Exploring the approach of Marshfield’s Children’s House of Montessori
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — A mixed age classroom; freedom of choice, movement, and activity; education in a home-like setting: these are the hallmarks of the Montessori experience. Marshfield’s Children’s House of Montessori is located at 1033 S. Adams Ave., and its director and owner is Donna Milz.
The concept of the Montessori school was founded by Maria Montessori, who was an “Italian physician, educator, and innovator, acclaimed for her educational method that builds on the way children naturally learn,” according to the American Montessori Society.
Milz, who also teaches at the Montessori, said that part of the effectiveness of the method comes from teachers following the students’ interest rather than having each student work on the same project or concept at the same time.
“When we can hit on the things that they really like, we take their cue and go with that,” Milz said. “We believe that children learn better in a home-like setting.”
Natural learning spaces like a kitchen, which is a focal point at the Montessori, help children to channel their curiosity through the surroundings they experience every day. Children gather for breakfast and then do the dishes afterwards, giving them a practical skill that they see done in their own homes. Children also help around the Montessori with tasks like sweeping, watering plants, and washing windows.
“We give them a lesson in anything they do,” Milz said. For instance, teachers may spend time showing a 3-year-old how to pour water from a pitcher. The Montessori encourages building self-esteem, allowing children to focus on what they are good at and supplementing that with “challenge work.”
Challenge work may involve something a child knows he or she struggles with, but because they have gained confidence from tasks tailored to their strengths, Milz said children then can take on more difficult activities.
“Anxiety is a huge thing for children these days,” Milz said. “If we can get them to feel confident at this level, hopefully that will help throughout.”
Milz, who worked as an assistant teacher at a non-Montessori 4-year-old kindergarten for 13 years, said she found the traditional school environment with fluorescent lighting, bright colors, and heaps of toys overstimulating. The Children’s House of Montessori incorporates neutral colors on the walls, creating a calming environment for children.
To start the day, Milz gives the children some free time. Then they circle up together for a lesson from a teacher and subsequently move on to a self-chosen activity. Circle time is brief and sets the agenda for the day. During circle time students sing, do group activities, a child points out the date on a calendar, and the students are asked about the continent, country, state, and city in which they live. Geography is a major component of Montessori education. The children work independently after circle time with guidance from the teachers.
In terms of classroom discussion, Milz said that again the focus is on topics that reflect a child’s reality.
“We talk about … real things: maybe a current event or something that’s happening in the news or a behavior we see in the classroom, feelings, a lot about feelings, a lot about letting themselves express how they feel and who they are,” Milz said.
Milz added that the mixed-aged classroom — Children’s House of Montessori has children ages 3-6 — gives older students the chance to teach the younger children, who are often excited to be involved with an activity normally reserved for an older student.
“It teaches the older ones to be good role models,” Milz said.
The children also have the opportunity to sing to the elderly at Wells Nature View, an assisted living facility.
“Then when we come back from the Wells, we sit in our cubbies, and we talk about how that made those people feel and how we like to make people feel (happy),” Milz said.
The tuition of the Children’s House of Montessori may be seen as the largest barrier of entry. Five full days — from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. — costs $220 per week. There are lower rates for children that attend fewer days or for shorter amounts of time during the day.
“I always tell people, ‘You get what you pay for.’ Where else do you have 16, 15, 12 students and two teachers?” Milz said. Children’s House of Montessori is licensed to have 16 children.
Milz said for her the bottom line is that with the Montessori method she feels she is making a difference in children’s lives.
“We are enriching their lives a lot,” Milz said. “When I get home at night, … I feel like I have made a difference.”
For more information on Children’s House of Montessori, call 715-384-7171 or search “Children’s House of Montessori” on Facebook.