A line of students filed out of the big metal door. You could hardly see our faces under our brightly colored raincoats. Boots squeaked and thudded. Rain pants rustled. Inside the door, the line was straight and organized, but as soon as we stepped outside, we were wild — children of the Earth.

Recess had begun.

A newly formed river of mud and rain in the woods. A slippery fallen tree acts as a bridge, or a castle, or a throne. Leaf crowns. Tiny rocks, twigs, and the sand pile make a tiny fortress. A moat is carved out of the dark brown mulch much to the chagrin of our teachers, and the rain quickly fills it in. Wet bark peeled off a dead tree, rocks, leaves, twigs, acorns, pine cones, a feather from home, and we built a fairy house. Capture the flag goes on in all weather. The wetness is an added challenge, an extra bit of fun. We liked to show off our grit.

We slipped and slid across the soaked playground. Our heels rubbed raw in our boots, but we didn’t care. Fingernails quickly filled with dirt and sand and wet bits of bark, but we didn’t care. Mud splashed in our faces and we wiped it away with muddier hands, but we didn’t care. Our fingers and noses were numb with the wet chill, but we didn’t care. Despite the “waterproof” rain gear we were wearing, we were soaked through, but we didn’t care.

We did care though, when the teachers began to call us inside. When the little bark castles had to be left for tomorrow — who knew if they would keep from collapsing without us watching over them? When the imaginary kingdom by the new river in the woods had to be abandoned for another day. When the capture the flag game had to end before anyone had scored. When the leaf crowns had to be taken off. Then we cared.

Up until two years ago, I attended a Montessori school. This meant I spent a lot of time outside. In elementary, we had recess every day, whether it was snowing or raining or sleeting. We had lessons out in the woods and took trips to the beaches and mountains. Unless the temperature was way below freezing or it was thundering and lightning, we were out in it.

Curiosity, love, and concern for the natural world has been a part of who I am from a very young age. Now that I am older, I read the biology textbooks, watch the powerpoints on ecology, take my dog for a walk after school every day, and I understand a little more of what is happening out there in the world. I get it. And I love getting it. Learning about life and nature gives me a sense of fulfillment that no other subject in school does. I compost and recycle at home. I am President of the Green Group at my high school, and I am happy to say that the school now recycles! When I’m out with my dog I'll pick up trash from the side of the road. I hike mountains with my dad, even in the snow. I love being outside.

Recess, but also every lesson and trip we took in the outdoors while I was in Montessori, was a very meaningful experience for me. It made me the person I am today. It instilled in me a curiosity and a passion that otherwise might not exist and for which I am very grateful. I’m seventeen years old now, but I will never stop playing outside. I will never stop loving the earth and I will never stop fighting for it. I will never stop asking questions and never stop wondering how the earth works. I will never stop — because of recess. Because of log kingdoms, leaf crowns, little sand fortresses, and muddy games of capture the flag.

-Alexandra Campbell, HMS '14


The Difference

To be curious, self-directed, and engaged; to be compassionate, collaborative, and think critically;  to be adaptable and problem solve—these so called "soft skills" are now seen as most necessary for our rapidly changing world. Montessori education focuses on all of these with the same amount of importance as academic skills. 

How do we do it?


Children come into this world wired to learn. They are naturally curious with an eagerness to explore, discover and figure things out for themselves. The Montessori classroom—based on years of scientific research—is a supportive environment rich with materials designed for children, cultivating their natural curiosity and joy of discovery with the guidance and encouragement of trained adults.


Philosopher and educator John Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” From the very beginning of their Montessori experience, children learn to take care of their own needs (preparing snack, putting on their own shoes and jackets) and environment (sweeping up, watering plants). In doing so, they develop a level of physical and intellectual independence not often seen in young children. This daily experience of being trusted with real responsibility for meaningful tasks results in children with authentically earned self confidence. 


The youngest children start with lessons in “Grace and Courtesy”—lessons that teach them how to respect themselves, others, their classroom and the environment. As the children grow older, they learn to respect and understand the connectedness between all living and non-living things, leading to the adolescent’s profound awareness of the complex web of human existence.


Each child is free to choose her own work. A teacher will carefully observe—but not interrupt—a child’s work as long as it’s purposeful. When children are given the opportunity to engage in meaningful, interesting, self-directed work, they achieve a high level of focused concentration. Scientists refer to this as a “flow” state of prolonged, energized work that produces both calm satisfaction and a profound joy in learning. 


Children stay with the same teacher for three years, building lasting relationships with the teachers and friendships with children of different ages. The multi-age classroom offers a dynamic social setting where children learn from each other, master skills, and become facilitators of learning for their classmates, creating experiences that build emotional intelligence not possible in traditional single-age classrooms.


Anyone who has been around children knows: children need to move. Children can choose to work at tables, on the floor, or outside if their work takes them there, eliminating the fidgeting and boredom that often comes with being forced to sit still at a desk for extended periods of time. The youngest children develop their motor skills in the Montessori classroom by working with materials that focus on skills such as grasping, pouring, stacking, carrying and balancing. Appropriate physical skills are integrated into the curriculum at all levels because our goal is not only intellectual competence, but human competence. 


