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Social Development: Central to Success in Life

Thursday, September 24, 2015

“If we want many more children to lead fulfilling and productive lives, it’s not enough for schools to focus exclusively on academics. Indeed, one of the most powerful and cost-effective interventions is to help children develop core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness and social awareness — strengths that are necessary for students to fully benefit from their education, and succeed in many other areas of life.”  David Bornstein, from an article entitled Teaching Social Skills to Improve Grades and Lives, NY Times (July 24, 2015)

One central component of your child’s Montessori experience is his or her daily social interaction with a range of other students within a positive and supportive social context. While traditional education has long viewed a child’s social development as somewhat of a side dish,  Montessori education views the experience and education of the whole child, in all his or her aspects (social, emotional, academic, physical, spiritual), as central to its approach.

Positive social development is a gradual process that proceeds and manifests itself in a variety of ways throughout the developmental continuum of Summit’s enrolled students. As examples, our Beginners, who at this point are adjusting to being in a group setting and to separating from their parents, will gradually develop awareness of themselves as individuals who are also part of a small community. This outcome has been demonstrated numerous times this fall as children from last year’s Beginners group re-unite on the playground and dance happily around each other. As the year in the Beginners classroom progresses, one can observe many instances of these youngest of our children demonstrating acts of kindness and support for each other (even as they are naturally in the most egocentric stage of their lives!).

In our Children’s House classrooms the “lessons of grace and courtesy” are shared and practiced daily and routinely. Teachers demonstrate the art of respecting another’s work (by non-intrusion and by walking around the other child’s work mat rather than over it), greeting another person, inviting participation in one’s work or play, accepting or declining an offer (“thank you” or “no thank you”), etc. Such respectful scripts become part of the daily classroom routine. Importantly, at this age children are guided to begin to learn the skills involved in conflict resolution, learning to take a disagreement to the “peace table” and using words to work it out. Conflict is an inherent part of all life. Learning to deal productively with it, is an essential life skill that begins in Children’s House but attains full stature in the Montessori elementary program.

In our elementary classrooms students practice the skills of both grace and courtesy and conflict resolution on a continuous basis, within the context of the real social issues that arise as part of daily life. In the Lower Elementary classroom, a community meeting is held each day in which the students select the issues to be discussed, and gradually assume all roles in guiding the conversation to resolution. (Community meetings are teacher led at first, and teachers are always available to guide the process. But the work of taking on social conflict or simply resolving social issues that arise each day, belongs to the students.)   Our Upper Elementary students not only continue to resolve interpersonal conflicts among themselves, but also engage true leadership within the building, serving as role models and responsible citizens. As examples, they take turns greeting the younger students at arrival time each day, collect the daily attendance sheets from all classrooms and deliver them to the office, and collect all of the building’s recycling each week. They serve as social ambassadors to the larger world as well, routinely visiting and engaging with the residents of Framingham Green, a senior center within walking distance. Our seniors, or 6th graders, become proactive on the world stage, participating each spring in the Montessori Model UN in NYC among a group of 3000 other Montessori students from around the world.

 These are but a few examples of the central importance of responsible social development that are inherent in your child’s Montessori experience. The central value that positive social development holds within the Montessori context is but another example of the forward thinking genius behind this method of education, a method that is young and totally relevant, yet over 100 years old.