The school year is off to a wonderful start and the students are settled back into the routines of their classrooms. It is a true joy to welcome them into our building each morning and to receive a warm smile and a firm handshake from so many. With this, I realize the depth of the opportunity we have before us as parents and educators with our young students for no matter the age they are all open to learning, hungry for knowledge and willing to be exposed to new concepts, ideas and opinions.
As I embark on my fifth year leading Alcuin and we enter year two of our accreditation process with the Independent Schools of the Central States and the American Montessori Society, my goal this year is to give back to our greater community. Montessori believed that a peaceful world could be created by children, and part of that peace is brought on by the helping of others. Throughout the school year there will be opportunities for students, parents and staff to learn about different groups in need of our philanthropic efforts. In early September we kicked off our endeavor with a school-wide celebration of the International Day of Peace. We erected our new peace pole and sang a beautiful song about peace. It was a very moving way to start the school year and set the tone for things to come. The children have already had many conversations around the pole discussing what peace means them.
Our first community event of the school year was dedicated to helping the Binky Patrol, an organization which provides comforting blankets to children in hospitals or who are homeless. The community gathered early one Friday morning and made blankets for those children. It was amazing to see our older students teaching the younger ones how to make the blankets, and also to see how easily the community of parents, children and staff could create so many blankets! In the span of 30 minutes, thirteen blankets were made which were later boxed and shipped off to the Binky Patrol’s Illinois branch.
In November our focus was on the children of the Montessori School of Englewood, a public Montessori School that was opened just a few short years ago. Our children at every level in the school are exposed to and research many different cultures. Spanish teacher, Rita Cassiano, and art teacher, Sophia Lyman, organized this event where our families collected gently used cultural books to donate to the Montessori School of Englewood. Our children also spent the morning reading cultural books in Spanish and making cards to send along with the books.
It is with great joy that I lead this school of generous spirits and kind-hearted community members. We are looking forward to celebrating our year of giving back to the greater community and all the possibilities for learning that these opportunities will bring to us all.
Researching and applying to a school shouldn't be a stressful situation. I am here to answer questions, meet you and your children, and make the process relatively simple.
As Alcuin’s Director of Advancement, I love working with prospective families, having them visit us and discover what a quality Montessori program looks like. With programs for children ages birth to 14 years, I welcome you to come see what has made us a Montessori tradition for over 50 years.
The easiest way to get to know more about Alcuin is to join us for an informational Coffee and tour. We will start with some good coffee, a short video on Montessori Education and then take an in-depth look at all of our classrooms. At the end of the tour we hold a question and answer session, and explain our admissions process. Tours are held once a month (9:00 to 10:30 a.m.) in the main Alcuin campus. Our tours will begin in October, but I can also schedule a one-on-one tour during the summer.
Alcuin also offers financial assistance, if you qualify, so we can help make an Alcuin education financially possible for your family. Call (708.366.1882) or email me so I can introduce you to Alcuin Montessori. I’d love to hear from you.
Director of Advancement
The children are enjoying this year’s Alcuin Montessori summer camp. We have many camp themes to choose from. Our weekly sessions let you give your child a great variety throughout the summer. Whether your child is new to Montessori or a pro, this camp is a great way for them to discover, learn and grow in a safe and fun environment.
Become part of the Alcuin Montessori School community this summer and have your children experience “Fun with a Purpose!” The children have work on beautiful art pieces, have made their own theater production, and are learning French. We still have Spanish, Science and more coming our way.
The elementary children have already visited the Sears (Willis) Tower, the Notebaert Nature Museum, and more.
There’s still time to join us for one of these themes:
Art - June 15-19
Theater - June 22-July 1
Nature - July 6-10
French - July 13-17
Spanish - July 20-24
Science - July 27-31
French - August 3-7
Ages 6-12 (1st through 6th grades)
City Explorations - June 15-19
Spanish - July 6-10
Community Giving - July 27-31
Visit our camp page to register!
Wow, what a day! We saw so many things and learned a lot.
