The Knowledge for Life Journey

What are your goals for your child’s education? What types of knowledge and skill sets do you want her to acquire during her critical early years of education? What type of person do you want her to be when she is twenty-five?

As you choose a school for your child, your answers to these questions should guide your choice. How will the school you choose shape your child? Will the school’s educational philosophy result in the outcomes you value? Will it prepare her for a successful life?

Different schools place different emphasis on what matters in the classroom. At a fundamental level, some schools focus on the method of learning. Their main goal is teaching children how to learn—how to tackle any new problem, how to become self-motivated. This approach is associated with progressive education and such thinkers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Dewey and John Holt. Other schools treasure the content of learning. They emphasize a clearly structured curriculum and focus on what children learn—from memorizing nursery rhymes and multiplication facts to learning history, from understanding the fundamental insights of modern science to reading great works of literature. This approach is associated with classical or traditional education, school groups such as Carden, Challenger or Stratford Schools and thinkers such as E.D. Hirsch, Susan Wise Bauer and Mortimer Adler.

At LePort, we believe that education should be an integration of both method and content. We teach what we call Knowledge for Life. By this we mean three things:

  • Deeply understood content that stands as a unified, coherent whole in the child’s mind (=Knowledge)
  • Applied thinking skills so that knowledge becomes a guide to action, and not just something to be shown off, or to be forgotten quickly (=for life)
  • The strength of character to live life to its fullest, to be successful in their chosen purpose in life, to flourish as a complete human being (=for life)

This Knowledge for Life approach is evident when you consider what children learn, what they take away with them in their innermost being from each of the stages of their LePort experience. It is hard to condense each stage of childhood, each phase of education, to just a few achievements, as all learning, all knowledge, by necessity is interconnected: In a well-designed program, later skills and knowledge build upon earlier ones, and earlier ones become reinforced as they continue to be applied.

Scroll through this page to discover the Knowledge for Life journey. You’ll see what children gain at LePort, from infancy through junior high. We hope this virtual journey will inspire you to consider Knowledge for Life for your child.

Infancy

The Emerging Happy Human Being

 “At two years of age, we notice a sudden explosion into words; this explosion comes from the hidden work of the child.”
—Dr. Maria Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures, p. 55

The foundation of strong language skills

During the first 18 months, while babies aren’t yet speaking, they are building the storehouse of information that will lead to an explosion of verbal language around age two. An infant’s mind is taking in the world—the visual experiences around him, and the words he hears from his caregivers.  In our Montessori infant program (the “Nido”, which is Italian for nest), we give infants rich and beautiful visual experiences: mobiles to track with their eyes, materials to touch, beautiful photographs and art work hung at infant height, nature to observe during strolls, the smells and textures of foods they explore as they learn to self-feed. We surround them with quality language, provided in caring response to their needs of the moment: watch our infant video, and you’ll see these interactions: “Oh, your teether fell on the floor. I’m picking it up so I can wash it for you. I see you’re upset, you want it right now. I can’t let you have it yet because it’s dirty. I’ll be right back.”

“Sportscasting is our most minimal conflict intervention tool and the most empowering, because it communicates trust and belief in our children. By sporstcasting we are essentially saying, ‘I’m here and I support you, but I feel confident that you can handle this situation.’”
—Janet Lansbury, Elevating Child Care, p. 98

A benevolent sense of life

When she meets a challenge as an adult, will your child assume she can succeed—or will she dread failure? At a fundamental level, deep in her subconscious mind, does she see the world as a place where she can succeed, a benevolent, shining universe where happiness is possible—or does she, at a fundamental level, feel that life is unjust, that people are out to get her, that if in doubt it’s best to assume malign intent and to protect oneself, rather than be open to new experiences?

At LePort, benevolence is one of our five core company values. It is also an attitude we want our students to develop—an attitude for which the foundations are laid in infancy. Benevolence grows when infants trust their caregivers. Our Montessori guides earn that trust each day by treating babies as valued individuals who are actively learning to make sense of their world.  They observe carefully and respect the child’s play, instead of interrupting it or by providing unneeded help. They explain what they do (“I see you’re diaper is wet. I’m going to pick you up now so we can get you a nice dry diaper”) instead of swooping in without warning. They use kind voices, and exhibit never-ending patience.

