3 Ways Children Learn at a Unique Free Montessori School

Creative Montessori Academy is a longstanding charter public school in Southgate that offers a free public Montessori education. What can your child expect if they attend this school?

In the classrooms and hallways of Creative Montessori Academy, a charter public school in Southgate, students learn through a well-known and well-respected educational model. They’re meeting the same standards as every neighborhood public school in Michigan, but gaining knowledge and skills from a curriculum often adopted by private schools. The big difference is that, as a charter school, Creative Montessori Academy is a free Montessori school, open to all.

“We have a whole-child approach to learning. This includes academics, as well as character building, practical life skills, conflict resolution and social-emotional learning,” says Lisa Loger, Principal at Creative Montessori Academy, a K-8 school that also has an optional fee-based preschool program.

What makes this free Montessori school special

Many parents have heard of Montessori, but not everyone knows that Montessori principles apply to elementary and middle school programs. Some children attend Creative Montessori Academy as their neighborhood school and others travel from surrounding communities because they value the unique educational approach, Loger says, highlighting the charter school benefit of being open to all students in Michigan, regardless of their local school district or ZIP code.

“We are lucky to be able to serve students who live in Southgate and beyond,” she says. “Families also come to us from Ypsilanti, Monroe and Belleville, even Warren. To me, that’s key. If you choose to drive 30-45 minutes to your school, your children must be happy here.” The same applies to staff, she says, pointing out that many teachers and staff at Creative Montessori travel to work there — and have done so since the school opened in 2000.

We asked Loger and Assistant Principal Lindsay Defenthaler to share what families like most about Creative Montessori Academy — and the unique ways students learn here.

1. Multi-age classrooms honor each child’s developmental level

Creative Montessori Academy
Photo credit: Creative Montessori Academy/Choice Schools

Montessori recognizes that each child learns at their own pace. At Creative Montessori Academy, students begin learning in multi-age classrooms after the kindergarten year. Students are grouped in grades 1-3 and 4-6, with grades 7-8 together in the middle school program. Students learn science by individual grades, and math and English language arts learning takes place in small groups. Teachers assess each student regularly to gauge where they are within this range.

“It’s wonderful whatever way you look at it,” says Defenthaler. “We might have a kindergartner who has blown through the kindergarten curriculum and can learn in the grades 1-3 classroom because we have the availability and resources to challenge this student so they’re not bored.”

3-ways-students-learn-at-creative-montessori-academy-checklist-graphic

Alternatively, a third grade student who reads at a first grade level has the flexibility to catch up. “Each child is about the same age, and our multi-age classrooms have the resources and materials to get them what they need, rather than having first graders all doing the same thing, for example.”

Multi-age classrooms allow for individualized attention and also allow younger students to observe and learn from older students, eventually becoming leaders themselves. This format follows the “planes of development” so important to Montessori classrooms.

2. Creative Montessori encourages practical skill development

In Montessori classrooms, children practice tying shoes, fastening zippers, pouring water — and cleaning up when spills happen. “We teach practical life skills,” says Defenthaler, adding that as parents, we tend to be quick to clean up when our child spills. “We let parents know that the kids can clean up and they want to do everything themselves.”

This self-reliance extends as children grow to build self-advocacy and executive functioning skills. At Creative Montessori Academy, children learn to take responsibility for turning in their assignments, even planning field trips. “If the students want to go on a field trip, they have to figure out how much it will cost, including buses. These are strengths that you need to have to be a productive member of society and practical life skills we all need to be successful. They learn intrinsic motivation,” she says, adding that students must demonstrate an appropriate level of responsibility to participate in various clubs and sports available at the school.

When students wanted to hire a sno-cone truck for field day, they designed a T-shirt, then created flyers to sell the shirts as a fundraiser, says Loger. “They learned entrepreneurship and it all stemmed from wanting to raise money to have a sno-cone truck,” she says.

3. Children learn through project-based learning

Creative Montessori Academy
Photo credit: Creative Montessori Academy/Choice Schools

Montessori philosophy recognizes that children are naturally curious and that they are motivated to learn through purposeful activity. At Creative Montessori Academy, this takes the form of project-based learning. This looks different in each classroom, says Defenthaler.

“Project-based learning follows student interest,” she says. For World Celebration Day, for instance, each classroom selected a country to study. They learned the country’s traditions in various ways: by making artistic decorations, creating a digital presentation using technology or by making or explaining how to make the nation’s favorite foods.

“Students have the freedom to explore within limits and follow parameters and guidance from an adult,” Defenthaler explains.

Project-based learning helps students prepare for high school and beyond, Loger says. “Our students are well prepared to tackle what’s next, academically, but also responsibility-wise,” she says.

As Creative Montessori Academy has grown to almost 800 students, Loger and Defenthaler say they are excited to expand the middle school into another space within their current building.

“We are so excited about having that new space opening up because we’re just busting at the seams,” says Loger.

Creative Montessori Academy is a charter public school authorized by Central Michigan University. Learn more about this unique school at thecenterforcharters.org.

Find more articles like this at Metro Parent’s Guide to Michigan Charter Schools.

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