Somewhere along the line, many parents began thinking that a Montessori education was intended for affluent children with special gifts. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, especially at Gateway Montessori School on Chicago’s Northwest side where the school is working hard to build a community that reflects Chicago, says Director Emily Page.
“We want Gateway to represent the larger community we are a part of. Dr. (Maria) Montessori believed that Montessori is for all children, and we want families to recognize themselves in our community and envision their child’s future in Montessori,” Page says.
She’s proud that Gateway is a small nonprofit school that centers itself on family and community.
Gateway, a school for ages 15 months-12 years, is one of only two Montessori schools in Chicago recognized by the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) for its strict adherence to the original teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori. That accreditation assures families that they are getting true Montessori, and that a world-renowned organization monitors the programs closely so that children receive a high-quality education, she says.
It’s not at all about simply filling the classrooms, Page says, but creating a thriving community in the classrooms with students who reflect the broad, vibrant, multicultural community outside its walls.
She shares how Gateway successfully guides student learning through the community they built 16 years ago while embracing the traditional teachings Montessori created 115 years ago. It’s that effort, she says, that is helping students realize their full potential today.
Learning through community
Montessori teachings encompass the concept of peer-to-peer interaction and sharing between all the students, from the youngest to oldest. At Gateway, beyond the daily interactions within the mixed age classroom, the children share their learning with each other through weekly and monthly presentations of work that excites them.
The 6- to 12-year-old Elementary class presents their recent work to their classmates every Friday. And recently, the class began offering presentations once a month to the 3- to 6-year-old students in the Children’s House program at Gateway Montessori.
Page says those presentations bring the community of students closer and provide older children a chance to condense and organize their thoughts, finding ways to demonstrate and communicate these ideas in front of a group. These are skills they’ll need for the rest of their life. At the same time, they fuel the younger students’ learning from people they naturally look up to and want to emulate — the older students.
Learning through doing
Another vital and innovative piece of traditional Montessori teaching involves the use of concrete materials such as the Pink Tower in the Sensorial area of the Children’s House classroom. While many families exploring Montessori might have heard about the simple pink blocks used by the youngest students, Page says many parents don’t realize the indirect role it plays teaching children math — such as the decimal system, volume and geometry — as well as building on their language skills.
The primary purpose of the tower, made up of 10 pink cubes ranging from 1 centimeter to 10 centimeters, is to help students refine their senses and self-control by building the tower correctly and precisely from largest to smallest, she says. As they move each piece to their mat to build it, they also improve their hand-eye coordination. Interactions with the Pink Tower also require a three-finger grip, which indirectly prepares children for writing.
Once the children are comfortable building the pink tower, they often discover, on their own or by watching other children work, that this material can also be used in conjunction with other materials in the classroom.
“In Montessori, a simple lesson or set of materials acts as the catalyst for even more learning opportunities. The desire to learn and curiosity are inherent in all children. The deeper learning comes from placing the right materials and the right lesson at their grasp and giving them the freedom to explore. Once they are comfortable with the work, they naturally want to share. Sharing what we learn with others is what helps our community thrive,” Page says.
Learn more about Gateway Montessori School at gatewaymontessorischool.org.