Jewish Montessori Day Schools Becomes ‘A Movement’

September 9, 2013

Source: The Jewish Week 


Luria Academy in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, which started the new school year this week with 140 students (up from 107 last year) and a newly expanded facility, is one of more than 40 Jewish Montessori schools in North America. More than 20 have, like Luria, opened within the past decade, forming a small but growing movement, a bright spot within a Jewish day school world where (with the exception of the ultra-Orthodox community) flat or declining enrollment is the norm.


While fewer than 1,000 Jewish elementary day school students in North America are enrolled in Montessori programs, the numbers at the eight largest Jewish Montessori schools have jumped by 75 percent in the past five years, according to the New Jersey-based Jewish Montessori Society


The individualized yet highly structured pedagogical approach, developed by Italian physician Maria Montessori, has been around for more than a century. But in recent years, it has become increasingly popular in both Jewish and secular educational circles, including public schools.


According to Ami Petter-Lipstein, who together with her husband Daniel founded the Jewish Montessori Society (JMS) in 2011, Jewish Montessori has been growing over the last 15 years, and has experienced “exponential growth” since 2005.


This fall new Jewish Montessori schools are opening in Chicago, Denver and London; in Ohio, Cincinnati Hebrew Day School is opening a separate Montessori track alongside its traditional program. A school in Los Angeles is about to start its second year, while Alef Bet Montessori, a school begun eight years ago in Rockville, Md., last year expanded from nursery-only to elementary school. Meanwhile, several groups around the country are planning new Jewish Montessori programs.


While most Jewish Montessori schools are nursery, or nursery and elementary, several run through eighth grade or, like Luria, Alef Bet and Lamplighters, plan to. While Petter-Lipstein said she knows of no Jewish Montessori high schools, “I think someone will do it in the next decade.”


Exactly what is Montessori, and why is it taking off now?

Originally developed for educating children with special needs, Montessori is a method in which children largely work independently and in small mixed-age groups at their own pace; specially trained teachers closely monitor the students’ progress and are available to help, but spend little time lecturing to the whole class.


Montessori materials tend to be tactile and multi-sensory: things like beads, sandpaper, fabric, and wooden boxes and blocks.

Montessori works, says Bryna Lieder, the educational director of Luria, because, “Children are naturally inquisitive and crave a sense of mastery.”

Read more at The Jewish Week.

Updated: Oct. 02, 2013