Art Comes to Life at Near North Montessori

Students have the freedom to grow and create in a very special art studio at Near North Montessori. Learn what students say about this space.

When she thinks about what makes her school so special, 10-year-old Near North Montessori School student Avani simply looks around the space she loves most: the Art Studio. It’s one of the places where she says she feels her creativity is free to soar.

“A school’s priority is to make students successful, but I think one of this school’s priorities is to help kids to actually be who they want to be and if they want to be creative, they welcome that instead of saying, ‘get back to your work.’ That’s really nice about this school. They let you be creative, they let you fly,” Avani says.

It is a philosophy baked naturally into Near North Montessori, an independent Montessori school for toddler to grade eight on Chicago’s North Side where students apply classroom learning to the arts under the passionate guidance of Art Director Annie Stone. Stone, who has been working with children at Near North for more than 20 years, provides a well-prepared work space for projects and maintains an atmosphere of mutual respect.

What students learn in their multi-age classes — as well as in the Art Studio, Technology Lab and into the school’s eighth-grade small business program, Sandwich Shoppe — prepares them with practical skills they take into high school and beyond to the rest of their lives.

Or as Avani describes it: Near North Montessori provides a good map and trusted flashlight to guide the way through the maze of school and life for students, and the students use their own minds to get around the obstacles.

Student-led art, student-led learning

The Art Studio shares space in the school’s innovation building with a Technology Lab. The art space is equipped with looms, sewing machines and spinning wheels as well as drawing, painting, puppet-building, animation and printmaking tools.

It’s a place Avani and her friend, 9-year-old Martin, say they are given the time and space to create something with their hands that they can be proud of. They are among the 9- to 12-year-olds working on creating 21 lamps for the annual school scholarship fundraiser, themed on growing together, that help give more Chicagoland students access to all the school offers.

art
Photo credit: Near North Montessori

The students turned pictures created by students in all the other classes into felted wool works of art. That wool is also personal; it comes from Stone’s family farm in Colorado and the students learn the entire hands-on process of handling it, from getting to know the sheep, dying the wool, then felting it into fabric.

Avani is taking the fundraiser project even a step further. Since the students envision parents reading to their children at night using the lamps, she wrote and illustrated a children’s bedtime book to accompany each lamp. Her book, Captain Pillows, is about a bedtime hero who goes out into the night to stop a villain who wakes people.

Art through teamwork

Avani and Martin both say the school is teaching students how to work as a team, cooperate more and how to say yes to each other. He says he likes how the school keeps the students together for three years in multi-age classrooms and how much it encourages them all to be creative and learn from each other.

“Art opens you up a little more,” Avani says. “It’s not only something you can do for fun, but art can be something you need in life. Creativeness is putting your own originality in your work.”

Stone says the students also learn to take a playful, improvisational approach, something she says will carry them through life, especially when things are hard.

Avani has found that to be true. She says art changes her mood. “Mood changes your confidence level and confidence changes the quality of your work,” she says. “I think the uniqueness of this school is creativity and the importance to them of innovation and creativity and just being able to grow the way you need to grow.”

Learn more about Near North Montessori at nnms.org.

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