A Tour of Jen's Lower Elementary Montessori Classroom

A Tour of Jen's Lower Elementary Montessori Classroom

My name is Jennifer Dempsey. I hold an MEd. in Elementary Education with a focus on Math, Science, and Montessori. I am dual-credentialed in both public school grades K-6th ,as well as, Montessori Elementary I from the American Montessori Society. 14 years ago I student taught at the Montessori School of Maui under the mentorship of a Master Teacher, Ms. Jolyne Rego. Because of my dual-certification I was required to intern in the Montessori classroom for an entire school year, full-time. Jolyne shared all of her knowledge, expertise, and wisdom with me and truly helped shape the teacher I am today. After earning my certifications and degrees, I spent some time teaching in the public sector, working at the Montessori School of Maui as an environmental educator/naturalist, and tutoring students with dyslexia using the Orton-Gillingham approach to multi-sensory education.

My son started at the Montessori School of Maui as a 2yr-old in the toddler class. He then spent four years in primary, and then, I was delighted that he was placed in Jolyne’s “Wiliwili” classroom as a first-year student in the lower elementary program. As Jolyne’s 45 year career was coming to an end, the Montessori School of Maui (MOMI) mourned the loss of such an inspirational and wonderful guide.

I was hired to fill the vacancy left by Jolyne! While we spent an entire long weekend together in the classroom preparing for the students, we cried. It was the turning over of a very special gift, the gift of educating students, the gift of the Montessori method, the gift of the Wiliwili class! Jolyne graciously passed on to me a trove of amazing handmade materials, curriculum, albums, and charts. So, I have taken what I have learned teaching in many different environments and fused it together with what I learned so many years ago as an intern from Jolyne and personalized the Wiliwili classroom! The students have kept some of the most beautiful and treasured celebrations and Wiliwili traditions alive. Even more special, is my son, now a third year leader is in his last year in the lower elementary program with me as his guide!

 I am passionate about the Montessori method. I also utilize the Orton-Gillingham approach to all my lessons in phonological awareness, spelling, and emergent reading.

The Montessori School of Maui, founded in 1978, began by serving just 8 students. Over the years the school has evolved to a lovely 9-acre campus serving over 260 students, from 18 months to the 8th grade.

The school employs a collaborative learning environment, based upon the time-honored principles developed by Dr. Maria Montessori over 100 years ago, designed to stimulate each student's critical thinking skills, cultivate inquisitive minds and empower children to actively participate in the rapidly changing environment of the twenty first century.

Tell us a bit about one of the shelves in your class

Botany Shelf: Top- Cards to categorize leaf types by veins and margins, blank paper for doing leaf rubbings, drawings, or gluing on leaves when making a book.

Middle – Flower, leaf, and tree “parts of” wooden puzzles, botany cabinet – both traditional/standard and one that was especially made by a parent years ago with leaves that are common to only Hawai’i, and three part cards matching the names of leaves found in Hawai’i to their pictures.

Bottom – All the complete botany cards arranged in order, and books on trees and plants. The most popular activity is to go around campus and collect leaves and them come back to the classroom to identify the type of plant/tree it belongs to as well as the leaf shape. With this information, the students then glue the leaves onto paper and create a book. Interestingly, each classroom at MOMI is named after a tree or plant found in Hawai’i. The wiliwili is an endemic flowering tree. It is strongly linked to Hawaiian culture and history.


What is your favourite thing about your classroom and/or what is your favourite thing on the shelves at the moment?

My favorite physical aspect of the Wiliwili classroom is the bright, open space. There are many windows to allow natural light to enter and cool, Hawaiian breezes to blow through. It is a self-contained building surrounded by beautiful views of the campus and the ocean. The students are so connected to the outside space as well. They participate in formal lessons outdoors with a trained naturalist, and can oftentimes be seen walking to other special classes barefoot – taking the long way through our school garden.

What are some challenges about your classroom? 

One challenge that has occurred lately is a lack of table seating. I’ve noticed the second and third year students prefer sitting at a two- or three- person table with their friends as they work on a research together or collaboratively work on test tube division or multiplication with the checkerboard. We don’t seem to have enough multi-person seating arrangements. This is something I will have to consider when setting up the classroom next school year.


Tell us about a typical day in your class

Students arrive at 8 am, grab their clipboards, and come to group. They update their daily schedule with any resource classes they have for that particular day. We have a group meeting to discuss the day, discuss any topics that need to be addressed, etc. I excuse the students and begin with lessons. I give one lesson to each group every morning. The day of the week dictates which subject area of the curriculum I will deliver the lessons. Monday mornings are always spelling lessons. Beginning at 9 am the students may have snack outside on the front and back lanai tables. While I am presenting lessons to one group, the rest of the students choose their work. They understand that they must make work choices that are balanced from all areas of the classroom. When I complete all of the morning lessons, I then work one-on-one with students that need extra help or need another presentation of a lesson that they missed or didn’t seem to understand. At 11:30, a student plays the bells to signal the end of the morning work cycle, all children organize their work and come to group. I will often read a chapter book aloud, or we will do mad libs together, or listen to music reciting the multiplication facts. At 11:45, I excuse the students to wash their hands, grab their lunches, and we all sit together under the trees in our front yard at picnic tables to eat.

To see more classrooms in our classroom tour series click here

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Montessorikiwi specialises in Montessori resources for ages 6-12 you can see all of my resources here


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Jen!!!! I am so delighted that you have wiliwili. As I was scrolling through this page, the picture caught my eye, and I thought, ‘I know that classroom!’ Sure enough, it was Ms. Jolyne. I showed the pic to my son Genki, who was in wiliwili around 2014-2017. How exciting.

Regina M Splees Tafoya

This page really has inspired to apply the Montessori Approach in depth in my teaching. I wish that you offer a Professional Development course for teachers like me.


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