The primary school teachers at Wild Rose Montessori know the 6-year-olds are ready to transition to elementary school when they start curiously peeking over the half-wall to see what the big kids are doing. The elementary school teacher on the other side will sometimes invite them over to observe a lesson or two, and see where that leads.
“Eventually they start staying over there longer, and we start talking to their parents about transitioning them to the elementary classroom,” founding teacher-leader Castle O’Neill said. “Sometimes, if they do some work with the older kids and they get overwhelmed, they can come back over and regain their confidence. Eventually, when they stop coming back to the preschool side, they’re ready.”
The only Wildflower school to have classrooms of two separate age groups — there is one classroom of 3-6-year-olds and one of 6-12-year-olds — Wild Rose Montessori is also the first school in the network to offer an elementary school program. Castle, a Montessori veteran, moved across the country from Seattle to help open Wild Rose in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2014. Over the years as a Montessorian and through her work at Wild Rose, she has seen how the mixed age classroom has benefited her students.
Once a week, for instance, Wild Rose pairs a younger elementary student with an older elementary student and has them navigate the process of making lunch together for their class of about 20 students. The younger student benefits from the older student’s experience, while the older student gets to practice patience and empathy, Castle says.
“They read the cookbook, they have to think about multiplying recipes, they will sometimes pull out the Montessori materials to think, ‘How do you multiply fractions?’” she said. “Then they write their own shopping lists and they have a budget. They walk with a teacher to the grocery store to shop, and when they get back, they unpack the food and have to think about how to manage their time while they prepare the food (usually with the help of a parent volunteer), because if you finish late, your whole class will be hungry.”
Wild Rose’s shopfront space exudes Wildflower’s principles through its beauty and connection to nature – even within a bustling city. Painted seafoam green and cantaloupe orange, the school is filled with a variety of plants and animals.
“We have toads, a water turtle, a box turtle, fish, and we used to have some gerbils,” Castle said. “And lots of plants. This way they learn to care about other living things.”
In their fourth year of operation, Castle says Wild Rose is becoming better known and part of the community. She recalled a recent experience where a retired school teacher who regularly walks by Wild Rose with her dog, sent the teachers a message via the school’s website. The woman said she used to raise Monarch butterflies with her own students, and she wondered whether the students at Wild Rose would be interested in doing the same. Castle agreed, and the next day the retired teacher brought caterpillars by and the students raised them until it was time to release the butterflies.
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Learn more about Wild Rose Montessori School at www.wildrosemontessorischool.org, and explore the other schools in the growing Wildflower network.