Visitors to Green Hedges often are a bit surprised, and curious, to know why we teach French starting with our youngest students in Montessori. Our founders, the Kilmers, wanted to ensure that foreign languages started at an early age, along with the arts including music instruction and poetry. The choice of French was because they had very meaningful ties to France—Frances Kilmer was the daughter of prominent Impressionist painter Frederick Frieseke and spent her childhood in France, immersed in the study of music, literature, art and language. The Kilmers met in France for the first time in 1934.
This early introduction of French is the foundation for our world language curriculum. French instruction begins with our Montessori students at age 3 and continues through Grade 8. Why start early? Younger children are still honing their first language by mimicking what they hear and making sense of speech patterns. Therefore, they are well positioned to exercise those same skills to acquire a second language. And, unlike adults, they aren’t embarrassed when they make a mistake.
In Grade 5, our students have the opportunity to continue their instruction in French or switch to Spanish. Regardless of their choice, we add Latin instruction in Grade 6 for all students to provide additional depth. On average, our students move on to high school having attained the equivalent of two years of high school foreign language credit.
Just as we introduce world languages at an early age, we do the same with music for much the same reason. “Research has found that learning music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas,” according to an article on pbs.org.
Music also helps in language development and is similar to learning another language. Music has its own vocabulary (the notes), syntax (the staff and measures), and grammar rules (time signatures, key notations, etc.). At Green Hedges, our students begin music class at age 3 and our French teachers often enhance the learning of the language in Montessori through the use of songs and music.
In Grade 3, each student learns to read music and play in a group setting through our recorder program. At the end of their Grade 3 year, with guidance from the Band Director, each student chooses an instrument for concert band instruction in subsequent years. All students participate in concert band through Grade 8, and many of our Middle School students also join the GHS Jazz Band whose performances are a staple at numerous Vienna community events.
Seventy five years ago, the Kilmers made a conscious effort to make the languages, music and the arts an important part of their curriculum. They intuitively realized what has been proven by recent research: there is strong overlap between these areas that benefits learning in each of them. There are long-term benefits of unifying the arts and academics to create well-rounded students and we continue to carry out these principles today.