Establishing enduring peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of the war.” – Dr. Maria Montessori
Last week, Alcuin celebrated the International Day of Peace, also known as World Peace Day. A United Nations-sanctioned holiday observed annually on September 21st, it is a day that aims to reduce violence and strengthen the ideals of peace worldwide. And did you know it is a perfect complement to Montessori’s Peace Education?
A lifelong pacifist, Dr. Maria Montessori believed that by raising generations of children who embraced living respectfully and having peaceful lives, they would contribute to future world peace. Dr. Montessori felt that with each passing generation, the hope for a more peaceful world grew and grew. After spending a lifetime working with children and developing her pedagogy, She understood the link between the education of our younger generations and world peace. However, this growth and evolution doesn’t just happen naturally. Dr. Montessori believed that children could contribute to peace, global citizenship, social justice, equity, and equality, but they must be shown lessons to create this change. We must aid the child in their commitment to peace and understanding.
Every other year, our Middle School has the wonderful opportunity to visit Costa Rica. The trip is part Spanish immersion classes, community service, and ecotourism. Because of the pandemic, this is our first year returning to Costa Rica since 2019. Along with the students were middle school teachers, Jeff Peters and Johanna Kenney, and the Director of Advancement, Alex Valera.
The students spent their first three days receiving Spanish lessons from Costa Rican Language Academy (CRLA) from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Their home base is with our host families whom they have breakfast and dinner with. After graduating from CRLA, the group went to Tortuguero for three days, followed by a return to San Jose to do a day of community service, and finally a day on the Pacific side, ziplining and at the beach. After ten days away from home, they return, exhausted and glowing from their experience.
The students write updates that are then shared with the classroom community. Here is their adventure…
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Walking into an Alcuin Junior Elementary classroom, one is immediately struck by two things: there is a busy hum of activity, and the children are engaged and happy.
As children move through age six, they enter the second plane of development in which imagination and reasoning are used to gain knowledge and information. The Junior Elementary program gives these abilities priority in the child’s learning process, fostering an interest in facts and factual relationships. According to Dr. Maria Montessori, this is the time to sow the seeds of culture.
“What I think is special is all the kids are so kind, all the good lessons are so cool, all the people are so nice, and all the peace.”
“What I like about Junior Elementary is that I get to do handwriting and Spanish and landforms and small bead frame!”
“I like Junior Elementary because we get to cook, use the microscope, and do experiments. We get to grow crystals and go on field trips. We get to have school pets and great lessons.”
The above quotes are from Alcuin first, second, and third-grade members of our Junior Elementary program.
Alcuin’s Junior Elementary teachers make sure the children’s academic work is balanced but also empower them to make their own choices. The children are taught independence and how to manage their time. They manage their daily goals and their week’s worth of work. They are positively challenged academically, socially, and emotionally.
In addition to a strong academic curriculum, the children's social skills are enhanced through an emphasis on independent learning, cooperative group relationships and personal responsibility. A sense of respect and collaboration creates a social community that encourages cooperation rather than competition. The children work collaboratively, showing that they can work well with peers and enjoy their time in the classroom. They are learning and having fun in the process. Self-discipline, independent work habits, and self-direction are required of the children in these classes.
Junior Elementary teacher, Nicole Cochrane, states, “I love in Junior Elementary that we are teaching them how to maneuver the difficulty of socializing. At 6-9 years old the children are learning how to socialize, they care what others think of them, and they have a strong sense of justice. The teachers guide the children in standing up for what they believe but in a peaceful and respectful manner. When social mistakes are made, we teach the children how to request a peace talk and let someone know they are upset. We also teach the children how to give meaningful apologies and reflect on their behavior.”
The Junior Elementary children also benefit from the strong peace curriculum offered. At Alcuin, there isn’t just one unit on peace. It is interwoven into everything the children do and equally as important as learning to read, write, or solve math equations. The children are taught how to be the best they can be, how to act and react in difficult situations, how to be a good friend and classmate, and how to have respect for themselves, for others, and for the environment.
Resourcefulness, problem-solving, self-advocacy, compromise, listening skills, executive functioning, conflict resolution – the children in our Junior Elementary program are fortunate that along with great academic preparation, they are also given the skills they will need throughout their lives from childhood to adulthood.
