentor and a peer learner. Our elementary students will be happy, engaged, productive, and brimming with pride.
Goals for the Elementary Program
Our goals are that students obtain an inter-disciplinary mindset and the capacity to draw connections among seemingly disparate topics of inquiry. They will become robust academicians, performing at the peak of their abilities. They will acquire management skills, over themselves and groups, and identify areas of particular interest for further inquiry. They should learn conflict resolution skills and developing and maintaining social contracts.
Programs of Study
Montessori endeavors to start with "big picture" lessons, then work toward the parts, in order to help children understand how people, places, events and cultures are interconnected, even while seemingly discrete. This approach ensures that children see their focus of study in any given moment as part of a larger story, which infuses that study with meaning and stimulates genuine curiosity. As meaning-makers, children naturally want to see how the story unfolds, and, in turn, how any new line of inquiry contributes to the greater story.
The areas of study remain consistent from Early Childhood, while topics and assignments naturally grow in complexity, such that the educational model "spirals" upward, allowing the student to revisit past lessons in novel and increasingly profound ways. This "spiraling" helps the child to recognize his or her own intellectual growth, and the premise that there are always diverse and deeper perspectives to mine on any given topic.
Lower Elementary Program
Dr. Montessori was a scientist and she believed in introducing children to science early. In Montessori, Cultural Study encompasses the traditional disciplines of social studies and science. In the Lower Elementary Program, children begin this cultural work by taking a macrocosmic look at the universe, starting at the beginning of time. Using a timeline to organize their study, they examine the Big Bang theory, the formation of the earth, and the beginning of life, which they look at first on the atomic and cellular levels. As their study of the “Time Line of Life” proceeds, they are introduced to increasingly complex plants and animals, and end with the study of mammals and flowering plants. Along the way, they learn about the history of life forms, and the emergence and development of species. All learning is linked to allow students to attain a broad comprehension of how the sciences of botany, history, zoology, physics, chemistry, and geography all fit together, and have developed in an interdependent manner.
Upper Elementary Program
Cultural Studies are at the heart of the Upper Elementary program and are presented in weekly group lessons. Both history and science are taught in 3-year cycles.
History lessons are a mix of discussion, hands-on activities, and interactive exploration. We aim to understand times and places different from our own and gain a big-picture understanding of human history. In the first year of the 3-year cycle, we study early humans, early civilizations, Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Greece, and Rome. In the second year of the cycle, we cover world history from the Middle Ages, through the Renaissance, and all the way into the 20th century. In the third year of the cycle, we cover American history from prehistory through the present, including California history. Students complete weekly projects to further engage with history through texts and hands-on activities.
Science lessons actively engage the student in discovery via demonstrations, note-taking, drawing and hands-on group activities. The goal is to gain understanding of the connectedness of living phenomena and natural laws. The 3-year cycle includes physical science (the periodic table, Newton’s Laws, simple machines, different forms of energy), earth science (earth’s structure, plate tectonics, weather, geology), and biology (cells, animal classification, the plant kingdom, natural selection). Students continue working on a given week's theme throughout the week; work may include hands-on labs, layouts and charts, model making, and research.
We have a beautiful array of Montessori geography maps and materials that students work their way through over the course of their three years in UE.
Lower Elementary Program
Mathematics in the Lower Elementary Program is presented in a scope and sequence prepared to match the developing abilities of the six to nine-year-old. Montessori hands-on math materials provide a concrete foundation in the four operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. This knowledge allows students to develop problem-solving skills and place math in a real-life context. Students are also introduced to the studies of time and measurement, estimation and logic. Additionally, fractions, geometry, basic measurement and other concepts such as rounding off, clock and monetary denominations, are also explored. Through practice, the student develops the ability to transition from concrete materials to understanding the material abstractly. In addition, mathematical learning at this level begins the acquisition of facts and the facilitation of numbers, but more importantly, it serves as the preparation for reasoning and calculation at the Upper Elementary level.
Upper Elementary Program
Montessori math and geometry materials support the students’ move into higher-level thinking in this area of study. Math instruction is highly tailored to each learner and UE children are always working on concepts and exercises that stretch their unique capacities. Once the four operations are mastered, students move on to study fractions, decimals and percents, problem solving, algebra, logic, graphing, probability, the metric system, and different base systems. Geometry materials, meanwhile, give them a strong foundation in the study of plane figures, area and volume and formulas for computing each; students are also introduced to the concepts of congruence, similarity, and equivalence.
The Geometry program in Upper Elementary is taught in conceptual sequence over the three years of the program. Students meet in small groups with the teacher for lessons. Each lesson introduces a new concept with the use of Montessori materials as well as more traditional materials. Students explore concepts, manipulate materials, and engage in in-depth dialogues.
Level I geometry reintroduces some of the basic concepts (point, line, surface, solid) and they learn to use a protractor and compass. Students also engage in an extensive exploration of plane figures, angles and triangles.
Level II moves into the study of congruence, similarity and equivalence. Students are introduced to the theorem of Pythagoras.
