Litchfield Montessori Middle School at Millstream Farm
Adolescence is a time of great physical change, inner turmoil and transformation. During this period of increased physical energy, a quest for independence, social consciousness and purpose develops.
Maria Montessori realized that the adolescent should not be hampered by the limitations of the four walls of the classroom and a departmentalized curriculum, therefore she advocated for a land based, experiential form of education that would engage the mind as well as the hands.
The Litchfield Montessori School’s middle school program is located in the Nepaug section of New Hartford, CT on the peaceful, 30-acre Millstream Farm, and a pristine property that includes fields and farmland, gardens, ponds, streams, forest, wetland, pasture and abuts the 2,000-acre Nepaug State Forest. The beautiful property includes an 1812 colonial farmhouse and a large, red barn that was used for cow dairying until the 1950s. The 6,000-square-foot barn now houses dairy goats, horses and chickens. The property’s natural diversity and agricultural underpinnings open up limitless possibilities for the students to work and to study amid the tranquility of a prepared farm environment.
In sync with Dr. Maria Montessori’s vision and proposed syllabus, NAMTA Montessori Orientation to Adolescent Studies as well as the National Associations of Independent School’s trend schools for the 21st century, this program is a model of a “school of the future”. This land based program promotes skills and knowledge needed for the next century: global education, environmental sustainability, technology with purpose and connection and noted essential traits and skills for success in the 21st century: character, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication.
The Montessori Middle School Program follows an authentic approach to Montessori education centered on rigorous academic studies and purposeful, land-based work that emphasizes the interconnectedness among all academic subjects. Adolescents gain insight into their own capabilities and how they might apply them some day to life and to livelihood. The basic premise of the curriculum aims to link practical experiences with theoretical knowledge; studies are interdisciplinary and not viewed as separate disciplines. Learning becomes an essential and meaningful part of life, rather than a remote “schooling.”
Language: Students are directed to express themselves verbally, to discuss their thoughts and ideas, and to communicate with both peers and adults. More formally, discussions of novels, plays, short stories and poems take place in seminar format, in order to foster a deeper, collaborative approach to understanding a piece of work, encouraging the students to articulate thoughts about specific themes and to stay on topic. The students write across disciplines and genre, including essays, poems, journals, letters, reviews, personal narratives, lab reports, research reports, histories, biographies, and literary analyses and criticism. They become familiar with literary terms and concepts that they can use in their own writing, speaking and understanding of books, the world, and human nature. Further, the students have formal grammar lessons and memorize weekly vocabulary lists that include exercises in word etymologies, analogies, Latin enhancements and comprehension.
Math: Conventional text books are the mainstay of the curriculum and are used for breadth and continuity which meets contemporary standards. The students are given daily lessons and then proceed to do exercises that reinforce both the new material and review the old. Pre-algebra and high-school-level Algebra I are the focus of the middle school years. Math is also for practical application: to take measurements, analyze data, make comparisons, solve problems and/or organize information, using primarily the metric system. Geometry, algebraic calculations and routine arithmetic are reinforced and put to practical use as the students engage in carpentry, gardening and other purposeful projects.
Foreign Language: The goal in Spanish is to speak fluidly, to read, to understand, to write and to enjoy a second language. Students become appreciative of other languages and cultures, expand their understanding of the world and learn to communicate with people in a language other than their own. They have daily lessons and do exercises that build vocabulary, grammar, and reading comprehension skills. They converse, read aloud, and listen to spoken Spanish. Foreign language learning enhances intellectual growth, hones sensitivity to language and listening, and improves a student’s understanding of his or her own primary language.
Science (Occupations): This area of study includes ecology, geology, geography, biology, botany, chemistry, zoology, physiology, and anatomy. Students do scientific experimentation and conventional textbook work, including tests and quizzes, as well as hands-on projects related to the seasons, the environment and the available natural and cultural resources. Work in the garden, kitchen and barn is intended to provide access to science in a way that is more compelling, urgent and purposeful than abstract study alone. It provides the motivation and opportunity for deeper academic work. Students are expected to connect to the farm work as a community enterprise, strengthening their own character and knowledge while learning what it takes to contribute to a group endeavor.
Social Studies (Humanities Projects): This area of study aims to strike a balance between detail and generality. At times history is examined through a wide-angle lens, with timelines and broad overviews; and, at other times, history is examined through a telephoto lens, investigating in detail a particular event, person, civilization or trend and how it relates to the whole. Topics over the cycle include: scientific discoveries, geographical explorations, migrations, religion, patriotism, and wars and conquests of empires in relation to their ideals and moral standards. Humanities projects are often tied to the cultural and historical resources of the immediate area, strengthening the students’ understanding of place and identity.
Art, Music and Physical Education/Wellness for Life: These key components of the program are presented by topic specialists. Because adolescence is a time of great change, both physical and psychical, adolescents in particular need many opportunities to express themselves creatively and physically, while building skills and knowledge in the areas of performing and visual arts, music and (life time) sports and fitness.
Middle School (12-15 Years)
The Montessori Middle School Program follows an authentic approach to Montessori education centered on rigorous academic studies and purposeful, land-based work that emphasizes the interconnectedness among all academic subjects.
“Men with hands and no head, and men with head and no hands are equally out of place in the modern community…Therefore, the work on the lands is an introduction both to nature and civilization and gives a limitless field for scientific and historic studies…The rural atmosphere offers students a kind of ‘place apart’-a safe and healthy environment to promote their transition into adulthood”. Dr. Maria Montessori, Childhood to Adolescence