 “If he is not given enough opportunity for visual experience, then later, once he has started to walk, he will be one of those people who are incapable of precise, correct movement. This person will be careless, will fall down often and bump into things.”
—Dr. Maria Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures, p. 41

A capable body, coming under the child’s volitional control

Mastering motor skills starts with preparing the mind. Babies who can’t yet move need visual stimulation, interesting things to observe so they can later act purposefully. In the mixed-age environment of our Nido, the youngest babies observe beautiful mobiles—and their older peers who toddle about, engaging in many interesting activities.  Simple, wooden and fabric toys beckon just out of reach, encouraging a baby to stretch, to scoot, to crawl. Passive toys encourage active children—children who turn that rattle over, again and again, to observe what’s making the noise, all the while strengthening their finger, wrist and arm muscles. Freedom of movement (no bouncers, not playpens!) means newly mobile babies can pull up, cruise and walk to achieve their goals (take themselves to the bathroom for a stand-up diaper change, walk to a low table for food or their cot to take a nap). Montessori babies are respected and encouraged in their motor development —and you can see their budding confidence and abilities when you visit our schools!

Toddlerhood

The Independent, Pro-Social Child

“Our son started at LePort’s Irvine Spectrum’s infant program, and has now moved on to the 18 month – 3 year old group. We love all the teachers in the infant program, and consider them partners and collaborators in our son’s development. Through their tireless passion and commitment, our son has made amazing progress at LePort. His language and gross/fine motor skills far exceed standard, and our pediatrician always comments on how strong his focus and concentration level is for his age group. I definitely feel our son is getting the Montessori education we wanted him to have, and we feel confident entrusting our child in their care.”
—John C., Costa Mesa, CA

Mastery of spoken language: one or several

Researchers have been trying to figure out what differentiates successful students entering elementary school from less successful ones. In one large study as reported in the book How to Raise a Brighter Child, Harvard researchers found that the skills exhibited by competent six-year-olds—especially strong expressive language skills—were already present at age three. It was during the toddler years, between age one and three, that the foundational skills were built! In our Montessori toddler program, children are surrounded by an environment rich in things and actions to name—and supported by adults who “sportscast” interactions, in addition to offering mini-lessons in vocabulary development. Parents often comment how their toddler’s language skills just “exploded” after only a few months at LePort! And with our Spanish and Mandarin-immersion programs, we see children develop these strong verbal skills not just in English, but also in a second language.

Independence and a can-do attitude

Often, adults do too much for children, and unintentionally undermine their confidence in their own abilities. In our toddler program, we take the opposite approach: We follow Dr. Montessori’s advice to “never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” Our toddlers set their own table for snack time—with ceramic plates and small glass cups. They serve themselves. They use utensils to eat. They sweep. They sponge up spills. They put on their own coats. At a time when tantrums often happen in the conflict between a child who wants to do it “all by myself” and an adult who just wants to get it done quickly,  our Montessori guides teach the skills that enable a child to have the control he desires. When you watch the face of a 22-month-old who can put on his own coat, you’ll treasure the confidence and pride you see there!

 “Trust your baby’s competence: she wants to do things for herself, and she can do things for herself. You also know that your child does need help, but try to provide just that little amount of help that allows the child to take over again. Let her be the initiator and problem solver. We can look at life as a continuation of conflicts or problems. The more often we have mastered a minute difficulty, the more capable we feel the next time.”
Magda Gerber 

A benevolent view of people

Are others a value or a threat? Toddlers form their first (implicit) estimates of other people based on the interactions they experience at preschool and in other group settings. If chaos reigns, or if other children grab his things, or if adults force him to surrender a toy at a moment’s notice with an exhortation to “share” before he can actually understand what that means, a child’s view of other people can take a negative turn. In Montessori, our goal is to help children view others as values, as voluntarily chosen playmates, as mentors or mentees, not as threats. With a few simple, fair rules on topics from sharing to inside voices, our classrooms are benevolent, nurturing environments where children are respected and treat each other kindly and with courtesy. When toddlers join our classrooms, they learn that people other than their parents can be trusted, that they are safe and can be happy away from home. It is in such an environment, under the caring guidance of observant teachers that a pro-social, benevolent view of others flourishes.