Our morning started off at 5:30 am. We got on our bus that was waiting for us just outside the hotel. Our first stop was the coffee plantation for a tour and breakfast. As usual, breakfast was great, and we got to go on a tour of how coffee beans are made. You wouldn't believe how long it takes to make coffee! The tour was really cool and the coffee smelled great.
Our next stop was the volcano. It is one of five active volcanoes on the island. It even had a sign saying, "in case of an eruption... stay calm." When we arrived, we had to walk up to this viewing area. When we got to the top, it was the prettiest thing I have ever seen. There was smoke arising from the volcano, and then when it cleared, you could see the crater. We decided to walk to another crater which had turned into a lake. The walk was pretty steep, and you were encaged by branches and leaves. I nearly passed out! We saw some wildlife along the way. When we got to the top, there was a beautiful lake. The landscape in Costa Rica is much greener than it is back home, and the air is fresh. After taking a couple of photos, we decided to walk back down to our bus to go to our last stop.
Along the ride to our next stop, we stopped for some local strawberries. They were delicious! We also got to try some Costa Rican candy. (I didn't like it.)
When we got to our next stop, it was a really cool rainforest resort with animals, waterfalls, and plants. We walked through and saw all of these really pretty butterflies, birds, and animals. Most of us got to hold a toucan! We got to go into a butterfly enclosure where the butterflies flew freely around. Some of them landed on us, and I got to take some really close-up pictures.
After that, we went on the waterfall tour. It, as well, had a lot of steep walking. The first waterfall was so cool. You could feel the mist hit your face. We kept walking to go see the other five waterfalls. There were a lot of stairs to climb in between waterfalls! At that point, we were all hungry so we got lunch at the resort.
Every day in the rainforest it rains, so we had to run onto the bus. We drove back to the hotel and while on the bus, i think everybody took a snooze. When we got back to our hotel, most of us swam. We got to Facetime with Jojo, and it was really nice to see her. We went to Opa! for dinner and had sandwiches and smoothies.
What another great day -- can't believe we only have two days left! I'm so grateful that I was able to come on this trip, and spend time with my friends.
Today was the rainforest day. We had to get up super early in order to catch the bus to the boat place. The boat ride was amazing! The boat was kind of like a bus. It was small and covered, and it fit about 20 people. We saw monkeys, iguanas, and birds. I was really happy that we got to see the monkeys, because we don't get to see them that often.
After the boat ride, we got back on the bus and went to Monte Verde for lunch and a hike. On the way, we saw two pineapple trucks. It was really cool. I love to eat pineapples! I didn't know how close to the ground they grew.
When we got there, we went on a hike and we saw lots of beautiful nature. We saw a blue jeans frog, which is a little red frog with blue legs. It's about the size of a penny! There were also a lot of pretty flowers. The tour guide taught us a lot about the forest. I'd never been on a rainforest hike before, and this one was really fun.
The next thing we did was go to Rainforest Adventures. We couldn't go zip lining, because there was a lightening storm. Instead, we went on a sky tram and almost saw a sloth! I really wish we had. The tram was cool anyways. It was kind of like a ski lift, but with closed carts. We went up 125 feet in the air!
After that, we came back to the hotel to get freshened up to go out to dinner at CRLA. The dinner was made by a local woman who cooks for a living. She made us barbecue chicken, cheesy mashed potatoes, and steamed vegetables with a salad including star fruit and apples. The star fruit was sour but really good.
After dinner, we went to the mall for a little bit of shopping and ice cream. The mall is pretty big and it has tons of stores. Most of them are little stores that sell things like phone cases and shampoo. The mall is different from the Oak Brook mall, because there are a lot of small vendors and it is densely packed.
Today was really fun, even though I wish we could have gone zip lining. I think the highlight was when we were on the tram, because there were tons of cool things to see. There are leaves that look dead, but they are really baby leaves, and when you put water on them and rub them, they turn green! The rainforest was a sight to see, and I really enjoyed seeing all the animals.
