Montessori schools – educating the whole child

It goes without saying that parents hope their children gain a stronghold of the basics each day at school. But for some local Montessori schools, everyday experiences go far beyond ABC’s and 123’s and in addition, focus on learning characteristics that produce good citizens as the students grow. Creating educational situations that allow children to learn things like patience, good manners, the ability to focus and plan, and feel compassion for others ensures that when kids leave the school grounds, they’re walking into the world more capable of success than they were the previous day.

The Compass School – Another alternative

Although not part of the Montessori curriculum, The Compass
School, with two Naperville locations, strives to give children the
tools they need to be successful in every way. “Our approach
centers on giving children the tools and support they need to steer
themselves down their own distinct paths of discovery,” says
executive director of the North Naperville location, Kathy
McQuillen. “By developing learning opportunities from teacher
observations, the curriculum emerges from the student’s interests
and ideas.”

Children who attend The Compass School are valued, respected and
taught to feel a sense of community, both within the school walls
and beyond. “This sense of community is continually stressed and a
sense of pride and respect for the people and the things around
them naturally develops as a result,” says McQuillen. “Our teachers
also find “teachable moments” throughout every day to stress the
importance of being helpful, kind and respectful.” Instilling
characteristics like these into the students results in good
citizenship in the years to come.

Destined for success

In Montessori environments, educators bring the world to the very young. Exposing children to other cultures and allowing them to learn the skills necessary to go out in the world, like problem-solving, self-sufficiency and concentration, are abilities the children practice on a daily basis. At Chiaravalle in Evanston, children experience a prepared environment that exposes them to all sorts of practical life skills. “Our environment is prepared for kids to be as independent as they can successfully be,” says assistant head of school for curriculum, Robyn McCloud-Springer. “This balances freedom and discipline. If you’re putting them in a class that has been designed with appropriate choices, they’ll be on-track, interested and want to explore.”

At Mi Sol Montessori in Orland Park, each classroom is equipped with only one of each work, or learning item, even though there may be twenty students in the room. “We do this because if there are too many, there are no opportunities to practice patience, attentiveness to cleaning up or compassion for the child who is waiting,” says Mi Sol school administrator, Alex Camarena. “The environment is set so that children develop these characteristics naturally through real, live, in-the-moment opportunities.” In addition to providing learning situations like these, Mi Sol Montessori is a language acquisition school, so they do so using the Spanish language only.

Sharing experiences

While a traditional education environment focuses on narrow bands of development, Montessori classrooms group children ages 3 to 6 together. “In the multi-age classroom, you have children modeling behavior and helping one another,” says McCloud-Springer of Chiaravalle. “Our two main tenants are grace and courtesy and older students are always modeling this behavior for the younger ones.” Soon, the younger children are naturally demonstrating this behavior as well.

Montessori Academy of Chicago also teaches in a multi-age setting, with the same teacher for three years. “This allows children to become leaders in the classroom,” says Claudia Medina, educational coordinator for the school. “The way a child can convey a message to another child is invaluable – a teacher cannot teach the same way that a child’s older role model can.” While the Montessori teacher is always modeling specific behaviors in the classroom, this crucial component allows the older children in the classroom to become mentors of the younger ones.

Part of a community

At Montessori Academy of Chicago, children are taught from the vision of an individual being part of a unity, a universe, a whole. “We present the child to the world as a global citizen, with a responsibility to honor nature,” says Medina. “The child’s actions matter to the community because their life has a cosmic task. One that is to respect and care for our community and our world.”

One way schools deal with characteristics necessary for a peaceful community beyond the school walls is through conflict resolution. “We want our kids to think, ‘I value you and I respect you and here’s how I’m making an effort to show you that,'” says Kristen Mark, preschool program director of Rogers Park Montessori. “We have peace corners in our classrooms where we encourage kids to work things out together. They sometimes come up with resolutions we may not have, but if it works for them, it’s great.” Conflict resolution skills learned at such an early age will likely transform an older child’s or adult’s conflict experience later in life.

A sense of community also comes from philanthropy, which is usually experienced by age 5 at Rogers Park Montessori. “We start with formal efforts like making something to sell at a benefit,” says Mark. “But as they get older, the kids start volunteering. We try to get them to understand what it might feel like to be in need.”

Rewarding from within

Many traditional education programs use tangible rewards, like a sticker or trinket, to signal to a child that they’ve been successful, but this is not the case in the Montessori environment. “If a child learns that if I do something, I get something, then they will do it for the reward only and it will eventually extinguish itself,” advices McCloud-Springer of Chiaravalle. “We look to develop self-motivation; get them to do things because they feel good when they succeed.” Having the ability to motivate one’s self, as well as look inward for satisfaction, are invaluable skills useful later in life.

Cultivating respect

Respect is woven into every aspect of Montessori Children’s Community in Brookfield, where director Rocio Smith felt an immediate sense of “home” the first time she set foot in a Montessori classroom. “Our community is committed to Montessori’s approach to education and operates on the principle of freedom within limits, respect for one’s self, for others and for the environment,” says Smith. “Our environment is filled with beautiful, carefully chosen materials that progress developmentally from concrete expressions of concepts to more abstract representations.” Smith adds that respect provides one of the child’s most basic needs.

The educators at Rogers Park Montessori agree. “We don’t talk down to the children and they expect respect when they go out into the world,” says Mark. Armed with the characteristics that serve the whole child, combined with self-value and respect, Montessori-educated kids embark into their futures prepared for what lies ahead.

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