Montessori principles incorporated in Kinderwood preschool program

Montessori-trained Amy Bartel is working with Kinderwood Director Diane Heroux to bring the three- and four-year-old enrollees more Montessori in their education.

Kinderwood has always had a modified Montessori curriculum, which is child-driven, according to Heroux. With founder Mirnie Kashiwa’s background, the curriculum has always had a strong art component as well. 

“It’s been a marriage of the two. We’re doing what Kinderwood has always done, and we’re expanding,” said Heroux, who began staffing at Kinderwood with the students who are graduating from Town of Webb this June. “We’re not straying from the original vision.”

The curriculum created by Kashiwa for Kinderwood was approved by the NY State Board of Regents when she opened Kinderwood in the 1970’s. Kashiwa holds several degrees from Syracuse University, including one in art education.

Bartel studied the Montessori approach to education in a year-long graduate level program at the Ohio Montessori Training Institute (OMTI) in Cleveland in 1997. During her undergraduate studies, while majoring in Art and Spanish at the College of Wooster in Ohio, Bartel had learned of Montessori in a psychology class.

Following graduation, Bartel took a primary post with three-to six-year-olds in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, where she taught for five years before moving to Old Forge.

While teaching in Oak Park, Bartel discovered Musikgarten, a music-based primary program founded by Audrey Silick, a Montessori trainer, and Lorna Lutz-Heyge, a music educator.

Bartel and her husband Lawrence moved to Old Forge in 2003 when he became pastor at Niccolls Memorial Church. As the mother of an infant son, she established a Musikgarten program locally, first utilizing space at Niccolls and more recently at View.

This has allowed her to continue her work in Montessori education and providing  a special program for zero to three-year-olds.

“It’s been great fun. I’ve gotten to know so many children and families because of this,”she said.

For the past several years, Bartel has been conducting Musikgarten classes at Kinderwood for 30 minutes per week with three- and four-year-old students. The program incorporates music and movement.

“It’s meant to awaken that sense of musicality that we’re all born with,” Bartel said.

“There are little miracles all the time…like the first time children start to sing along. Even though they’ve been with you since they were infants, they don’t really become responsive verbally to the music. They don’t have expressive language to be a part of it until they’re almost three years old.

“That’s such a delight the first time you realize they’re sitting in the circle singing with you. You realize they’ve come into their own and internalized to such a depth that they can express it now, too.”

This year, in addition to the music, some more academic components of Montessori education have been added to the Kinderwood classroom. Materials have been purchased to help with teaching of math, including geometry, and language concepts.

The Kinderwood program has a tradition of allowing children choices regarding how they spend their time, with adult guidance, which is in keeping with the Montessori approach.

“They don’t move from station to station as the bell rings,” Bartel said.

“I like seeing the kids choose what to do and how they master the different activities,” Heroux said. “They’re able to quickly learn the steps of an activity, and the deep concentration they can attain is something I’ve appreciated.”

An example she cited is that of hand-washing laundry. It utilizes a washboard with wash and rinse basins, which the child must fill with water before lathering soap. They wet the cloth, scrub it on the wash board, rinse it, wring it out, and hang it on a drying rack with clothes pins, then clean everything up.

Staff encourages students to try things which they haven’t done before, whether it’s a hands-on activity or tasting hummus on pita bread.

Whenever something new is introduced to the classroom, the kids’ curiosity is piqued. They all gravitate toward it, want to know about it and want to try it, according to Heroux.

“Who doesn’t like to play in water?” said Heroux, who identified all water-related activities as extremely popular.

One change that’s been made this year is that rather than enjoying snack together as a group while listening to a story read by a teacher at day’s end, the children snack two or three at a time.

They now serve their own food and pour their own drinks from a small pitcher. The students clear their own plates. They also use cloth napkins, glass dishes and real utensils.

“One of the neat things about Montessori education,” Bartel said, “is that it’s universal and it’s timeless. Basic human needs, tendencies and development don’t change over time. Generation after generation, they’re the same.”

Kinderwood’s current enrollment includes 15 three-year-olds who meet two mornings a week, and 12 four-year-olds, who meet two mornings and two afternoons a week.

The Kinderwood board members and Heroux work diligently to raise funds for the preschool program. A summer golf tournament and the Snowmakers’ Ball are their major annual fundraising events.

Scholarship funds are raised through the efforts of the Northwoods Women’s Club, Kiwanis Club of the Central Adirondacks, and donations made in memory of Lorraine Stripp, who taught many years at Kinderwood.

A considerable number of Montessori-appropriate manipulatives have been purchased over the years, however they can be expensive.

The Kinderwood staff has a wish list of educational Montessori materials they would like to add to their inventory. Anyone interested in supporting the program can contact Heroux directly at (315) 369-6061.

Kinderwood is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. Tax-deductible donations can be sent to: Kinderwood Preschool Program,  P.O. Box 255, Old Forge, NY 13420.

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