Since 2008, Hartford Public Schools has offered Montessori education for Pre-Kindergarten to sixth grade students. As a feature of the larger HPS Montessori Pathway, the Erdkinder Project represents both a visionary, research-based approach to meeting the needs of adolescents and the next step toward realizing the Pathway’s objective of providing a coherent and cumulative educational route for HPS families. Building on the work of the early childhood and elementary levels, the adolescent program concentrates on meaningful work in a challenging yet nurturing learning environment.
Erdkinder, Maria Montessori’s term for the child between twelve and eighteen, translates (from German) as "children of the earth" and reflects the importance of intentionally connecting the child and the environment.
At the center of all levels of Montessori education sits the prepared environment. And for the adolescent that environment is a farm. Not just a rural setting, but a working agricultural enterprise complete with gardens to tend, forest land to manage, fields for grazing, tilling and haying, livestock to feed and herd, and a community within which to play a meaningful role.
As students leave childhood behind and anticipate their lives as adults, they enter a period of vulnerability. During this period they need both protection and real challenges. As both individuals and participants in society, they need opportunities to develop their skills and passions, outlets to express their ideas, and experiences which present them with real problems to solve.
Like all Montessori prepared environments, the adolescent community is devoted exclusively to meeting the needs of students between 12 and 15. Likewise, the physical location of the community must be able to accommodate the requirements of the community. To fully engage body and mind, confront problems of consequence, and foster enduring relationships, the site must be safe, the land must be productive, and its purpose must be embraced and affirmed by all.
"Education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment."
The HPS Montessori Erdkinder presents middle school students from Hartford and nearby suburbs a unique opportunity to work and study on a farm. Linking meaningful, hands-on work with rigorous academic study, the Erdkinder experience supports adolescents in answering their most important questions:"Who am I?" "How do I fit in?" and "What is my contribution going to be?"
The Erdkinder Project is committed to building a middle school program that harnesses the power of adolescent development guided by the following core principles:
- The learning environment must be authentic.
- Students must have a role that matters to the community.
- Students must be able to do physical work and intellectual study that fully engages them.
- All work must be clearly linked to practical problems and solutions.
- The academic disciplines are not subjects to be studied. They are lenses through which we examine our world and the human activity within it.