Montessori classrooms strike a balance of developmentally appropriate freedom with responsibility—you cannot successfully have one without the other. As a child grows, so do his choices and responsibilities, providing him with the necessary framework to succeed in ever-larger spheres. In their early elementary years children are planning out their activities for a week, and by their later elementary years they are conducting month-long independent research. By middle school students are running their own business. Is it any wonder that so many entrepreneurs credit their Montessori foundations with their success?


Techniques that focus on external rewards like grades or gold stars tend to take the joy out of learning by reducing it to a means to an end, rather than a journey of discovery. Programs like "No Child Left Behind" and "Race to the Top" forces conventional education to focus on tests and grades. It’s not that our students never experience a test, but our teachers are not encumbered by “teaching to the test.” We don’t measure competencies that way. Because students work independently and one-on-one with the teachers, assessment happens all day, everyday, through careful observation of each individual child. 


The teachers present lessons when the child is ready for them, not necessarily when a national curriculum dictates that she’s ready. This allows each child to learn when she shows readiness and eagerness for a particular subject, which is when learning happens most effortlessly and deeply. Children move uninterrupted through the curriculum at their own pace, often exceeding the state's education requirements. This removes much of the frustration and boredom that can hinder positive learning experiences in conventional education, where time is the constant and, unfortunately, learning can be the variable.


Developmental psychologists now confirm: an integrated, active, hands-on approach is the most engaging and effective way for children to develop skill and understanding. In contrast to classrooms where learning comes from texts, worksheets, and lectures, a Montessori classroom features materials specifically designed to make abstract concepts real. For example, a very young child works with strings of beads to sensorially experience “five” or “ten,” bending the strings into a square or cube—developing his mathematical mind and a foundation for increasingly abstract concepts later. Maria Montessori said “Never give more to the mind than you give to the hand,” and we’ve seen that knowledge built this way is not forgotten.


Perseverence. Resilience. “Stick-to-it-tiveness.” Call it what you will, Montessori kids have it and researchers agree that kids who have it get along further in life. We understand that sometimes the most valuable thing that a teacher (or parent) can do to help a child is to back off a bit. To let children face some adversity on their own, to fall down and not be helped back up. We allow children to make mistakes, to learn from mistakes and hence, to learn what it takes to succeed. It only makes sense that children who learn to try and try again develop the crucial ability to overcome setbacks and in the process, develop true strength of character.


The world isn’t divided neatly into subjects, and neither are young minds. Starting in first grade, Montessori students are presented with “Great Lessons”—formal stories about the universe, time, humans, communications, and numbers. In addition to stoking the flames of curiosity and forming a context for exploration, children become adept at drawing inferences between subjects, critical thinking, and understanding the big picture—skills that are highly valued in today’s rapidly changing world.


We view education as helping each child reach his full potential. Montessori isn’t just a philosophy, nor is it based on a national common curriculum. Montessori is an education methodology based on the natural development of the human being and has proven successful for more than a century in tens of thousands of schools around the world. We teach the way children learn. We focus on all of it. That is the difference. Montessori is more than just school. It is education for life.

-Camille Campbell

Core Curriculum

You have seen the Upper School students in orange vests with bright, smiling faces outside of our school selling cider these past few weeks. Have you wondered why? It is part of the work Montessori found most meaningful for adolescents. She believed that this is the time for these nascent adults to begin to join the society of adults, namely its economic life. It is the time for them to contribute their efforts and to receive compensation (in our case, the building up of a travel fund) in return. This "Micro-economy" work need not center upon apples. We may well sell jars of honey, chocolates, or candles as the year progresses. We chose cider because Hollis has long produced excellent apples and our property is an old orchard, where we tend and harvest our own apples. And apples are a celebration of the sunlight now fading. They are a sweet conclusion, a symbol of life, and a suitable gift to offer you. 

What is required of Micro-economy work is that it engages both the hand and the mind. These students have new, growing bodies that need to be strengthened and challenged. They need, as well, to be called to reason, to communicate, to make decisions, and to evaluate the results of those decisions. Their business name "Sunny Orchard" is such a nice, simple thing but it represents hours of discussion. This decision, however, was far easier that determining the price of a half-gallon of cider or choosing whether to offer pasteurized or unpasteurized cider. They have needed to think ahead, to think on their feet, to plan for contingencies, to compromise, to work when they were worn through.

They have needed to research regulations and processes, to talk to strangers, to write checks and keep accounts. They have worked in the rain; they have stood their ground when faced with yellow jackets and maggots. They have learned to persevere, an essential quality to a successful life as an adult. And by standing through these tests and by producing through their own efforts a lovely drink that the community wants to buy they have grown in confidence; in themselves and each other.

Academics have not been set aside. Problems with pasteurization and fermentation lead to chemistry and microbiology lessons. Contact with wasps lead to discussion and the key differences in form and function between wasps and bees. Articles and advertisements need to be written well. Conversion of units of measure, ratio and proportion, pi, and compounding interest have been required in order to achieve success. It has been real to the students. This has led to their complete engagement in the process. Engagement is the first requirement of learning.

-Jim Webster