For our last day of classes, we had class in the morning and then went to lunch and had a certificate ceremony to "graduate" from CRLA. The teachers said what we did and what we were good at and then gave us our certificates, and the people at CRLA made us cake to have after our lunch. I thought that the classes were very effective for the students at that level, and I had a lot of fun in the classes. It was a very different way of learning than at school. For example, there were only three people per class, so the teacher could focus more on helping certain students learn different things.
After CRLA, we went to a store called "Pequeno Mundo," which means small world. They had anything you could need for very low prices. We went there to buy food and clothing for the orphans that we had seen the day before and were now going to see again. When we were driving to and from the orphanage, we saw many houses that seemed to be leaning on each other without any stability. The people seemed to be very impoverished. Our tour guide told us that many people in those areas were drug dealers, drug addicts, alcoholics, and abusive or neglectful to their children. Many of the children in the orphanage had come from families that neglected them and left them on the street alone or were taken from their parents because their homes were unsafe. Some children in the orphanage were extremely nice, while others were unintentionally aggressive, but all of the kids would smile and laugh no matter what had happened to them in the past. I thought this was a very beautiful thing, because it shows you can change someone's life just by giving them safety and love.
We bought mainly rice and beans (a staple food for Costa Rica), clothing, and school supplies for the children. We also bought three basketballs for them to play with, but that is not what the orphanage mainly needed, because it's very hard to take care of over 90 kids and to have enough funding from the government. They appreciate anyone sending money, clothing, or food, because those are the main things they need. Even though we donated a lot of food and supplies, I felt like it was more important to play with the kids and make them feel loved than to give them a dinner of rice and beans.
When we were playing with the kids, everyone was supposed to take care of one or two children. I ended up taking care of a little girl wearing all blue who was about 3.5 years old. We were playing on the seesaw; she would sit on one end, and I would push the other end up and down. It was amazing to see her have this gigantic, beautiful smile and laugh so much, even though her family couldn't take care of her. Even at the orphanage, she has so much less than I do (or many people in America). I thought that it showed that material wants aren't what we should be made of. For example, most of us feel lost without the internet and technology, but many children in Costa Rica have never even seen a phone or used the internet, and they can have just as much -- if not more -- fun than we have ever had in our entire lives.
When we were playing with the children, all of a sudden it started pouring and I ended up holding the girl I was playing with and had to give her back to her caretakers before saying goodbye. She was in tears when I took her back to her house mother. As we left, I felt sad to not be able to say goodbye to her because I felt like I hadn't done what I was supposed to if she was crying when I left.
In Costa Rica, I would like to be able to help create an organization, or donate to an organization, which will stop poverty in Costa Rica and create solutions to the social problems so those children won't be without a family of their own. I think I'll always remember seeing the impoverished parts of Costa Rica, and also seeing the contrast of seeing how close the richest parts were, and how unfair that must feel. I will also always remember the crying child in the rain.
MIddle School Teacher
Hola! We started off the day with our morning classes at CRLA. I have to say, waking up early and going to three hours of Spanish was something I was not looking forward to. But I did have a change of heart. Over the past two days we have learned so much Spanish it blows my mind. First of all, our (Alcuin) teachers, who basically knew nothing about Spanish, have been communicating at the places we have gone so well. Second, the classes go by so fast, and we all enjoy our teachers a lot.
After our classes, and of course our amazing lunch at CRLA, we went on a bus ride to an orphanage named Vista del Mar. We spent about two hours playing with children around ages two to ten. We were all very anxious about speaking with the children and not being able to understand them, but I think we all were able to have conversations with them with little trouble at all. At first, the kids stayed in the corner, but after about ten minutes, the children had picked one of the Middle Schoolers or teachers and had become more than comfortable with them.
When we left the orphanage, we went on a bus tour of San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. It felt like we went everywhere we got to see so much. From neighborhoods to stores to buildings, I think my favorite was feeding the pigeons in park. Our tour guide had bought corn for us, and when we put the corn in our hands, the pigeons would fly up and eat it. It was very scary at first, but once you got used to their claws and beaks, it was a pretty cool experience.
