Family values don’t necessarily mean religious values. The founding director of a Montessori school in Richmond, B.C., says that most schools under the Montessori umbrella are non-denominational.
“It’s a very humanistic approach to the child uncovering themselves and their place in the world,” says Adina Priel. “When parents are looking for choice, but they don’t want a religious education, and when their family values are not aligning with the values their children are exposed to at school, they can have alternative choices, such as Montessori learning environments.”
Describing Montessori values as “universal,” she says they include such concepts as peace, cooperation and environmental stewardship. At her school, no commercialized products — such as brand-name back-packs, shirts or special shoes — are permitted and junk food is also forbidden.
As well, a keen level of family involvement is expected. “At our particular school, we have very close relationships with the family,” she says. “We believe in educating the families about what the children are learning and why. If the families are not interested, they’re probably not a good fit for us.”
Priel started Noah’s Ark School some 17 years ago out of her frustration at finding a suitable educational choice for her son, who is on the autism spectrum. (Now a young man, he’s doing well and, in fact, finished his school career in the public system).
Priel chose the Montessori educational model because it is a child-centered approach developed about a century ago by Italian physician and peace activist Maria Montessori (1870-1952). So well-known and respected in Italy, Montessori’s image was printed on the Italian lira before the country adopted the “Euro” in 2002.
The goal of Montessori education is to foster a child’s natural ability to learn. Such classrooms are busy, hands-on places with activities designed to meet a child’s interest and development level. Interestingly, Montessori developed her strategies and approaches at a time before brain scans and psychosocial research were available, but her work supports many of the current understandings of childhood development.
Although there is no “patent” for Montessori schools, Priel says you can recognize them by certain criteria:
- There is no traditionally fixed schedule
- Children have large blocks of time for problem solving
- There are no grade divisions (in elementary school). Instead, students are placed in larger age groupings: ages 3 to 6, ages 6 to 9 and ages 9 to 12
- Older students act as role models for younger ones
- There is less formalized testing
Priel, who herself attended a Montessori school in Kingston, Jamaica in the 1960s describes it as “a global movement.”
“Some people hear the name Montessori and think that’s an academic strict environment,” she says. “Instead, it’s a very profound and encompassing view of the child and education.”