Southern New Hampshire Montessori Academy (SNHMA) was founded in 2009 by Debra Hogan to provide an alternative to parents who, like Hogan, wanted to break away from the standard day cares and schooling methods for their children. After having her youngest child, Hogan researched the Montessori philosophy and, after discovering there were no local programs, developed a business plan and opened her school in Londonderry.
An international teaching method, Montessori education dates back to 1907 when Maria Montessori opened Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, in a low-income district of Rome. Her unique philosophy sparked interest of the world’s educators and, in the following decades, Montessori schools opened throughout Europe and North and South America. There are now Montessori schools on every habitable continent.
Philosophies of SNHMA include unique classroom structures, “grade” levels, schoolwork, and responsibilities. The school is broken into segments, explained Hogan. Lower elementary grades 1 through 3, ages 6 to 9, are taught in the same classroom environment. Early childhood, which includes prekindergarten to Kindergarten, and upper elementary, which includes grades 4 through 6, are also taught within the same classrooms. In 2015, Hogan plans to add an adolescent segment which will include grades 7 through 9.
“The children are separated into these different age groups because they are all in a similar place of the developmental plan,” said Hogan. This, combined with the different ages of the children within the classroom, works to an advantage because younger children can look up to the older children and are mentored through their learning, explained Hogan.
“With this age interaction, when an older student teaches the younger student, it cements their learning. Plus this builds a relationship and the younger child feels more comfortable learning the material,” Hogan said. She added that this structure also builds the child’s social interaction with other children and that the students will have the same teacher for three years.
Classrooms at SNHMA are not set up with a teacher at the front of the room instructing the children, but rather interacting with them throughout the classroom. Small group and one-on-one instruction are an important part of the Montessori philosophy. Hogan describes the classroom as a “beehive” where everyone is working on their projects productively. Classrooms are set up so that students can have as much hands on experience as possible while learning.
“The classrooms are created to react with your natural state to help the child feel comfortable so that they are not overwhelmed,” said Hogan. “The body is attracted to natural resources such as wood, glass and metal. The furniture is made of unstained wood, which is attractive to the body, thus having a calming and appealing effect on the children.”
Classwork at SNHMA is also unique. “Choice with instruction” is how Hogan describes the program. “It is like a menu,” she said. “The teacher creates a work plan that is for each individual student. During the week, the student must complete the work and can choose how to accomplish that goal.” Students are encouraged to work at their own pace, which takes away both anxiety or frustrations for the student..
SNHMA offers no homework, grades or tests to their students. The children do their work under the tutoring of the teachers and, when the teacher is sure the child understands the material, they move onto the next level. Independence, confidence, and self-esteem are critical lessons learned through these methods.
In addition to the core academic programs, the school offers five enrichment programs. These include music, dance and drama, visual art, introduction to Latin and Spanish, and technology. Food as a subject is also explored, providing a social and cultural experience and allowing connections throughout all the different curricula. Physical education is held everyday with students having over an hour of physical activity each day.
Part of this physical activity includes daily outside play time. Hogan said the school has a play yard, rather than a playground. They have a natural yard, which encourages children to become creative and use their resources around them. The play yard abuts Woodmont Orchards and a wetland area, providing an ecco-mecca for outdoor studies.
Along with their schoolwork, students at SNHMA are expected to participate in every day living tasks. These include laundry, serving food, and cleaning up. “By having the children involved in all aspects, they begin to understand interdependency and learn about community and responsibility,” said Hogan.
All teachers at SNHMA are certified in Montessori instruction. The teacher to student ratio of each classroom aligns with the childcare standards. Early childhood classrooms have one teacher per eight students, lower elementary classrooms have one teacher per twelve to fifteen students, upper elementary classrooms have one teacher per fifteen to eighteen students, and adolescent classrooms have one teacher for every eighteen students.
SNHMA’s school days and calendar year are also different than those of public schools. School hours are from 8:15 AM to 3:15 PM, allowing an additional 45 minutes of classroom time than traditional school. SNHMA also does not have February or April vacations, but rather one winter break in December and one spring break in March. The school must abide by New Hampshire’s 180 day calendar but typically has more classroom days. Summer programs are also available at SNHMA for ages 3 through 12 and offer creative, fun and informative experiences.
Currently, Southern New Hampshire Montessori Academy is finishing the first phase of construction for their most recent facility expansion, creating a 21st century learning elementary classroom. The architecture has followed guidelines to create effective learning areas for independent, group, as well as collaborative learning. The second phase will create a commercial kitchen, a cooking classroom, and a dining hall. When the entire facility is completed, the school can accommodate 150 students throughout their programs.
SNHMA is located at 1E Commons Drive in Londonderry. To learn more about the facility, visit Southern New Hampshire Montessori Academy’s website.