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At some point in your child's life, whether they were two or even 11, you knew self-directed, hands-on learning and collaborative play were non-negotiable factors in picking their school. So, you opted for a Montessori program, which was developed with those principles in mind. However, as you began your search in the Oak Park River Forest area, you soon noticed that Montessori schools are popular educational choices, and therefore, they exist in great number.
"What sets a Montessori curriculum apart is the emphasis on the social and emotional growth of the student in tandem with their academic learning," explains Gina Gleason, head of Alcuin Montessori in Oak Park. "From birth through middle school, we inspire a lifelong curiosity about learning, while nurturing each child's individual strengths, challenging them to reach their fullest potential."
With a number of Montessori schools in the Oak Park River Forest area, it is important to research and visit as many as possible to gain a very clear understanding of what school is the best fit for your child.
Alejandra Valera, head of admissions for Alcuin Montessori, shares these tips for finding the best Montessori school suited for your child's unique needs.
1. What does the classroom's appearance say?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, seeing a true Montessori classroom in action is worth volumes. It's one thing to read about a school online, but visiting a school in person will help you get a sense of what your child will experience on a daily basis.
A few tips to prepare for your visit:
The term "Montessori" isn't trademarked, therefore, any program can call itself Montessori without being a true Montessori school. To be sure you are choosing an authentic program, explore the school's website and ask questions during the tour, such as:
In addition to being loved and nurtured, we all want our kids to be safe. During your tour, find out:
To get a sense of the school's culture, ask questions like:
Reading, writing, and arithmetic aren't the only things a child should learn - exposure to new ideas and experiences help children become well-rounded individuals.
Ask how the following are integrated into the curriculum and whether extracurricular opportunities exist:
The admission process itself is a great indicator of how the school itself is run. Throughout the process, ask yourself:
This is the most important question of all. Follow your instinct in making a decision about what school is best for your child and your family. Can you picture your child in these classrooms? Is the faculty and staff warm, welcoming, and professional in their pursuit of Montessori excellence? Can you picture yourself and your family as a valued part of this community?
Alcuin Montessori School in Oak Park, now in its 56th year in serving Oak Park, the western suburbs and Chicago, is hosting open enrollment for children ages 0-14. For questions, insights from Alcuin alumni, students or parents or for a guided tour, contact Alejandra Valera, Director of Admissions, at email@example.com or 708-366-1882, and visit Alcuin.org.
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Adolescence is an age of rapid growth, emotional development, and the transformation of the child into an adult member of society. At this critical age, adolescents need more guidance as they develop key communication skills and a more mature and complex understanding of social interactions. They need creative and physical outlets, especially for processing complex emotional and psychological issues. They crave personal space, but they are also highly social! They still need to move on a regular basis, and being physically engaged in work that produces tangible results is rewarding to them.
The Middle School program at Alcuin Montessori School is designed to meet the very specific needs of children from 12 – 14 years of age and to support their families through this unique time in their development.
The program incorporates both traditional Montessori philosophy and current “best practices” for middle school education. The program emphasizes independent, project-based and student-driven work. Students are encouraged to do high-level critical thinking and to consider themes and issues across all areas of the curriculum. Daily and weekly homework is given in addition to student-managed long-term projects with the goal of having students engaged in 1 – 1.5 hours of homework a night. Students are introduced to formal lectures along with interactive presentations, dynamic activities, student-led research, group projects and more. Students are given quizzes and tests, as well as alternative forms of assessment and informal observation.
The program also includes weekly enrichment programs in art, theater and physical education led by child-focused specialists. They engage the students in learning about and through all areas of life (not just textbooks) by incorporating real-world applications of studied concepts. They discuss current events and their implications on all spheres of life and they contribute to our school and local communities through volunteering and service projects. The students take weekly trips into the Oak Park and Chicagoland area to facilitate curriculum enhancement, community engagement, and authentic orienteering and practical life experiences.
Our curriculum has been carefully designed to meet or exceed state standards in all fundamental areas of study, as well as to align with the benchmark outcomes of local public schools, ensuring full preparation for a smooth transition into high school. Our units of study are theme-based and center around several essential questions. The curriculum includes mathematics, the sciences, social studies, literature, humanities, writing, Spanish and more.
Alcuin Montessori’s teaching staff is fully committed to mentoring and coaching students through a sometimes complicated and confusing time in their lives. They facilitate appropriate, effective communication and problem-solving skills through one-on-one, small group, and large group interactions. Additionally, they support students in balancing their school and home lives, helping to plan homework around family time and extracurricular activities.
