It’s lunchtime for the older 2-year-olds at Mesa’s Montessori International School. Three young children eat at a table about a foot tall, while their classmates settle down on their mats for naptime. A girl in pigtails spears a blueberry with her fork. A young boy peels a banana.
“You can clean up now,” says their teacher, Teryn Miller.
One by one, the children pick up their utensils and plates, carry them over to a wash area and separate them.
It’s just one of many daily tasks the children learn to complete while in a Montessori education.
From sewing (with a real needle) to self-care to polishing wood and silver, the children learn from a young age how to be independent. That training translates into independent learning for students as they move through the ranks at Montessori International School, which offers classes for those just walking through the eighth grade.
“They see us doing that kind of work,” Miller said. “They want to mimic their parents. They want to do what their mommies and daddies do. All the work, it’s intended to build concentration. That’s how they learn to love their environment. Out of polishing something, they learn to respect it. They find pride in the work they do when they set the table or cut flowers.”
Montessori International School is a private school that takes up several “houses” on a campus that includes a basketball area. The school opened in 1982 and has been at the main campus, 2401 E. Brown Road, for 27 years, said Therese Kestner, who leads the school and its three locations.
The toddler program includes a “toddler house,” literally a separate house across the street from the main campus. As children get older, they move to Miller’s older toddler room. Then they go into a room for children ages 3 through 6.
Once they reach school age, students are grouped by age level, but really, they intermingle because of various abilities and interests.
“We don’t go by age, but what the children are capable of doing,” Kestner said. “Some of them have been with us since toddler school. They’re real independent learners. They’re trained that way from the beginning.”
Montessori education uses the studies of Maria Montessori, who believes children should be exposed to real situations and allowed to explore their interests.
There’s lot of hands-on work for the kids, even in the older grades.
Last week, a group of five students sat at a C-shaped table, discussing a book about the Incans with their teacher, Scott Selene. Two students look up information on a computer. A group of girls read through a book about Washington D.C.
“There’s nothing to stop them from learning,” Kestner said. “It’s all hands on, so they have a real understanding of what they’re doing.”
Kestner said her students have gone on to public, charter and private high schools. She recently attended a Montessori conference where a speaker said, “I will hire anyone with a Montessori background because they can think outside the box.”
“People ask me, ‘How will they fit into the real world?’ How many companies have employees sitting in rows or how many tell them what to do? Don’t you want someone who can think on their own?” she said.
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