Leading for Life
International Montessori Schools teach students to be respectful, adaptable and, above all, how to have a positive impact on the world
by Jocelyn Murray

When you walk into a classroom at one of the six International Montessori Schools  (IMSchools), you will find it is quite different from one in a more “traditional setting.”

Upon entering, you are overwhelmed by peace, sunlight and quiet business of the children. There is a soothing silence in which children play individually or as a group, with activities that develop their intellectual capacity and life skills simultaneously.

These include Montessori didactic materials: counting boards, maps, puzzles, movable alphabets, phonetic boxes, building materials and a large number of “real life” materials and activities. All of the materials and activities are geared toward unobtrusively and naturally teaching the children with the guidance of the teachers. The teachers are sometime hard to notice s in the classroom since they are sitting on the floor or at the child-sized tables, accommodating to the needs and showing respect to the children. 

This method of education, founded by Dr. Maria Montessori, is a more child-centered approach as opposed to a teacher-directed one, notes Karen Pontrelli, director of the IMSchools location at Wilmington, Del. Instead of teaching lessons to a grouped class, the Montessori-certified teachers at IMSchools focus on the child on an individualized basis within the multi-age classrooms.

“We look at each child for who that child happens to be, and we adapt our approach accordingly,” she explains. “We’re not looking for a child conforming to a group setting. Moving from activity to activity with the group, we accommodate various needs within the group. [Teachers] move in and out, almost invisibly, giving lessons where lessons are needed, observing to see how well what we’ve put out is working for the child, not the other way around.”

The hope at IMSchools is that as each child moves at his or her own pace, the teachers will plan and prepare an environment for the child to suit their individual learning style, allowing the children to come to conclusions on their own.

“At a very young age, if we show [children], if we give them the time and patiently observe and wait, they can put on their coats and they can tie their shoes and they can feed themselves,” explains Rick Tomassone , director of the IMSchools at Great Valley location. “They just need the right environment.”

And, even though children will share certain interests at certain stages of development, once they accomplish a task individually—cutting with scissors for example—they are able to move on to more complex concepts they are ready for as an individual.  In addition to the individualized learning environment (there are no tests or pressure to keep up with one’s peers), the natural materials and mixed age groups contribute to the success of the Montessori education.

Raife Cebeci, the founder of the IMSchools system, emphasizes that these are a crucial part in the development of a child. Instead of grouping each age individually—3-year-olds separate from 4-year-olds separate from 5-year-olds—they are grouped into three-year increments, mixing older children with younger, allowing each age group to learn from one another. This way, children have an opportunity to learn how to lead and help others but also how to follow and learn from the others.

“With children spending so many hours with us, grace and courtesy become so important because we need to build on and reinforce the efforts of the parents,” explains Tomassone. “We want to be models of respectful behavior and keep reminding them to say, ‘May I do that?’ and teach them how to share.

“Because you have the oldest ones working with the youngest ones, the oldest ones are doing this with a smile on their face, and the youngest ones are beaming,” he continues. “They have control over being pleasant, and over giving and sharing.”

IMSchools also provides real-life lessons that include activities such as caring for their environment by washing tables and preparing snacks, in addition to other practical daily life skills. The Montessori emphasis on natural beauty also paves the way for the plethora of wooden and natural-material objects and activities such as wooden shape puzzles, counting bead boards and measuring materials; natural materials tend to encourage children to learn by hands-on doing, not just being told.

“We have been pleased with the attention and care our child has received from such a supportive staff at the International Montessori Schools,” say Michelle and Mike Boyle, parents of a 3-year-old boy attending IMSchools at Dilworthtown. “We have watched him grow into such a loving, compassionate and independent little man, and we owe a lot of that to the guidance he has received from the teachers. He never ceases to amaze us with the level of detail and follow-through he shows when completing tasks around the house—a direct result of the Montessori curriculum. We are so glad we have him enrolled in the International Montessori Schools, and would recommend IMSchools to other families looking for a wonderful place to have their children grow and thrive.”

IMSchools provides resources to learn about and celebrate different cultures. A large portion of the staff and student body comes from all parts of the world, from Brazil to China. Foreign language classes in Chinese, Spanish and French are provided in different locations as well. Each child is given an opportunity to show who they are and share something from their culture with their peers. IMSchools wants the children to understand they are a part of a larger global society. They are offered opportunities to explore the people of the world, their lifestyles, food, traditions, etc.

All of these concepts and skills are taught to the child through the emphasis on educating the whole child—academically and socially—and the children are well prepared upon leaving IMSchools to take on traditional education and other experiences in their lives.

“Because they have this interaction with multiple age groups and respectful role models, and because they have such self-confidence, they aren’t afraid to assert themselves in a positive way,” explains Pontrelli.  “Montessori is not merely a means of education; it’s really a way of life.  And, if we have a positive impact on the children now, they can have a positive impact on the world.”

Everyone at IMSchools works with the conviction that what they develop within the school walls will follow them out into the world. “Because they are socially adaptable and respectful in whatever environment they are in, they will fit in well,” notes Cebeci. “These little people are going to bring peace on earth. That’s why we are so deeply committed to providing this to as many children as possible.” 

International Montessori Schools        

IMSchools offers programs for ages 3 months through the fourth grade at six different locations.

Great Valley
75 Lancaster Avenue, Malvern

1510 Russell Road, Paoli

315 Central Avenue, Malvern

149 Hall Street, Phoenixville

1385 Birmingham Road, West Chester

One Middleton Drive, Wilmington, Del.