“Something else very uncommon can be seen in our schools: it is admiration for the best. Not only are these children free from envy, but anything well done arouses their enthusiastic praise.”
—Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 231

The Primary Years

A Capable, Eager Learner

Concentration: building a long attention span 

Being able to purposefully direct one’s attention, for hours at a time, is a capacity at the foundation of all learning, which is immensely useful throughout life. It is a capacity that doesn’t arise automatically.  It can’t actually be “taught” by expecting children to do it on demand, as in asking four-year-olds to sit still at circle time for half an hour (which, by the way, doesn’t work, and which is why we don’t have mandatory circle time!).

Concentration is an inner quality that arises and grows naturally when given the chance to remain focused on an activity of interest in a conducive environment—one where children find materials that engage them fully, one where their activities are respected and never thoughtlessly interrupted, one where there are long time periods for child-led, deep exploration. Montessori primary offers exactly that! Visit any of our primary classrooms, and you’ll see children deeply engaged, with a look of concentration on their faces that seems almost magical. Through repeated chosen, deep engagement in a “flow state,” children build up their ability to direct their own attention, an ability they later readily transfer to the longer presentations they will receive from their teachers in elementary school.

“The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. It lays the whole basis for his character and social behavior. He must find out how to concentrate, and for this he needs things to concentrate upon. This shows the importance of his surroundings, for no one acting on the child from outside can cause him to concentrate. Only he can organize his psychic life. None of us can do it for him. Indeed, it is just here that the importance of our schools really lies. They are places in which the child can find the kind of work that permits him to do this.”

—Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 222

A pro-work attitude

What better gift to give your child than keeping his desire to do hard things alive?! As a baby, he never tired of pulling up, no matter how often he fell down. With a LePort Montessori education, he’ll continue to be excited about tackling challenges – for life; rather than becoming a middle school student who asks,  dejected, “will this be on the test?” In our primary program, students discover the joy that comes from choosing hard “work”—challenging materials that require effort to master. They become the kind of children who, at age five or six, ask whether they can help in the kitchen, who sit down and read for enjoyment, or who wake up on Sunday and begin to write a story, just because it’s fun. Work and play, in Montessori, are not irreconcilable opposites: work is enjoyable, it’s fulfilling and it’s chosen joyfully.

“The children in a Montessori class are given the freedom that is the liberty of the human being, and this freedom allows the children to grow in social grace, inner discipline, and joy. These are the birthright of the human being who has been allowed to develop essential human qualities and again Montessori teachers from all over the world could furnish examples of these. “Excuse me,” said a child to a visitor commenting in a classroom that this was the Method where children could do, as they liked. “I do not know if we do as we like, but I know that we like what we do.”
—Margaret E. Stephenson, The Secret of Childhood, foreword

Fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination

Fine-tuned motor skills are essential for success in school and in life. A strong wrist is critical for writing. A good pencil grip is the foundation on which neat handwriting is built. This dexterity doesn’t arise naturally out of the maturation process of the child. Instead, it is an acquired skill that requires practice every day. In the Montessori primary environment, children use their arms, hands and wrists on many purposeful activities. They peel eggs. They string beads. They work with the Knobbed Cylinders, picking and releasing the knobs with the three fingers that need strengthening for the pencil grip. They trace and color the Metal Insets, through art acquiring the pencil control they’ll need to develop beautiful cursive handwriting. They track left-to-right with their eyes in many of these activities, preparing their eyes for the movement essential to reading. It is with this careful preparation that children are ready to write so well before they enter elementary school that it amazes parents!

“It is thanks to the hand, the companion of the mind, that civilization has risen.”

—Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 151

Building a conceptual, organized mind

Thinking well is largely a matter of having an organized mind where knowledge is connected solidly to other knowledge, where it can be retrieved effortless and combined quickly. Developing such an organized, conceptual mind is at the core of the Montessori primary years. By age three, children have seen, heard, smelled, touched and tasted many things. The Montessori Sensorial Exercises help children abstract away from specific things (that little brown dog, this brow toy car, this purple limousine) and learn to carefully observe attributes (color, texture, shape) and organize objects by those attributes. As children interact with these materials, they learn new concepts (of length, of volume, of musical tone) and come away with a fine-tuned ability to consciously see the world around them. 