To top off our night, we went to a very fancy restaurant attached to the hotel. Everyone was very polite, and we got our food very fast. It was delicious, I think we finished ours within twenty minutes. After our main course, we had dessert. We had some kind of mango ice cream with chocolate and strawberry drizzle, I promise it was a lot better than it sounds. After dinner, we went back to our hotel rooms to journal about our day and then go to bed.
Alcuin 8th Grader
When the noon hour arrived we filled up on a very satisfying lunch, that consisted of rice and beans, a choice of meat, and vegetables. Some of the kids also enjoyed an ice cream. After our lunch break we had an afternoon lesson and were assigned homework for this evening. It was then that we were led to a studio room for Latin dance lessons! Little did we know we would all be pushed to our physical limits as the instructor set the music level on high and led us through several styles of dance. Our smiles may have belied our fatigue, but it was such a great opportunity to try something new. Hopefully our muscles will recoup as we get another chance tomorrow to dance.
Our day at CRLA concluded with the group being instructed on how to make empanadas. We all got our hands into the ingredients and enjoyed the tastes of our labors. Maybe the kids will surprise you at home by asking to make these tasty snacks, which can be stuffed with a variety of delicious fillings.
Finally, our day ended with a quick dinner at the food court at the mall and a movie. We enjoyed seeing "Home", a Dreamworks production that was dubbed in Spanish. It was a relaxing way to spend the waning hour of the day and it gave the kids just a little more brain stimulation to keep up with their Spanish. And I'll admit, there were a few tears shed as the movie pulled at our emotions in classic Hollywood fashion.
Well, time to go to bed. We hope all is well and we look forward to sharing more of our adventures with you tomorrow and the rest of the week.
Middle School Teacher
Whew! What a long -- but exciting -- day we've had today!
We began it all with a 4:00 a.m. meeting at the airport. We were all surprisingly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed running on adrenaline to be sure. We sailed through security, and our first flight was a breeze. After a quick layover in Houston, we hopped onto our second plane and enjoyed an equally smooth flight into Costa Rica. In keeping with the theme, we picked up our luggage and took a straight shot through immigration -- no lines, no waiting!
Speaking of waiting, our dear friend Lorenzo (our guide from the previous trip) was waiting at the airport with his own two "assistants" (his beautiful children). We were so happy to see him again after two long years! After greetings and enthusiastic hugs, we loaded up the CRLA van and headed off.
After a short drive, we arrived at the Boutique Hotel Jade for a much needed break. The kids hopped straight into the pool and spent some time just relaxing and playing. The adults hung out on the sidelines, enjoying the sunshine. Laughter and smiles abounded.
Once we were rested and recharged, we freshened up, exchanged our money, and headed out to the mall for dinner. We thought there might be some anxiety about ordering in Spanish, but the students headed right off to their chosen food place and communicated like pros. The adults took a little more guidance from Rita to make sure we ended up with the right orders! We're all looking forward to being ever more independent in our language skills as the days go on.
We rounded out our night with a quick trip to the local mercado to grab some water and fruit, and then it was back to the hotel for some down time and journaling before bed. The kids have all been so excited to be here and so enrapt with all of the cultural surroundings, both different and familiar. We are all ready for a good night's sleep, and we are even more ready for all that tomorrow will bring!
Middle School Teacher
A Montessori classroom encourages independent, self-directed learning in a clean, organized environment. Rather than following a strict lesson plan, the children have the opportunity to seek out and complete tasks on their own accord. A very popular and busy section of the Montessori classroom is known as Practical Life. Here, the children have the freedom to choose from an array of activities that correspond to their daily routine. When designing materials for the Practical Life shelf, the tray should be set up in an ordered way that encourages repetition thus developing concentration. The environment must provide materials that climb the developmental ladder, are attractive, real and self-correcting. The materials are designed to promote care of self, care of the environment, grace and courtesy, and control of movement.