With a clear understanding of the emotional, social, and academic needs of this formative developmental stage, Alcuin Montessori’s program is specifically designed to guide and nurture students as they transition into high school and their teenage years.
We recognize February as Black History Month and how the month honors those who have endured centuries of struggle and continue to fight for civil rights.
Negro History Week (as it was initially known) originally spanned the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two figures pivotal to the abolition of slavery in the U.S. While the first original celebration of Negro History Week was in February 1926, Black History Month was expanded to the entire month of February in 1976. Author, journalist, and historian Carter G. Woodson spearheaded the initiative to establish a whole month of honor. He is known most notably as the "Father" of Black History due to his influential work (Scott, 2011). Today, there are 48.2 million African American people in the U.S.; from 2020 to 2060, Black Americans will contribute to more than 20 percent of the total U.S. population growth (Nielsen, 2020).
At Alcuin Montessori, we put great effort into being inclusive and diverse in teaching Black history throughout the year. Still, Black History Month is a time to shine extra light on all Black Americans' outstanding accomplishments and contributions.
Research has shown that children form ideas and opinions about race by the age of three, including racial biases due to exposure to media and day-to-day experiences with unconscious segregation (Seville, 2020). Positive and diverse messaging ultimately creates a more empathetic and caring environment, leading to confidence within each child as they get older. At Alcuin, we follow Dr. Maria Montessori's teaching in introducing topics of culture and diversity to promote positive messages on race and differences.
Black history is present throughout the entire Alcuin curriculum, Infant through Middle School. Black musical artists are resounding from the classrooms. Amadou and Mariam, John Coltrane, Bob Marley, Muddy Waters, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Joseph Bologne, and more are making our heads bounce. Hanging on the walls is art inspired by Charles McGee and Elizabeth Catlett. At the Infant and Toddler levels, language and picture cards are displayed of ethnicities worldwide. Filled bookshelves are in every classroom with diverse characters and authors. Works on the shelves are curated to offer various nationalities to represent our world.
We design field trips at Alcuin to highlight a variety of cultures and experiences. We may make our way to the DuSable Museum to immerse ourselves in Black history or take a walk over to the public library to admire the stunning work by Kehinde Wiley. The Chicago History Museum has a fantastic exhibit on remembering Dr. King and highlights his time in Chicago. The upper grades have explored the American Writers Museum to read the powerful words of Frederick Douglass.
Food is an impactful way for children to connect with history and cultures. Food tells a story and has a history. Sharing the history of soul food is a way to connect to our past. It also highlights the resiliency and creativity of the enslaved of our past and the African Americans of the present. Rice, pork, okra, and greens are the four staples that anchor the Black history of soul food. Preparing and sharing food is a cornerstone of Alcuin's culture. The smell of food from around the world, wafting from different classrooms, is enjoyed many a day.
Let's loop it back to books for a minute. Resources have gone digital, but we purposefully expose the children to as many physical books as possible at Alcuin through Middle School. Primary and Elementary classrooms are filled with beautiful picture books with diverse characters and authors. Infant and toddlers have a variety of multi-skin colored board books. Middle School gets into the more profound and complex texts in their literature studies.
Some favorites are:
At Alcuin Montessori, we speak truth to the past and use it as a learning opportunity to grow in understanding and expand our minds. Black History Month puts Black history into the forefront and highlights the powerful and extraordinary achievements of the immeasurable contributions of Black Americans, present and past. It lifts the future generation of Black Americans to reach the skies.
Junior Elementary Teacher
Nielsen, (2020). Nielsen’s 10th Year African American Consumer Report Explores The Power of The Black Community From Movement to Movement. PR News Wire.
Scott, D.M. (2011). Origins of Black History Month. ASALH website.
Seville, J. (2020). Adults Delay Conversations About Race Because They Underestimate Children’s Processing of Race. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. APA.org
Morning drop-off at our Roosevelt campus is always a whirlwind of activity as the infants and toddlers begin their day. Gia smiles and waves shyly but walks in with ease. Elli stops to point everything out in the lobby, enjoying the stroll to his room. Tiny Phia grasps at her own hands and becomes more alert as she begins to drink in the world around her. Each child settles into their routine within a space they see as welcoming and safe.
Alcuin Montessori has had an infant or toddler program of some sort since the 1990s, but our full-time, all-year program officially launched in October 2019 at our brand new Roosevelt campus. Apart from all-star care, this DCFS-licensed program provides learning experiences in an environment that is cheerful, inviting, and rich with opportunities to explore. Alcuin is not a daycare, but rather a school with a full Montessori curriculum.
