Dekker: Impressive learning the Montessori way
By Julie Dekker Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org May 9, 2013 2:54PM
Students color spring leaves at Hope Montessori School in Tinley Park. | Supplied photo
Updated: June 13, 2013 5:50PM
I have driven past Hope Montessori School on 170th Street and Oak Park Avenue for years and always have been curious about just what the Montessori method of education involves.
Recently, I met a delightful lady named Traci Tyszka at a meeting and had a great conversation with her about art and children. She informed me that she was the director of Hope Montessori School and graciously invited me to visit and take a tour of the school.
From the moment I walked in the door of the school, I felt it — calm and peace all around me. It didn’t look like a school, it didn’t feel like a school. It didn’t even smell like a school.
It’s comfortable, like the home of someone you enjoy visiting. There is soft lighting, fresh flowers, artwork on the walls, rugs on the floors. The classrooms are large and airy and devoid of desks. Instead, there are stations and areas and lots of floor space.
Tyszka explained to me that Montessori schools are neither private institutions nor special-needs schools, as are common misconceptions. They practice a learning method developed by Maria Montessori, who was born in Italy in 1870 and became the first female medical doctor in Italy.
Montessori spent much time observing children and recognizing their intrinsic needs, which led to theories on how children learn best.
She designed materials and techniques that allowed children to work in areas previously considered beyond their capacity. Most of her discoveries are well accepted in early-childhood education today.
The Montessori method is interest-based, self-directed, hands-on learning. Studies have shown that the first six years of life are immensely important in terms of learning. During this period, children can learn almost effortlessly, absorbing information from their environment naturally.
A Montessori school supplies that environment. With appropriate materials and activities, children make their path and work at their pace.
At Hope Montessori, each station held materials designed for a child to experience the station’s use and meaning. Some taught fine and gross motor skills, others sensory and tactile skills. There were areas for art, music, geography, math, practical life skills and much more.
Tyszka said that students at Hope — instead of celebrating traditional, specific holidays — focus instead on an awareness of the seasons and experiencing what each season of the year brings.
On the day I visited, the school was bursting with springtime activities. One classroom held an incubator where the children were anxiously awaiting the birth of more baby chicks. Next to the incubator was a small pen with seven chicks running about.
Another room had a tank of tadpoles that were developing into leopard frogs. A small net cage held a pod containing praying mantis eggs waiting to hatch.
A third room had butterflies soon to emerge from their cocoons. Windows were filled with potted seedlings that would go into the students’ vegetable garden out in back.
The children learn hands-on about gardening at Hope. Besides the vegetable garden, there is an herb garden and a native Illinois wildflower garden. They also learn about composting and have a worm farm.
This was the most common-sense, life-based school environment I have ever seen. In a Montessori school, children are encouraged to see the world as a place of wonder — to become active rather than passive learners.
The Montessori experience is based on respect for the child and his or her potential, while recognizing that education begins at birth and never ends.
At Hope Montessori, their mission is to nurture the spirit of children and the joy of learning in an atmosphere of freedom, respect and responsibility. I must say that I am deeply impressed with the environment the school offers to achieve that purpose.
Hope Montessori School is at 17007 Oak Park Ave., Tinley Park. It offers programs for ages birth through 6. For more information, call (708) 614-7577 or visit www.hope-montessori.com.