Montessori Family School students set up camp at the Gillespie site in Tilden Park. Credit: MFS

It may not sound like a classroom assignment —  4th, 5th, and 6th graders planning and running a camping trip from start to finish.  But at Montessori Family School, an independent school, the field trips are a serious educational experience.  Montessori schools focus on hands-on learning and real-life skills, and planning a camping trip offers just that. 

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This emphasis starts at the preschool, located in Berkeley, where the youngest students take field trips. In the early grade-school years, at the El Cerrito campus, they build up greater ownership and responsibility by practicing planning and jobs in the classroom, and occasionally suggesting themes for class trips.

By the time students reach the upper elementary grades (4-6), they hold the reins. For a two-night camping trip in the spring, students plan every meal and activity, and organize supply and gear transportation. Teams of students lead every task of the trip. This past June, a committee of students researched, created a Google slideshow, and gave a presentation to the class about potential wildlife dangers, from poison oak, to ticks, to persistent raccoons. During the trip one student, stationed at a picnic table, supervised an adult and two other students as they boiled water, labeled cups, and gave out hot cocoa and hot apple cider.

The 6th graders gain yet more independence for their year-end trip, a daylong adventure in San Francisco.  They plan all activities and locations, plus transportation and routes, fares and fees, and they time their return to campus for the end of the day. One year, students planned a ride on the Richmond ferry to the city, navigated their way up to Coit Tower, and practiced reading maps to get themselves back down the hill to the historic vessels at Fisherman’s Wharf.

In 7th and 8th grade, the school elders take these skills, freedoms and responsibilities and apply them to trips across the country, building self-awareness and tenacity as they go.

Building executive function

Concepts like executive function are receiving a lot of attention in the educational sphere right now. The educators at Montessori Family School feel that these trips are perfect opportunities to hone executive function skills in the real world and give children the joy of experiencing accomplishment and adventure simultaneously. 

Montessori Family School camping trip in Tilden Park. Credit: MFS

It’s not just the trips that foster independence and self-direction in students.  Every day, from preschool through 8th grade, brings opportunities. A menu of hot dogs with an array of toppings, along with hot chocolate, and s’mores suddenly takes on new meaning when students know how meticulously their classmates worked to plan it. Field games organized by peers get the most joyful student buy-in. 

Montessori education was designed with the goal of world peace in mind, and this is a tenet the school holds dear as they help to raise incredible humans. In organizing school trips, and the work of brainstorming, coming to a consensus, and planning, students are able to consider their interests, advocate for themselves, compromise with others, and bring their ideas to fruition. In a world with a glut of choices, this process can help students identify both their passions and their gifts. Classroom teachers offer support and guidance to the process, but stand aside to let the children’s ideas and efforts shine.

Model U.N. program

A culminating example of this work is demonstrated in the Montessori Model United Nations (MMUN) program. While this is one of many model United Nations simulation programs, what sets this one apart is its Montessori roots. Begun in 2006 by a Montessori teacher in partnership with a U.N. ambassador, the Montessori program seeks not only to simulate the workings of the U.N. as closely as possible but also to emphasize the power and agency of its young participants as changemakers and future caretakers of the world. 

Last year’s contingent of Montessori Family School students at the Montessori Model U.N. program in New York City. Credit: MFS

After several months of research, writing, and practicing public speaking, the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students, accompanied by three MFS staff members, travel to New York City to join several hundred other Montessori students from around the world for four days, and act as delegates to a Model United Nations. At the conference, students present carefully researched position papers to their peers, suggest solutions to pressing global issues that are actually discussed in the U.N., and participate in consensus-building to craft resolutions that address those issues. 

They also make new friends from other states and countries, gain confidence in public speaking and advocacy, and return transformed by this experience. They brave the freezing temperatures of the New York winter to explore the Times Square area and walk across town to look out over the night sky from the top of 30 Rockefeller Center.

In their reflections afterward, several students called the Model U.N. trip  “life-changing” and every student who attended this past year has expressed a desire to return next year. The experience was so positive that three alumni 9th graders will rejoin the school this year for the trip.

Curious to know how a Montessori education can transform your child’s life? Find out more at montessorifamily.com, and schedule a tour or RSVP for an Open House today!