Toddlers explore their burgeoning independence while they work on care of self and their environment. Classroom shelves are low and easily accessible with beautiful works that encourage exploration. They learn to dress themselves, help one another with zippers and coats, bus their dishes, tend to the classroom plants, and lovingly wash the baby doll. There is a steady hum of activity as busy hands get to work. Toddlers develop their cognitive skills while they focus for long periods and sit, wholly engaged, in whatever lesson they are receiving.
For infants, the setting is homelike with soft rugs, a rocking chair, books arrayed on low shelves, and toys in baskets. The space is organized and uncluttered. The infants explore the cylinder blocks, push toys, and manipulate objects. They begin to work on drinking from a cup—not a sippy cup, but a child-sized cup. Gross motor work includes bars for pulling up, mirrors to reflect body movement, a sleeping area with individual cribs, and child-sized tables and chairs rather than high chairs. It’s a beautiful world curated with them in mind.
Infant and toddler’s brain develop more quickly during their first three years than at any other time, and this incredible time in their lives sets the foundation for their absorbent mind and all future learning. Their minds absorb! The children watch and grow. They form strong relationships with their teachers and the other children, and learn to love their community.
Part of my time spent at Alcuin is checking in the infant and toddler children every day. I do their health screenings and walk them into their classrooms. It is my favorite part of the morning. Vair waves goodbye to his father as he rushes to class to take off his outside shoes all by himself. Cleo insists on carrying the heavy snack bags, even though it is quite the feat. Zel, who is still somewhat new, strides in—her confidence growing more and more each day. Oh, to have the amount of self-trust, enthusiasm, and strength our infants and toddlers display—the smallest of role models; small but mighty. We could learn a lot from them.
Director of Admissions and Advancement
To learn more about our infant and toddler program, please contact Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 1961, Alcuin Montessori School was founded by six local Oak Park families looking for a different way of educating their children. The group was driven, innovative, curious, and without fail stopped at nothing to provide a level of Montessori education and excellence like no other. They did not let setbacks get in their way, nor did they take no for an answer. They did not follow what all other educational systems were doing, and they created a plan based on what they knew was best for the children and then set out to put the plan in place. Our founders insisted on the absolute best teaching staff, an incredibly beautiful and meticulously designed classroom, and an exceptional curriculum to meet the needs of all their children’s individual learning styles.
Fast forward to 2020, Alcuin is still going strong and providing in-person Montessori excellence during a pandemic. These words may surprise some or worry some. It may make you question the decision of the leaders of our school. However, I am here to share our story of continued focus and diligence in meeting the child’s needs. In early summer, we were provided with the reopening guidelines, just like every other school, daycare, and business in Illinois. We put a plan in place for how we would follow those guidelines, how we would keep our children and staff safe and healthy, and how we would meet the increased financial obligations with a decreased enrollment capacity. More importantly, we planned for how we would continue to provide our Montessori pedagogy to the highest degree with all of the new regulations and health concerns. We surrounded ourselves with a team of people dedicated to this process, and after countless hours, we presented this plan to our families and welcomed them back to our school community.
Many were thrilled to be back to in-person learning, and others were not quite ready to return. We’ve made a plan that worked for almost all of our families and had a deep respect for any family’s decision during this time. We entered those first few school days with slight trepidation as we didn’t know what to expect. How would the children feel about the changes to their physical environment? Could even our youngest 2-year-olds keep their masks on? Could we all adapt to keeping close while staying a safe distance away? What was most important was that our entire community of staff and families were on board. We held an open communication line between staff and families and insisted on a “we are all in this together” mantra.
We are so fortunate and pleased to say that Alcuin being open for in-person learning is truly a beautiful, and successful, story. Our children are happy to come to school every morning. They are thriving in their academic journeys, and they are immersed in much-needed social and emotional development. It’s been an incredible time for our school over the last eight months. We’ve grown and adapted in ways we’d never imagined.
The children are, and always will be, our top focus; COVID has not changed this. Our routines are slightly different. There’s additional cleaning and sanitizing, but that’s not such a stretch for a Montessori classroom to begin with. Our children easily follow the health and safety guidelines that we put in place, and our staff are the most amazing humans you will ever meet. It seems that the new norm is now the norm, and we are comfortable in our process and confident in our decision to remain open and provide this learning experience for our students.
