“The most important part of life is not the age of university studies, but … the period of
birth to the age of six. For that is the time when a man’s intelligence itself, his greatest
implement, is being formed.”
– Dr. Maria Montessori
The preschool and kindergarten years are when a child becomes the person they will be for the rest of their life. The environment they experience during these critical years, the teachers that guide them, and the community they live within shape their entire person.
The activities a child engages in can either lay the foundation for a life of joyful, confident learning, or stunt their potential. Choosing the right program is a very important task.
Between the ages of 3 and 6, the child goes through many sensitive developmental periods—stretches of time where they are naturally drawn to certain activities because their brains crave those activities in order to develop properly. For example, young preschoolers are almost obsessed with order: it’s a great time to teach that processes have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and that cleaning up is an essential part of each project. Older students become fascinated with quantities, and are eager and ready to learn much more math than many people realize.
At age 3, a child is still able to learn a second language effortlessly if put in a supportive, language-rich environment. They are in the sensitive period for language and can acquire it with an absorbent mind in a way that won’t be accessible to them once they enter the elementary school years. The Japanese-English bilingual Montessori program provided at BIM is the ideal environment to help your child reach their full linguistic potential.
In the Montessori philosophy, instruction is always individualized. A teacher observes a child, and then offers an individualized demonstration of a new material. She shows them how to take the material from the shelf, place it in a work area—a small table or a rug on the floor. She then demonstrates the proper use, for example, taking the cylinders out of the cylinder blocks, mixing them up, and fitting them back into their proper spots, sorted by size and proceeding from left to right (indirect preparation for reading.) Once the child has been shown an activity, they are free to use it whenever they are interested. Now the magic happens: each material is carefully designed so that the child learns many important concepts and skills from working with it.
The practical life area of our classroom is where our newest and youngest students feel at home from day one. Activities such as pouring beans or water, preparing a snack, and stringing beads are both familiar and interesting to a 3-year-old child. They will start with manageable tasks they can accomplish and apply them to living life skills such as folding clean laundry, washing dishes, and preparing food. Children build confidence and healthy autonomy as they are able to do tasks on their own, and enjoy being able to contribute to daily family life.
The sensorial area is where students use their 5 senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) to perceive their environment and its rich complexities. Through their interactions with the sensorial materials, children are able to take complex, abstract phenomena and develop them into logical and concrete systems. They will acquire a rich vocabulary to describe the world around them and deepen their natural curiosity and love of learning, all while developing and challenging themselves at a natural and individual pace. Key development is done through the child's natural sensorial discovery of their environment.
The math program builds upon indirect preparation, especially in the sensorial area. It’s built around a systematic progression from very concrete materials to more abstract operations. During the three year cycle of the Children's House program, you can expect your child to go from comprehending and comparing quantities to more complex addition equations. Because of its complexity, we highly encourage our enrolled parents to sign-up for a classroom observation to watch these brilliant lessons in action.
Social skills: Montessori places a major emphasis on intra and inter-personal skills in a part of the curriculum called grace and courtesy. At first glance, a Montessori preschool classroom may not look like the most social environment; often, younger students choose to work by themselves at tables or mats. Yet Montessori students do develop strong social skills. What explains this apparent contradiction?
Dr. Montessori believed that each child develops according to a natural timetable built into their very being. She observed that, over and over, children ages 3-6 typically prefer to work by themselves for a good part of the day. They might work right next to each other, but usually, they weren’t interested in collaborating. She also observed that as the child gets older and enters elementary school (ages 6 and up), they naturally begin to become more social and overall interested in learning with and from each other.
As a Montessori school, we respect these developmental needs of children. That’s why in our preschool program, children are left alone to work by themselves when they so choose, and why our kindergarten program is structured around regular work in pairs and small groups. This is the direct opposite of traditional education, where preschoolers are expected to spend much of their day engaged in group activities, and elementary-aged children are expected to work by themselves!