In designing the Practical Life materials, the teacher must consider each child’s interest and developmental stage. Developing thematic units encourages exploration of materials and can cross over into many areas of the classroom. For example, in a thematic unit based on apples, a teacher may have an apple with an apple corer on a tray for slicing as part of a food preparation activity. Once sliced, this apple can be shared with fellow classmates, offering the students another opportunity to extend their grace and courtesy. This type of apple could also be changed each week, allowing the children to sample many apple varieties as well as acquire the related vocabulary. The parts of the apple could be discussed, extending to science and, in an art activity, the children could choose an apple cut-out, glue the parts of the apple together and finally, label the different parts of the apple. It is crucial that the activities appeal to the child visually and contain various points of interest so the child is drawn to the material and will choose to work with it. The materials must always have a clear order and be organized on the tray from left to right as a preparation for reading and language. Woods suggests, “These materials support the development of orderly, sequential thinking” (2000, p. 39). It should be easy for the child to understand the flow of the activity and encourage repeated use. Through repetition, the child is developing focus, concentration and inner-discipline.
With each tray on the Practical Life shelf set up in an ordered way from left to right the child reads the tray and understands how to complete the work, often without being given a formal lesson. This encourages self-directed and independent learning. This type of order, seen throughout the Montessori classroom, sets the child up for success as they choose more complex Practical Life works like polishing or table scrubbing.
A child scrubbing a table is learning so much more than may be obvious. They understand how to organize their work, concentrate and sequence steps in a functional and successful way. For example, the child must walk to the sink, turn on the faucet, fill a pitcher with water, turn off the faucet, carry the full pitcher back to the work space, mindfully pour the water from the pitcher to the basin, twist open the bottle of soap and squeeze the soap from the dropper into the basin. The child remembers the sequence of this work and is able to repeat the work whenever they choose. The child can refer to the steps in conversation (and give a younger student a lesson!) and is able to complete every step independently; all of this sequencing is key to language development and preparation for reading. This type of work also manifests a sense of pride and confidence within the child. As Montessori clearly defines, “After the child has finished his work, he appears satisfied, rested and happy.” (1972, p. 114).
Throughout Practical Life, children are unknowingly developing their control of movement. Children refine their pincer grip (pointer and middle finger together with the thumb) as they choose a verity of works like sorting, tweezing, tonging, basting, spooning and pouring. Developing this fine motor skill is crucial for future academic work. The child is strengthening the muscles in his/ her hand so that he/she can use a writing utensil with exactness and precision. In the above mentioned beginning steps of table scrubbing the child is seeing moving throughout the room gathering all the necessary components to complete the scrubbing. Just within these first few steps, the child develops coordination between the fine and gross motor skills.
The tasks are designed as a model for activities that occur in a child’s daily life and incorporates the care of the environment. Children are constantly trying to mimic the adults around them, but often do not have the means to accomplish this. Practical Life, however, offers the child a way to complete this same work on a smaller scale with real tools and utensils. In the Practical Life area, we often see children polishing plants, figurines, shoes, and more. We will also find children washing dishes, scrubbing shells, and arranging flowers, watering plants and maintaining a garden. The children are caring for their environment and learning a sense of respect for their shared space. As the children move about the classroom, we hear “excuse me” when walking around children working on rugs and “thank you” for the flowers that are placed on the individual tables. The classroom is bubbling over with gracious and courteous manners that then extend into the child’s reality at home and in the world.
Not only are the children caring for the environment, but they are also learning to care for themselves independent of an adult. The environment invites the children to prepare their own snack, pour water from a pitcher into a glass and eat a snack with a friend. The children are free to eat at their own pace and, when finished, wash their dishes and place them in the drying rack.
Practical Life is a major asset in the Montessori environment. It is key in developing a child’s relationship with the world through the use of real tools and activities that foster growth. Each activity climbs the developmental ladder and addresses the needs of each child in the classroom. Through these activities, children develop a sense of order, concentration, coordination and independence and lay the foundation for learning in future years. Refining fine and gross motor skills leads to great accomplishments in language, math and overall intellectual development.
Montessori, M. (1972). The secret of childhood. New York: Random House.
Woods, C.S. (2000, Winter). Back to basics for the Montessorian: The practical life foundation. Montessori Life, 39.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.