“Similarly it was the children who had been working with trays of geometric insets who would suddenly discover that their environment was full of circles, rectangles, triangles, and so on. They were able to do this precisely because some power in their minds (the “intellectus agens”) had taken off from the wooden geometric insets their “essential forms”; and were therefore able to recognize in these other similar, but different, objects the “universal idea.” The same thing happens, as we have seen, with the other sensorial materials: they become “Keys to the Universe” revealing to the children a new and deeper kind of knowledge about the objects seen in the outside world.”

— E.M.Standing, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, p.164

“When the child has had long practice with the plane insets, he begins to make ‘discoveries’ in his environment, recognizing forms, colors, and qualities already known to him––a result which, in general, follows after all the sensory exercises. Then it is that a great enthusiasm is aroused in him, and the world becomes for him a source of pleasure. A little boy, walking one day alone on the roof terrace, repeated to himself with a thoughtful expression on his face, ‘The sky is blue! The sky is blue!’ Once a cardinal, an admirer of the children of the school in Via Guisti, wished himself to bring them some biscuits and to enjoy the sight of a little greediness among the children. When he had finished his distribution, instead of seeing the children put the food hastily into their mouths, to his great surprise he heard them call out, ‘A triangle! A circle! A rectangle!’ In fact, these biscuits were made in geometrical shapes.”

—Dr. Maria Montessori, Dr. Montessori’s own handbook, p.55

Writing, reading and arithmetic into the thousands

At LePort Montessori, students learn to write and read in preschool. While many preschools teach pre-literacy skills (recognizing letters, saying their names, writing your name) and pre-math skills (such as grouping objects or counting by rote), our students go much beyond that. Using carefully designed, multi-sensory materials—including letters printed in sandpaper on wood to trace, moveable letters to build words, and carefully-selected phonetic readers with beautiful art-illustrations—a typical LePort student will, by age six, be able to read a passage like this. He’ll be able to write sentences in cursive. By working with the Montessori Math materials, she’ll be able to solve arithmetic problems into the thousands.

 “The child’s explosion into writing is closely connected with his special sensitivity for language, and this was operative at the time when he began to speak. By the age of five and a half or six, this sensitivity has ceased to exist; so it is clear that writing can be learned with joy and enthusiasm only before that age. Children older than this have lost the special opportunity which nature grants them of learning to write without making special and conscious efforts of application and will.”
—Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 173

The Elementary Years

A Conceptual Mind, At Home in the World

A curious, well-stocked “Renaissance Mind”

At LePort, we live a culture of knowledge. Ours is an environment where knowledge is treasured, where we make it magical and irresistible for children to ask questions and to discover answers. We believe that the advent of the Internet and instantaneous information access only makes it more urgent to acquire knowledge, for how do you judge the veracity of what you read if not by the standard of what you truly know?

With the “Great Stories” in Montessori elementary, children become curious about knowledge (“where did writing come from?”) and simultaneously acquire “file folders” in their minds to organize their knowledge.  Surrounded by materials covering a wide range of topics—from botany to zoology, from history to geography—and encouraged to read broadly, to research areas of interest, students’ appetite for knowledge is whetted, and their fascination and curiosity become a motivating force for learning.

In the upper elementary grades, we build upon this foundation to systematically explore history as a causal, chronological story, and to delve deeper into the causal mechanism of science that explain many of the phenomena we observe in the world around us.

