On any given day, students in Gateway Montessori’s classrooms learn by doing: touching, smelling, seeing and experiencing the reactions and consequences of their explorations. But it’s especially interesting watching the students in the mixed-age classrooms work on their collaboration skills, before they even know what that means. Working together, helping each other to thrive, is what building a strong community is all about.
That collaboration is at the heart of Gateway Montessori, one of only two schools in Chicago recognized by the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) as it closely follows the original teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori.
Director Emily Page has seen how collaboration and learning in a true Montessori classroom helps students succeed in and out of school, first as a long-time parent at Gateway and now as its enthusiastic new director.
“The ability to work together is particularly meaningful now when we often feel so universally ‘apart’ during this time,” Page says, adding that Gateway, a school for ages 15 month-12 years on Chicago’s Northwest side, fully embraces safe in-person learning because of its importance to children’s social and emotional development as well as their academic curiosity.
Page and a few of the teachers at Gateway share how collaboration in a true Montessori classroom works and why it’s so important to students’ lifetime success.
Collaboration at its best
Gateway’s community builds an atmosphere of trust and collaboration, creating a culture where everyone — from the youngest learners to the oldest and even the faculty — feels free to try new things, take risks and experiment, says Sean Kelly, an Elementary Guide at Gateway for ages 6-12. “That helps people to be brave and to learn.”
That culture is purposefully built into the curriculum and it’s not always found in a traditional classroom where students are fed information from the front of the room. “Watching lessons, then participating in lessons, and having the freedom to experiment and expand on what you’ve learned allows for a deeper level of understanding,” Page says.
Page calls it “hidden collaboration” as children watch and learn from each other.
For instance, the children in the Community classroom, for ages 15 months to 3 years, might collaborate by working next to each other while watching what the older children are doing and how they are working. At the same time, the older children in the classroom gain self-confidence and a sense of responsibility and accountability when they step into the role of peer educator for younger children, Page says. Those are skills they not only take as they move through the classrooms at the school, but into high school, college and into the rest of their lives.
“They enjoy helping other children in the classroom and are proud to demonstrate what they have learned by assisting the youngest children,” Page says. “This helps build a community of caring and creates a safe environment for children to learn. Additionally, it helps children build skills they will use throughout their lives.”
Growing lessons as children grow
Lessons in practical life are among the most important lessons for the youngest children as they move through their Montessori journey from the Community classroom, and in to Children’s House, for ages 3-6. In a Montessori classroom, children have the freedom to choose work that is most meaningful to them and it assists them to meet their developmental needs. They learn to be independent in caring for themselves and for their environment. This independence allows them to feel confident in assisting others, and working with others. “Due to the mixed age group in a Montessori classroom, the children are able to learn from each other. The older children help by being good role models as well as help in conflict resolutions to keep the peace in class,” says Huma Salman, Children’s House Guide. “The children thrive in their later years due to this environment, which fosters independence, self-discipline, self-reliance and love for work.”
As they get older, the children begin working with partners or in small groups to get ready for the small group work they’ll encounter more frequently in the Elementary classroom.
Collaboration creates greatness
In Elementary, children see their bigger role in the classroom as well as in society.
While the teachers set clear expectations, they trust the children to do the work, Kelly says.
“They muddle through the tricky nature of a collaboration. They disagree and have to figure out ways to work through it. They experiment and try new things together. They fail. They pick themselves up and they try again,” Kelly says.
It sets them up for great success after they leave Gateway.
“A true Montessori classroom is a place where we come together as a community. We release a kind of greatness that comes out of each person bringing their best, sharing that with each other, inspiring each other, lifting each other,” Kelly says.
Parents can discover more about Gateway Montessori during the monthly First Monday tours. Reserve a spot by calling 773-539-3025 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.