Level III students continue with the Pythagorean Theorem. They explore why formulas work (area, volume, surface area of solids), and study all aspects of circles.
After three years, the aim is that students leave UE with a solid foundation in whole numbers, fractions, decimals and percents, as well as experience with integers, probability, graphing, measurement, and equations with variables. The system is built with the understanding that some students will exceed these goals, while others may need more practice in some areas. We aim to meet the child where they are and foster growth and a love of learning.
Lower Elementary Program
The Lower Elementary Language curriculum provides students with an understanding and appreciation of reading and literature, writing and grammar, punctuation and spelling, homophones, antonyms, root words, alphabetizing skills, and research. Montessori education uses a holistic approach to reading. The 6 to 9 year-old classroom is a language rich environment in which reading and writing skills are developed through phonemic awareness, grammar and word study, mechanics, spelling, reading comprehension, cultural studies, reading groups, and the research process. Reading instruction takes place in small groups or on an independent basis. Strategies for comprehension are emphasized and imparted across the curriculum. Writing development includes direct attention to the writing process as practiced through journaling, research writing, and creative writing in all its forms.
Upper Elementary Program
The Language Program expands the study of grammar and creative writing, including poetry, fiction, expository writing, research, playwriting, songwriting, as well as memoirs. We feature an in-depth literature sequence that introduces students to reading novels, and discussing them in literature seminars. Students have book choice and then meet to discuss the story. Each group member has the responsibility to contribute to the discussion and has a role in completing the group assignment. At the end of the literature four-week cycle, students also write a paragraph or essay for homework.
The Grammar program in Upper Elementary is taught in a sequence over the three years of the program. Each lesson introduces a new concept with the use of examples, hands on materials, and dialogue between teacher and students.
Level I grammar is an in-depth study of the nine parts of speech (article, adjective, noun, verb, adverb, preposition, pronoun, conjunction and interjection). Students learn the basic definitions and the types of the parts of speech.
Level II finishes moves into sentence analysis. Students are introduced to subject, predicate, direct and indirect objects, adverbial modifiers, and more.
Level III is an advanced study that includes types of sentences (simple, compound, complex) and verbals (infinitive, gerund, participles).
Practical Life Studies
Lower Elementary Program
Practical Life takes on a more social focus in the elementary years. Continuing the leadership development lessons initiated in Early Childhood, Elementary students take on active roles in leading groups and handling conflicts. Additionally, students rotate through a series of jobs that enable them, as a group, to take care of their classroom. These jobs can range from caring for class pets, to setting up for, and cleaning up after, a daily class snack, to managing recycling, and cleaning up the play area outside the classroom.
Upper Elementary Program
Practical Life hones leadership skills. Students lead morning classroom meetings, and organize snacks and classroom clean-up. UE features a Practical Life shelf with activities such as sewing and bookbinding, with regular rotation of responsibilities for the care of the environment. UE encourages independence at every turn and will often incorporate practical life work into student homework as well as throughout their days in the classroom.
"The world is finally catching up with Maria Montessori's insights."
Steve Denning, Forbes
GRADES 7 - 8
How could ascending ninth graders make the jump from the MFS middle school--consisting of 8-14 students--to a large private or public school in the area? Extremely well, it turns out. In fact, as mentioned in our Track Our Grads section, 100% of our middle schoolers have been accepted to their first high school of choice over the last eleven years.
Why are our middle school grads so coveted? Think exposure to a college seminar-like setting where students are challenged to think critically, present articulately, defend passionately their positions, and adapt responsively as needed. Think a hotbed of learning, an incubator if you will, where a handful of students push each other and pull the best out of one another in a joint enterprise of learning. Think that perfect blend of intellectual freedom, personal responsibility, elevated expectations and high degree of accountability that comes from a smartly designed, laser-focused, smaller-group setting.
And think, amidst all this high octane cognitive development, adolescents being nurtured emotionally during one of the most complicated developmental stages of their lives in a small, safe, and challenging, yes, but caring setting. We believe that youth undergoing one of the most fragile phases of the lifespan (according to extensive research) benefit from small and personal to prepare for the realities of high school. They're possibly sensitive and stressed quite enough, thank you.
Montessori sees middle school as a transitional developmental period—where the individual is emerging from childhood but has not quite yet taken on young adulthood—that is best served by a contained environment. One where kids feel connected and protected, where they can gradually navigate their growth rather than adjusting to sudden shocks, such that they have the space and support to experiment with who they are, and organically begin to evolve into themselves—in preparation to emerge and flourish in high school.
And the repeated successes of our graduates, year after year, in a full range of local high schools, proves that this preparation is producing self-assured teens, fully equipped for what comes next.
A Window into the Classroom
Middle School at MFS comprises no more than 18 students across two grades, with one credentialed Montessori teacher at the helm.