“Knowledge can best be given when there is eagerness to learn, so this is the period when the seed of everything can be sown, the child’s mind being like a fertile field, ready to receive what will germinate into culture.”
– Dr. Maria Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential, pg. 3

Expert, effortless readers able to access the knowledge of the world

The foundational skill a child needs to master early in elementary is to become an effortless, expert reader. This is the time when children go from sounding out words and reading with focused effort, to being able to read anything, effortlessly. Especially in English, with its complex spelling that maps 45+ speech sounds onto only 26 letters, this is not an easy task. Wrong approaches—such as “whole language” or “balanced literacy”, which focus on recognizing words by shape, rather than breaking them apart systematically into letter combinations and associated sounds—can undermine and stunt a child’s literacy development. At LePort, children learn explicit phonics, with engaging hands-on materials. Even while they are still working on mastering reading, they begin to use their skills to acquire knowledge—to read biology cards, to participate in literature circles. In the mixed-age classrooms, younger students see older ones excited about printed text, and are motivated to imitate the peers they admire by sitting down to read themselves. As children become stronger readers, we introduce them to the joys of literature, and challenge them to read both for pleasure, and to tackle more challenging literary texts.

“In reality, only the teaching of letter-to-sound conversion allows children to blossom, because only this method gives them the freedom to read novel words in any domain they choose. It is therefore misguided to pit the intellectual freedom of a child against rigorous drill. If a child is to learn quickly and well, he must be given well-structured grapheme-phoneme instruction. The effort is real, but the payoff in independence is immediate when the children discover, often with awe, that they can decipher words they never learned in class. […] In fact, decoding and comprehension go hand in hand. The children with the best scores in decoding single words and pseudo-words also perform best on sentence and text comprehension.”
Dr. Stanislas Dehaene, in “Reading in the Brain”, location 3630-3650

Capable writers, eager to express thought on paper

Writing requires constant practice under the individualized guidance of an experienced coach. Students need to write a lot—and learn the skills needed to write well, from brainstorming story ideas to outlining, from writing an initial draft to editing for spelling, grammar, and meaning. They need to master the hard skills of language—spelling and grammar—and acquire a strong vocabulary, one that enables them to leverage the richness of the English language to fully express their thoughts. This is exactly the type of program we deliver in our lower and upper elementary programs. It is one that requires a lot of individualized attention, which we can offer with our 1:12 or better student-teacher ratios. Writing well is not something a child can learn from completing worksheets. It is a skill by necessity neglected in large classrooms: no teacher, no matter how capable and well-intentioned, can individually edit and coach 30 aspiring writers in one class! In our program, we have the luxury of time: whether it is a lower elementary teacher meeting one-on-one with a student during the Montessori work period, or an upper elementary teacher providing detailed constructive feedback on an essay, our students learn the craft of writing through careful, individualized coaching.

“I am an attorney, and I really appreciate LePort’s writing program. It’s really unique: because they are a small school and have very high standards, the kids will do many re-writes of their assignments. And that’s how they actually learn—by doing draft after draft, correcting their mistakes under the guidance of their teachers, and learning to become better writers in the process. Many schools just can’t do that—and what does a child learn, when he writes something once, then gets a grade and that’s it?!”

– Susan F., LePort Parent

A mathematical mind, able to use math to understand the world

American students are far behind on math skills—so far that many who graduate high school have no chance of entering the high-demand “STEM” fields (science, technology, engineering and math) in college. Math anxiety abounds in US adults. It doesn’t have to be that way. Montessori math and the Singapore math program, which we use in our upper grades, enable children to not just follow rote algorithms, but also to actually understand and apply mathematics to their daily lives. Our math program is both rigorous and academically advanced, and it’s also fun! For example, 1st graders will typically do arithmetic into the millions—first with concrete materials, such as the Golden Beads or the Stamp Game, then with more abstract materials (like the Large Bead Frame), then with paper & pencil. By 3rd grade (if not sooner) they’ll have tackled long multiplication and division, and mastered abstract paper-and-pencil, standard algorithm addition and subtraction into the millions—arithmetic far beyond the Common Core standards, where subtraction with borrowing into the thousands isn’t even introduced until 4th grade. In upper elementary, students continue their progression from concrete to abstract as we introduce the diagramming method of the Singapore math program, which allows children to understand algebraic concepts pictorially—a skill that will make their later algebra work much easier to master!