Bilingual Education at BIM
At BIM, our goal is to partner with families to help our students achieve their personal Japanese language fluency goals. Our approach can be adapted to meet a range of goals, whether you’d like your child to have an introductory understanding of the Japanese language and culture, or to bring your child to native fluency. We at BIM view language acquisition as an expression of Maria Montessori’s philosophy of peace education—an exchange of cultures as a means for global understanding.
Our highly-trained teachers are native speakers of the languages in which they primarily teach, and our head of school is fully bilingual, became Montessori-certified in the United States, and has taught both in English and Japanese for many years.
We warmly welcome children of all backgrounds and language abilities, and we readily accept students whether Japanese, English, or another language is primarily spoken in the home. We aim to foster a truly multicultural, multi-ethnic community in the best sense—while many of our families have one or both parents with roots in Japan, we also have many students of various ethnic backgrounds. With the diverse background of our students and the high engagement of our families, we are able to bring language learning to life by celebrating Japanese and American cultures throughout the year.
BIM students may choose to continue their education at AIM Elementary, our sister school. The elementary level there for students from 1st through 6th grade are a perfect opportunity for a BIM graduate to further enrich and develop their bilingual Montessori education.
By design, the Montessori Children’s House experience is a three-year cycle, including two years of preschool plus the kindergarten year. Therefore, enrollment in BIM’s Children’s House program requires a three-year commitment from parents. A 3-year-old joins the class, and is drawn in and finds help from older peers. He aspires to do what they do; in fact, children often learn more from those just slightly older than them rather than from adults! As he grows and enters his 2nd year, he begins to master more of the many skills and activities around the classroom. He can watch the new 1st years coming in and start to help them. He starts laying the foundations of language and math activities, learning and perfecting the component skills of writing, reading and arithmetic.
The 3rd year is when it all comes together. It’s the year the child cashes in on all the work of the prior two years, where he puts it all together and explodes in his development. Suddenly, he goes from sounding out words slowly to reading full sentences. He understands numbers and delights in doing arithmetic into the thousands. He can draw pictures and may even write entire illustrated stories.
Maybe more importantly, he comes into his own as a leader in the classroom. The 5 and 6-year-olds in the Children’s House often naturally become teachers and mentors for their younger peers. They feel at home in their Montessori environment. As one student put it: "I don’t need the teachers to show me any more, I can just pick my work and complete it all by myself!"
In addition, for those students who join BIM’s bilingual program without strong Japanese skills, the 3rd year is often when the development of their second language takes off—where children transition completely to speaking Japanese in class with their peers naturally, even without teacher supervision.
These factors—academic success, confidence and leadership, second language mastery—all make it very important that children stay at BIM for the full three-year Montessori cycle. Give your child the opportunity to actualize their experience and gain the confidence and academic foundation that are only possible by completing the 3-year Montessori cycle.
Montessori is a whole-child approach to education; we believe that the personal and social skills your child learns with us are as important (if not more important!) than the academic skills. To succeed in life, children need to learn to be trustworthy friends, persistent in the pursuit of often challenging goals, courageous in the face of change, achieve self-control and self-regulation, and develop strong executive function skills.
Our curriculum at BIM delivers all of this. Yet we know that many parents are interested in strong academics, even in preschool. That’s why is it our constant aim to maintain a high personal expectation of academic excellence while encouraging the natural love for learning born in each of us. We believe learning is innately fun, and we as Montessori educators are equally dedicated to our mission to maintain your child’s inborn love of learning with our shared goals for their academic success. A word of caution is in order, though: Montessori programs such as BIM do not try to level children. We recognize and support each child’s individuality. So not every child will be at the same level; some may be far more advanced in some areas (and our individualized approach enables them to do so!), and some may be behind in other areas (and will have the time they need to work on those areas that don’t come easy.) BIM hopes to create an environment where the student may explore all areas of study unencumbered by self-consciousness or fear, regardless of whether they are approaching a subject they know well, or one less familiar or more challenging. Because each student has strengths and areas of growth, they bring unique gifts and opportunities for learning to their classroom and peers. Thus, every child in the BIM classroom is celebrated as a valued member of our community.