Eden Prairie Montessori School has been guiding and cultivating children through the Montessori method for more than 20 years. But what exactly is the Montessori method? Recently, we were able to sit down with Eden Prairie Montessori School's director, Shonali Harrison, to learn more about the hands-on education that seeks to prepare children for the future while boosting their creativity and cultivating a love for learning.
What is the Montessori method?
Dr. Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator best known for the philosophy of education that bears her name and her writing on scientific pedagogy. The Montessori method of education was introduced to the United States in 1911. This method of education values the development of the whole child, which is the physical, social, emotional and cognitive skills.
What makes this method different from other teaching methods?
Montessori is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity and hands-on learning. In Montessori classrooms, children make creative choices in their learning, while the classroom and the highly trained teachers offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process. Children work individually and in groups to discover and explore knowledge of the world and develop self-help skills.
What ages of children can attend Eden Prairie Montessori?
Our Montessori program serves children from 6 weeks old to 6 years old: infants, toddlers, preschool and kindergarten.
Tell me a little bit about your programs.
The Infant program is called "Nido." It means "nest" in Italian. We use age-appropriate methods and tools to help babies develop their social, emotional, gross motor and fine motor skills. Our loving and attentive staff maintains careful records for each baby's development and prepare them for the next level.
The Toddler program is for children that are 16 months to 2 1/2 years old. Once again, our dedicated staff carefully prepares an environment where children can learn and find their full potential.
The preschool classroom is known as "Casa," which means "house" (of children). Children from 3-6 years old are in the Casa. This mixed-age environment helps children learn and demonstrate caring for one another and learn how to interact with each other with respect. The classroom is carefully prepared by the Montessori-trained teacher and their team with beautiful Montessori materials that are introduced to each child according to their age and ability. Observations are recorded to keep track of each child's social/emotional, physical, cognitive and small motor development. The prepared environment and trained Montessori adults help foster self-motivation and independence.
We offer a kindergarten program for children who are eligible to enroll. The requirements include that they must have received at least a year of Montessori education and that they turn 5 years old before Sept. 1. The kindergarten students learn advanced academic skills. They also have the opportunity to handle responsibilities and to exercise leadership skills, preparing them for first grade.
Do you offer a summer program?
We have an exciting and fun-filled summer program. Each year, we have lots of creative experiences and classroom activities for academic development. We also offer outdoor activities that include water play, gardening, outdoor classroom time, painting and artwork. Field trips to a llama farm, Children's Museum, Richardson Nature Center, Como Park Zoo and the Old Log Theater are some of the favorite places our children and staff love to visit during the summer. Our annual cultural week is also held within our summer program. It provides the children with a week of fun and learning about different cultures, traditions and tasting foods.
How do you implement different learning materials to facilitate learning and development?
The Montessori materials are specially designed and presented to the child by a Montessori-trained teacher. Dr. Montessori's belief that the child is capable of discovering concepts by thinking for himself is apparent when a presentation is given by the Montessori adult. The classroom consists of math, language, sensorial, cultural, geography, science and exercises of practical life areas. Each area has a set of materials beautifully arranged to help the child choose what they can work with depending on what they have been presented with. The Montessori materials aid in learning different concepts through both concrete and abstract forms.
Music, art and Spanish are also classes that are included in our program for all age groups.
So I’ve heard you have a wide range of class pets at your both your North and South locations. Tell me more about how class pets are chosen and how they are introduced into the learning environment.
Children not only learn about animals when we have pets in the environment but also understand responsibilities for their care. This fosters love and compassion for all living things. They love to take turns cleaning the cages, feeding duties and even take turns caring for them over the weekends with the help of their parents.
We have several different kinds of pets between the North and South locations: a pair of finches, fish, an iguana, guinea pigs and hermit crabs. Having pets in the environment has a calming effect on the children if they need to have some time for themselves. Children can watch and observe the animals and learn their behaviors.
In one of your blog posts, I read that children at Eden Prairie Montessori are given the opportunity to learn Spanish from a native speaker. What are some of the benefits of learning a second language at such an early age?
It has been proven that one can absorb a second (or third) language if they are exposed to it at an early age. This is a benefit when they go on to elementary school.
I know that Eden Prairie Montessori has been around for more than 20 years. How long have you been the director? How did you get started?
I was working for a company called LaPepiniere Montessori Academy as a teacher and director. Then, I got the opportunity to acquire the business in 1991. It has been a great journey following my passion to educate these young minds.
What do you love about the Montessori method?
Among many wonderful features this method of early childhood education provides, I love that the Montessori method of education allows children to learn at their own pace and develop a love for learning.
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about Eden Prairie Montessori?
We celebrate our staff, and we are very fortunate to have such a longstanding, caring and experienced team at Eden Prairie Montessori. Their dedication, enthusiasm and expertise make our center stand out.