There are more than 4,000 Montessori schools in the United States and two of the child-centered schools are located within the communities of Homewood and Flossmoor.
The concept of Montessori education steps back more than a century when Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator, developed a method of child-centered education that is based on the way children naturally learn. She opened her first Montessori school in 1907.
Today there are more than 4,000 Montessori schools in the United States and two of them are located within the communities of Homewood and Flossmoor.
A major difference in Montessori learning as compared to a traditional classroom is that rather than an instructor leading all activities with a group, children are able to make choices about what educational activities to engage in and are in a mixed-age room rather than one dedicated to a single age group. The adults overseeing the children are not referred to as teachers or instructors, but as directors and guides who support the child’s learning interests.
“We follow the child in the Montessori environment. The classroom is arranged with child size furniture, age appropriate activities and materials made of wood and some other natural materials,” said Bansari Modi, administrator of Flossmoor Montessori School.
“In a Montessori classroom, the child has the freedom of choosing from different activities they have received lessons on. This freedom is accompanied with structure, as the environment is prepared to meet the child’s social, emotional and physical needs.”
Modi said the environment allows children to complete a task without interruption and “to work at their own pace with occasional re-direction if not engaged in purposeful activities.”
Natalee Mish, directress, education director and president of Hello Montessori Preschool and Kindergarten in Homewood is also a big proponent of the child-led learning style.
“I resolutely believe in Montessori’s child-centered intrigue, curiosity-piquing materials and self-motivated discipline as opposed to education curriculum where one size seeks to fit many,” Mish said.
“Montessori’s smaller class size, mixed-age group, three-year education cycle and family partnership allow for the directress/director to form a bond with each child and family,” Mish explained. “To me, Montessori presents an approach that fosters independence through exploration, learning through experience and values through stewardship.”
Having classrooms that intermingle different ages has benefits to both the older and younger students.
“I appreciate the Montessori classroom’s mixed age group, which allows for peer collaboration and demands interscholastic patience and emergent leadership skills to be fostered,” said Mish. “Younger children learn through observing and working with and among their older classmates.
“These older, more experienced students reinforce learned concepts and disciplines by partnering with younger friends. It is easy to see that kindergartners are revered by their more youthful friends for the knowledge and experience they bring.”
Modi also addressed how the multi-age mix helps children in Montessori learning.
“Children practice grace and courtesy and help each other. Exercises of practical life extend to caring for the classroom and organizing their own items,” she said.
The Montessori approach is particularly effective in those age 6 and under because of the ease at which they learn and retain.
“Maria Montessori described the learning of children age zero to 6 years like that of a sponge, soaking in knowledge from all their senses,” said Modi. Montessori referred to it as an “Absorbent Mind.”
So, what can parents expect to be different in a Montessori learning environment and what are the benefits? Aside from smaller class sizes and more independent and child-centered learning, Modi noted that children are able to learn without the pressure of exams and that the child’s progress is commented with parents through ongoing assessment.
They also learn organically without the intrusion of technology.
She also believes Montessori methods instill a strong sense of responsibility, pride and independence and allows guides to get a good understanding of each child’s needs.
Mish agrees that the setting helps to recognize each child’s strengths and needs.
“Knowing students’ learning styles, abilities, strengths and academic weaknesses allows for time to unfold and mastery of concepts to develop as well as time and freedom to repeat lessons with which students struggle.
“At Hello Montessori, trust is created early in a child’s term and we actively address those individual considerations,” Mish said.
Both Mish and Modi have undergone training for Montessori certification. Mish holds a bachelor’s degree in developmental psychology and she also acquired experience working previously at two Montessori Schools. Modi was a physical therapist for over 25 years when she was inspired by the 3-year-old daughter of a patient and trained to be a Montessori guide.
Both schools have an application process for admission and encourage tours to learn more about the school and the Montessori philosophy.
Hello Montessori Preschool and Kindergarten is located at 18850 Riegel Road in Homewood. It was established in 2004 and is located in a quiet residential area as a family-operated business providing a learning foundation for children 36 months through 6 years old.
Interested parents can request an appointment for a tour by calling 708-647-8054 or though the contact page on the website, www.hellomontessori.com.
Flossmoor Montessori School is located at 740 Western Ave. It was founded by Joyce Bathalter, who started a Montessori school in the basement of her home. With increasing enrollment a freestanding facility was built. The school has two playgrounds, one for toddlers and one for ages 3 to 6 years. An infant classroom will be introduced in October 2017.
For more information or classroom observation and tour, call 708-798-4600 or visit [email protected].
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Back to School section of the Chronicle’s Aug. 1 print edition.