Montessori schools foster independence, love of learningWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
When Toledo natives Jason Thomas and his wife Sally Gladwell moved back to the city with their young son, they planned to enroll him in public school when the time came.
Then they stumbled upon West Side Montessori.
Gladwell discovered the private school while researching child care for 8-month-old Henry and fell in love.
“I was just flipping through the phone book and set up an appointment,” Gladwell said. “I floated out of the place. It was so consistent with what we wanted for our children. I recall calling
Jason as soon as I got to my car and saying, ‘You and Henry have to come and see this place. This is everything we want for our kids.’”
The American Montessori Society describes its model as an innovative, child-centered approach to education that aims to foster a child’s natural inclination to learn. Developed in Rome in 1907 by Maria Montessori, there are now more than 4,000 Montessori schools in the United States and thousands more worldwide.
“Our children are taught how to think, not what to think,” Gladwell said. “The curriculum is fashioned after naturally occurring milestones in brain development.”
Today, Henry, now 10, as well as Sam, 7, and Eleanor, 4, love school, their parents say.
“There are no struggles to get our kids to want to be at school,” Gladwell said. “As summer approached, they would say, ‘Oh, I’m really going to miss school.’ That to us makes it feel like West Side is an extension of our home life for them, like everything we are very intentionally trying to do at home is being supported by what’s happening at West Side. That value in that is just immeasurable. You can’t convert that into a tuition payment.”
West Side, which enrolls children age 13 months through eighth grade, will open a new building this school year on its Bancroft Street campus. The facility, for toddlers through third-graders, will replace a building the school formerly leased on McCord Road. The school also has a campus in Perrysburg.
Unlike the McCord Road location, the new 30,000-square-foot building was purpose-built for the Montessori curriculum, said Lynn Fisher, head of school and founder of West Side Montessori.
The building features winding paths that meet at a crossroads featuring a 15-foot blue ceiling painted with clouds. At the center is a light tube representing the sun. Each spacious classroom features child-level windows and a porch.
“There’s a very natural feel to the space, very organic,” Fisher said. “It definitely does not look like a traditional school.”
A “natural playground,” featuring logs, rocks and equipment that utilizes the natural contours of the landscape, will be built in stages.
“That will be quite different than anything in Toledo,” Fisher said. “It’s designed for children to be very active and very creative. We think it will be really exciting.”
Almost all children thrive in a Montessori environment, said Joy Perozek, co-director and lead teacher at Toledo’s Montessori Day School, which enrolls students age 18 months to kindergarten.
“I wish every child had the opportunity to be in the program,” Perozek said. “Montessori is just such a great foundation for further education.”
Children who are academically advanced, independent or curious tend to do especially well, said Sister Pat McClain, principal and president of Lial Catholic School in Whitehouse, which enrolls pre-kindergarten to eighth grade students.
“Children who just have a great love of learning, that independence can be nurtured here. The curious child does very well here,” McClain said.
Lial is Montessori-based, but also utilizes other curriculums, McClain said.
“Montessori has very specific materials whereas we are more diverse than that and feel free to use whatever materials we feel are good for the child,” McClain said. “It’s a very dynamic way of teaching and a very dynamic way of learning.”
An authentic Montessori program features multi-age groupings that foster peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of work time and guided choice of work activity. Teachers guide rather than instruct, offering activities that meet each child’s interests and needs. Classrooms are designed to allow movement and collaboration while also promoting concentration, independence and a sense of order.
“Once you step inside a classroom and see how children are being educated, it makes you think, ‘Who could I have been if I would have been educated this way?’ It’s very compelling,” Gladwell said.
The multi-age classroom format encourages peer-to-peer learning, McClain said.
“Children are learning from one another and being in a community of learners, very similar to a home environment, where siblings learn from siblings,” McClain said.
When children are able to work at their own level, they take ownership of their educational process, McClain said.
Eileen Pasquarette enrolled her children at Lial Catholic School last year after moving to Monclova from Bowling Green. Her daughter, Tori, will be in seventh grade and her son, Nick, will be in third grade.
Although Lial is more expensive than the Catholic grade school they attended in Bowling Green, Pasquarette said the investment is worth it.
“My daughter is able to work at a faster pace and is progressing faster, while my son is enjoying it more and talking about it more because it’s hands-on,” Pasquarette said. “They are learning to be more independent and more active in their learning and they are enjoying their learning more. I’m a big advocate for active learning. That’s the part of the Montessori style I really like. Plus it’s a Catholic school, which was a big thing for us. They value faith as a part of learning.”
Gladwell and Thomas also said it’s worth adjusting their lifestyle to keep their children at West Side.
“Everything else is superfluous to their education,” Gladwell said. “This is our one big chance to raise our kids and we want to do it right. When we hear other people say it’s really college that matters most or its really high school that you need to make the big investment, I guess I respectfully disagree. That foundation is so powerful and so important in the early years.”