“Children display a universal love of mathematics, which is par excellence the science of precision, order, and intelligence.”
– E.M. Standing, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Her Work p. 344

Initiative-takers with good organizational skills

Deep content knowledge and strong academic skills aren’t enough for children to succeed in life. Children also need to learn personal skills, from taking initiative to persisting in the face of failure, from organization to time management. At LePort, these crucial life skills are integrated into the curriculum. Starting in lower elementary, we gradually give children more and more responsibility for their own learning. They make weekly work plans—and then are held accountable to do the work. They plan out longer projects—and receive coaching on how to divide up the steps from their homeroom teachers.

In the upper elementary program, they learn how to use time planners, and how to organize their papers in binders so they can stay on top of their growing number of commitments. Projects become longer, with deadlines that extend beyond a week, and students are coached to manage overlapping deadlines, to take ownership over the entire process. Students begin to have more meaningful homework, and have a homework period at school, where they gain practice at completing work independently. As students demonstrate that they are able to make good choices and follow-through with their own work, their freedom grows. If they aren’t able to deal with choices yet, teachers provide more guidance. This “freedom within limits” approach helps ensure that children can mature in their personal skills at their own pace.

“Core Executive Function (EFs) are cognitive flexibility, inhibition (self-control, self-regulation), and working memory. More complex EFs include problem-solving, reasoning and planning. EFs are more important for school readiness than intelligence quotient (IQ). They continue to predict math and reading competence throught all school years. … EFs remain critical throughout life [in career and marriage] and for positive mental and physical health.”
—Dr. Adele Diamond, Interventions shown to Aid Executive Function Development in Children

Responsible community members able to follow and lead

Being able to problem solve with others, to get help and offer it, to weigh different ideas brought forth by people and come to an agreement are all key skills in many careers and other life situations. The elementary years are a great time for practicing these interpersonal skills: at this age, children become concerned with fairness; they develop the ability to truly empathize; they are eager to contribute actively to their classroom community; they enjoy working together collaboratively, toward a common goal. At LePort, we help children leverage these developmental interests into strong social skills. For example, we coach older students in the mixed-age class to run group meetings, where children solve community issues—by taking turns talking, noting down ideas on whiteboards, discussing solutions and voting on them. Older students voluntarily teach younger ones or even check their work. Students find others who share their interests to work together on ever-larger projects.  Under careful guidance, our students’ social skills blossom in harmony with their growing engagement in their learning community.

“The moral teachings of life emerge from social experiences… It is difficult to make social relations real if one uses only the imagination; practical experience is necessary.  One cannot awaken the conscience by talking about it.”  
—Dr. Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence, pg. 13

Junior High / Middle School

A Young Adult Ready to Thrive in the Wider World

Integrating knowledge into a coherent whole

With their well-stocked minds from the elementary years, our junior high students are eager and able to integrate heir knowledge into a coherent framework. We help them discover causality in all subjects, whether it is discovering the key theories in science, or understanding the principles behind the American Revolution, or building upon their Singapore math background as they apply algebra to solve real-life problems. Because their knowledge is solidly anchored in observations, these integrations are real to them: they have explanatory power, instead of just being empty textbook words to be recited for tests.

The ability to do (near-) adult-level work

By the end of 8th grade, our students are able to create work that is at near-adult levels. They are able to write both expository essays and stories better than many adults. They are able to pick projects, research them and deliver presentations that are impressive to adult visitors—exemplified in this video from our Science Showcase. They write and create the school yearbook. They write and publish a history journal.  The not only solve algebraic equations and word problems, they create their own math tests! With their level of work, they are ready to thrive even in the most challenging high school programs.

Self-awareness and charting out one’s life course

At LePort, our goal is to equip students with Knowledge for Life—integrated, understood knowledge that guides their action as they chart the unique course of their life. Our upper grades students have much opportunity to reflect on who they are, for what use is knowledge when there is no aim to it? This reflection and self-awareness germinates both in class, and in their life at school more broadly. In literature class, they reflect on the choices characters make; they discuss whom they might want to befriend from that novel, who inspires them. Through practical projects—from creating the yearbook to preparing a science showcase exhibit, from teaching PE to younger students to organizing the school color competitions—they have opportunities to experience a range of career options. Our teachers—who often have known students for years!—help them reflect and introspect on these experiences. Our graduates are explicitly reflective of their experiences, and actively work out who they are as young adults, and what purpose they want to pursue in their lives.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
—Howard Thurman

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