TORONTO — To mark its 10th anniversary this year, the Montessori Jewish Day School (MJDS) will build a sensory garden, both as a fundraiser and an educational tool for students, who will help build and maintain it. Students will help plant the garden when it opens May 31.
Montessori Jewish Day School teacher Shalisa Agam works with casa (preschool) student Hannah, right, while fellow classmate Noa observes. [Frances Kraft photo]
The garden will include flowers of different colours and fragrant herbs for students to enjoy, develop their senses, and use in practical ways.
MJDS is the only accredited Jewish Montessori school in Canada, but head of school Regina Lulka was introduced to the concept in her native Mexico City, where her now-grown daughters attended a similar school. There are also Jewish Montessori schools in the United States and in Europe.
The Montessori approach, which includes mixed-age classrooms and is based on children’s natural interests, was developed more than a century ago by Italian educator and physician Maria Montessori.
Lulka, who began her affiliation with MJDS as a board member and became principal about seven years ago, recalls that MJDS held its first classes at the Winchevsky Centre, with a total of 25 students.
Housed for the past five years at Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am Synagogue, the school has grown to serve 108 children from nursery through Grade 7. Next year, there will also be a Grade 8 class.
Just inside the school’s entrance is a wall fountain that ties in with the Montessori philosophy, Lulka said. “It reflects that the school is a serene environment.”
An element of trust – in this case, counting on the students not to throw the stones at the bottom of the fountain – is part of the school’s ethos too. “With trust comes respect,” Lulka said, adding that Montessori students are given both freedom and responsibility.
There is no homework, and there are no tests. “Assessment is ongoing, daily, minute-to-minute assessment,” Lulka said.
In Grades 7 and 8, students are taught how to study and take tests. Alumni have gone on to Jewish day schools, public schools, private schools and gifted programs, Lulka said.
In addition to subjects that are mandated by the local curriculum, Montessori students also have a “practical life” component to their studies aimed at helping them become independent. A nursery child would learn how to pour juice for Shabbat, for example, while older elementary students participate in a “going out” program instead of more conventional field trips.
Lulka explains that small groups of students choose a project and an outing that they’re interested in. They plan all aspects of the trip themselves, from setting a budget to calling to arrange the outing, planning the public transit route, and enlisting an adult to accompany them.
Teachers “help them to make the right choice. We want to build in them the ability to make the right choices later in life.”