The Bridge Experience
What is Bridge?
Montessori philosophy is all about following the child’s needs—and close observation of students revealed an opportunity for Wellan to optimize a program for the older Year 2 students of the Beginner program. "Bridge"—now in its second year at Wellan—is designed for children who turn three early in the school year, after September begins. Often children at this age demonstrate readiness for some of the academic aspects of Primary, while still benefiting from the lower teacher : student ratio and routine of a Beginner classroom, which supports students’ growing independence during transition times. Children at this age benefit from a hybrid program to keep them engaged all year long (which staves off toddler “senioritis” come springtime!). It is important to note that most Montessori schools require that students turn three by September 1 to enter Primary for developmental reasons, and children are placed in the Bridge classroom strictly based on age.
The Bridge program provides children with a unique and truly exceptional learning opportunity. Some children will transition to the Bridge classroom after a year or two in one of the Beginners classrooms. For others, this will be their first school experience. As they learn and play together day after day, our children develop meaningful connections with one another that grow and deepen throughout the year.
A Typical Day in Bridge
On any given day, an observer might see one student helping another put on a pair of socks, take off a jacket, or reach a ‘lovey’ out of a cubby. They routinely applaud one another for tasks well done—matching objects, tracing a letter shape in the sand tray, going down the slide! At morning arrival, they rush to greet classmates as they enter the room, so excited to see their friends. If a friend is out of sorts, they will offer a hug and ask if they’re okay. Students are exceptionally caring and affectionate with one another.
Through the morning work cycles, there is a quiet hum of children engaged in their learning. Some days you could almost hear a pin drop! In every area of the classroom, seated at a table or in front of a work rug on the floor, children are focused on their lessons. The atmosphere is happy and peaceful. The prepared environment in the Bridge classroom is a key element that supports the child’s growth and development. Each lesson and activity on the curriculum shelves is developmentally appropriate and designed to appeal to the Bridge-age student.
The small student-teacher ratio is another key element of the Bridge program. Each day, children have the opportunity to take part in individual and small group lessons with a teacher. Work periods are significantly shorter in the Bridge classroom than in Primary. Children are invited to begin their morning work cycle once they complete their arrival routine (hanging up belongings, changing shoes, toileting). They typically have a 60–90 minute uninterrupted work cycle before transitioning to the playground for an extended period of outdoor activities: unstructured free play and/or walks through the local neighborhood. Throughout the week, students take part in lessons with specialists, as well.
During lunchtime in the classroom, teachers sit with children and assist with opening containers and help with clean-up when necessary. As the semester progresses, children are able to manage their containers, food, and clean-up more independently. More often than not, a child will declare: “I want to do it myself!”
Transitions can be especially challenging for toddlers and preschoolers. In the Bridge program, students are eased slowly into transitions. At the beginning of the school year, specialists in Music, Spanish, and Library come into the Bridge classroom to present weekly lessons. As soon as the children demonstrate readiness to make the transition to another classroom, teachers walk them to the specialists’ for their lessons. Readiness includes listening to and acknowledging cues, walking together in line, and safely navigating stairs—all fundamental skills that children practice daily throughout their year in Bridge.
Academics in Bridge
Students move into academics at their own pace. The Bridge curriculum and materials are similar (if not identical) to what a first year student is introduced to in a traditional Montessori Primary classroom. Lessons and units are based on the spiraling curriculum in a Montessori education, and lessons are scaffolded: each lesson prepares the child for the next level of challenge. Units, lessons, and fundamental materials introduced in Bridge are revisited and presented again in the Primary classroom where children will go more in depth and move on to greater challenges in all subject areas. The focus through the school year is on social emotional learning, routines, transitions, moving in the environment, and self-care. Whole group lessons on identifying and managing emotions are also a part of the Bridge curriculum.
Bridge students are drawn to the materials and repeat lessons over and over again until they master the skill. On our Practical Life shelves, the child chooses materials based on their own interests and curiosity to explore. Meaningful activities capture and hold their attention. They are so excited to make the trip back and forth from a Sensorial shelf to their work rug carrying a prism from the Broad Stair or a cube from the Pink Tower. As the semester progresses, children discover extensions to fundamental lessons that motivate them to explore concepts even further.
In Mathematics, we begin with lessons in the Intro to Number curriculum. Activities are focused on supporting the development of skills in quantity to symbol identification, sets of numbers, sequential counting, and numeral formation. When our students enter Primary, they will continue to reinforce number skills they’ve acquired in Bridge, and further extend their skills as they move onto lessons in Teens and Tens, the Decimal System with Golden Beads, and so much more.
In Language, Bridge students begin the year with matching activities: object to object, picture to picture, object to picture, and puzzles. Storybooks, songs, finger-plays and rhymes-plays, which are at the foundation of literacy development, play a major part of the Bridge curriculum and are woven into every school day. Language activities in the Bridge classroom support vocabulary enrichment, the development of auditory skills, and mastery of letter sounds and symbols. Our students participate in lessons with Sandpaper Letters with Initial Sound Objects and Pictures, alphabet puzzles, and initial sound activities with the Movable Alphabet. Pin-punching and Metal Insets—both pre-writing activities—are introduced when students demonstrate readiness to begin practice manipulating a writing tool.
The Cultural shelf is a favorite with Bridge students. We begin the year with activities based on the summer season. As we move into autumn, picture and object matching activities, and puzzles are based on trees, leaves, apples, pumpkins, and so on. Children are introduced to the concepts of Living and Nonliving, and Land, Air, Water. Bridge students also work with the Montessori continent map puzzle and continent animals. Again, they will go so much deeper and further with these lessons in Primary.
The Bridge program prepares students for the Primary Classroom. When our students enter a Primary classroom, they will recognize many materials and will be able to take the work from the shelf independently without having to wait for an initial lesson presentation. They’ve done that in Bridge! They will enter with confidence.
Class placement is always designed with the child’s needs at heart, with the understanding that all Wellan classrooms are supervised and taught by highly qualified teachers who deliver outstanding personalized curriculum, and who know and value each of their students. If you have any questions about class placement or the Bridge program, please reach out to Deanna Griffiths, Director of Admissions/Alumni Affairs; Becky Alukonis, Beginner Division Leader; or Beth Black, Head of School.