Where sensorial objects once populated the younger classrooms, middle school is a more abstract endeavor. Imagine three large, round tables, with some students collaborating on long-term group projects related to Shakespeare or the principles of supply and demand; others intensely studying pre-Calculus; and still more meeting with the teacher for peer review of recent papers submitted, peppering one another with exacting grammatical standards and pushing the envelope on how to better present an argument.
Vision for the Middle School Program
Our vision for the Middle School at MFS is a safe emotional space where pre-teens and teens can take social, academic and personal risks, without fear of being excluded, rejected or ridiculed, and where they can build a deep reserve of self-knowledge and inner strength while developing intellectual musculature that will support their further learning in a high school setting and beyond.
Goals for the Middle School Program
Our goals are that our graduates become highly competent writers, capable of articulating ideas and arguments in a coherent, logically consistent, and detailed manner; strong mathematicians, capable of tackling high school coursework from Day 1; independent thinkers and leaders, able to define their own goals, stand up for their own positions, and follow through on the details to accomplish tangible objectives; and emotionally balanced beings who have experienced how a healthy community can simultaneously challenge and support them, such that this model of interaction becomes a touchstone for the rest of their lives.
Mastery learning is a form of personalized learning that gives students the necessary time to master particular skills before progressing to the next level of work. The student takes on the responsibility of learning new information versus merely accepting a low grade and moving on to the next subject. The teacher’s task is to break down the learning steps, offering suggestions for internalizing the knowledge, and providing the time necessary to learn the information. According to research, the advantage of mastery learning is that it offers clear expectations, fosters mastery of a unit of study, is not competitive, and encourages student responsibility.
The Middle School design is an integration of Montessori philosophy, the current research in human development, and the trends and issues in education. The mission of the program is to provide opportunities for adolescents to be self-confident and gain self-knowledge, to belong to a community, to learn to be adaptable, to be academically competent and challenged, and to create a vision for their personal future; thus, to empower early adolescents.
Middle School is structured to provide a place where early adolescents can develop personal power as well as present opportunities to use this empowerment with and for the benefit of others. There are structures in place for enhancing personal growth and self-knowledge, developing communication skills and self-expression, creating a responsive community, learning how to learn, and engaging in meaningful and challenging work.
Holistic education, an important aspect of the Montessori philosophy, has two meanings within the Montessori community. First, that the focus of the education should be on the whole child for optimal health and growth. Thus, the learning environment should not focus on developing only the
cognitive potential, but the physical, psychosocial, and moral aspects of
the person, as well. Secondly, the academic coursework needs to be interrelated so that the child understands the inter-connectedness of life. Further support for the holistic approach is having the parents aware of the child’s classroom progress. A dynamic student-parent-teacher partnership is an integral part of an optimal learning environment.
In an academic year, there are five cycles of work followed by an immersion week for retreat and internships. In addition, we offer ongoing leadership development and service learning opportunities. Each work cycle is five weeks in length and the topics and concepts covered in each cycle are grouped under cycle themes. In the fifth week, there is an assessment of the thematic project work. Students also take the time to write an extensive self-assessment. The cycle format is designed to help students learn organizational, decision-making, and time-management skills. In addition to the work cycles, each school year begins with a Prologue and ends with an Epilogue. We integrate a three-week research intensive and research fair each school year.
The school day is divided into two kinds of work: individual work and group work. Individual work is designed to make a match between the skills, abilities, and interests of each student, and there are work choices in every academic area to be done independently or in small or large groups. Individual work is assessed individually with mastery tests that may be written or oral.
Group work is done in randomly selected groups, which remain in place for an entire work cycle. These groups work together on academic tasks in the thematic units, which integrate all subject areas. Individual written tests, group presentations, and self-assessments of the group process assess the thematic unit.
Summary of the Middle School Classroom
The Adolescent Is:
• An active, self-directed learner.
• A vital member of the classroom, school-wide, city and global community.
• A vital member of the teacher-student-parent team.
• Responsible for keeping commitments and being honest and respectful.
The Teachers Are:
• Facilitators of learning.
• Consultants for the students.
• Creators of a positive climate for learning.
• Communicators with parents and community.
The Classroom School Structure Offers:
• A learner-centered environment.
• A developmentally-responsive curriculum and teaching team of Montessori teachers with additional adults as resources.
• Parent-teacher-student partnerships.
• Multi-aged groupings of 12-14 year olds.
• Blocks of uninterrupted learning time.
• Peer and cross-age teaching.
• Autonomy support.
• Opportunities for student leadership development and classroom policy management.
The Curriculum and Instruction Includes:
• Trans-disciplinary themes.
• Personal learning plans.
• Individualized goal-setting.
• A strong sense of community and social interaction with peers.
• Meaningful and challenging work.
• Activities for self-expression, self-knowledge, and self-assessment.
• Activities that value all nine intelligences (Gardner) and a variety of learning styles.
• Activities to foster interdependence.
• Activities for learning economic independence.
• Activities for self-reflection.
• School and community service projects.
• Meta-cognition and ‘learning-how-to-learn’ strategies as re-occurring elements of the classroom experience.
• Opportunities for travel.