We have had two positive cases so far, and both children presented mild symptoms for just a couple of days and easily recovered. None of the positive cases were spread to any other students, or staff, in our school community. Upon learning of a positive case, or exposure, our staff moves quickly into action for quarantining and beginning remote learning. It’s an entirely seamless process, and our children don’t miss a beat.
We have a few remaining spaces in some of our levels and are always happy to share more information and answer questions about Alcuin. We have a rich history in the Oak Park community, and we will continue to put our roots deep into the ground. We’ve embraced the challenges of COVID and found a way to rise above and continue our Alcuin journey. This is the world we live in. We’ve chosen to embrace it and make the most of it, and live our lives of commitment to providing our Alcuin students with the best possible Montessori education.
The adolescent years are a complicated and confusing time, and most traditional schools are not equipped to provide the level of social and emotional support that adolescents need to thrive. Alcuin Montessori incorporates traditional Montessori philosophy and current best practices, while placing a strong emphasis on independent, project-based, and student-driven work. Alcuin's middle school provides a safe learning environment; key elements in the classroom that create this type of environment are the daily community meeting and low student to teacher ratio.
Students apply high-level critical thinking across all areas of the curriculum. Classes consist of formal lectures, interactive presentations, student-led research, group projects, and more. Students manage daily and weekly homework, take formal assessments and receive quarterly grades in preparation for high school. With our individualized support, they cultivate the executive functioning skills needed for future success.
Alcuin’s Director of Admissions, Alejandra Valera, recently sat with Alcuin Middle School Director, Lisa Klus, to share more information and what makes the Alcuin program so special...
AV: Let’s get started by talking about remote learning since it’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Can you tell us the plan for your middle school students, if we had to revert back to remote learning?
LK: Our plan is to keep our remote learning schedule as close to their in-person schedule as possible. We send our students a schedule for the week on Monday morning. The schedule outlines our day, just as it would be if we were together at school. The schedule is color-coded with lessons in different areas, has links to our work or lesson meetings, and all information is duplicated on their Google Classroom, so the students can organize their time.
We will begin our day with a community meeting and then break off into various lessons. Our lessons are live or prerecorded, and students are given a follow up activity to the lesson, usually due the next day. The prerecorded lesson gives teachers time to plan individual or small group meetings as needed. If students have presentations or small group discussions, we have the flexibility on Zoom to create breakout rooms. The teacher can circulate in between those rooms.
We will also continue to give percentages for student work and the option to retake quizzes or tests for higher grades. Additionally, just like our regular school days, students are invited to "stay after school" to get extra help or meet with a teacher during an open work time during the day.
At the end of each week, we will send home a short progress note and checklist to communicate with students and parents about how the week went. Our hope is that this consistent weekly communication will help our students be the most successful at home.
Last spring, many of our students shared that they liked that the remote learning schedule was organized like a normal day. Some expressed that it helped them stay organized, some said that it was good to see their friends.
With summer camp just around the corner, our Junior Elementary teacher, Ms. Nicole, put together a blog post for us with face mask reviews for children. Please note, CDC recommendations should be followed primarily, and the masks listed below are reviews from one parent to another.
Face protection is not going away anytime soon, but it shouldn’t be a scary or stressful thing. There are so many options out there that it can be overwhelming. No worries, I weeded it down to some of my family’s personal favorites and top-rated. During summer camp and in the fall, I plan to do a blend of face masks and face shields. I know my face and head will need a break from both at times, so having options throughout the day will be important, the same goes for your child.
Everyone can tolerate different things on their faces for various amounts of time. Face shields are a great alternative to masks if your child cannot tolerate a mask on their face. The most important quality of a mask for comfort is the material it is made from and the breathability. Additional features like ties vs loops and a nose wire are all hackable!
It's important to think ahead so your child had time to practice with their masks and shields, as well as shipping may be delayed due to increased demand before the school year. It may seem weird to think of your child in a mask or shield throughout the school day, but remember, once they see all their friends and teachers in face protection too, it will just become the norm. Children feed off the energy around them, so if you feel okay about it, so will they. Calming reassurance can go a long way when it comes to children and any obstacle.
Here is a list of personal favorites and top-rated masks and face shields:
Mask Hacks and Tips
- Nicole Cochrane, Junior Elementary Teacher
A blog by various Alcuin staff members.