As I toured the Richmond Hill Montessori Preschool and Elementary located in Plano near West Plano Parkway and Preston Road, I was eager to see the sprawling, sunlit classrooms and child-centered learning that takes place in this mixed-age school. As a former elementary school teacher myself and an advocate of the Montessori methodology for my own children, the opportunity to visit Richmond Hill was a real treat. I was immediately impressed by how well students guided their own independent learning, the quality of the certified and highly experienced lead teachers, and the spacious, bright classrooms.
The Montessori Method
If you aren’t familiar with the Montessori method, you may be surprised to see children working calmly and independently in classrooms with children of mixed age groups.
Richmond Hill offers programs for children ranging from 18 months to 4th grade, these age groups are divided into 5 classrooms where students are moved up based on individual progress. The Montessori approach centers on child-directed learning, where the teacher carefully plans activities based on individual needs and interests while standing back to allow children to learn through discovery.
While many of the learning goals are the same as a traditional school setting, such as fine motor skills and learning to read, the process is one that allows children to follow self-interest and make decisions about the amount of time, academic area, and materials they would like to explore. Instead of a set age for progressing to the next classroom, students are evaluated based on individual progress and learning is self-paced. This approach of learning through experiences is attractive to parents and educators because it promotes independence and an intrinsic passion for learning.
All lead teachers at Richmond Hill are Montessori certified, guaranteeing that they are experts in their field and prepared to guide students to success. I was especially impressed to hear that almost every lead teacher had over five years of experience as a Montessori educator, in many cases the lead teacher had spent all of her years at Richmond Hill. The longevity of a teacher’s career at one school speaks volumes about the quality of the education. It means that teachers trust the vision of the school and are excited to return to work every day – something that is important to every parent.
Big, Bright & Busy
Each and every classroom at Richmond Hill has giant windows that leave the classroom washed in sunlight throughout the school day. While the class sizes are kept small for individual focus, the size of the classroom itself is very large allowing students to spread out around the room to engage in their own learning process. During my tour of the school, I was able to see little learners in action around each classroom. I’m always surprised by the calm, engaged learning that I see in Montessori classrooms and this was especially true at Richmond Hill. I saw students in various stages of learning (circle time, individual projects and fine motor skill activities) and all were actively focused on the task at hand.
Richmond Hill hasn’t just mastered the Montessori method in their classrooms, they also offer extracurricular and STEAM activities. Each child attends Kindermusik, Spanish and yoga classes as part of their education at Richmond Hill, as well as having access to other extracurricular activities. Teachers are educated on the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) method of allowing students to actively investigate in these five areas. As they plan Montessori style activities in their classroom, they incorporate STEAM daily.
With the flexibility of extended hours, school time hours or a half day program parents are sure to find the right fight for their child and family. Richmond Hill provides a home cooked meal and snack each day for children with the added bonus of a “green” sanitation system called ZONO that shows their dedication to keeping your children healthy.
The warm, friendly director of Richmond Hill continued to emphasize the importance of parent involvement throughout the school year at Richmond Hill. Their school calendar is filled with family events like craft nights, holiday parties, trike-a-thons, and parent-teacher conferences. This desire to include parents makes Richmond Hill have a close-knit family feel.