On a warm afternoon last month, Claudia Medina sat on the hardwood floor of an airy, sun-bathed room that she and her husband built in the back of their Forest Park home. She was laying out wooden cursive letters onto a rectangular cloth in order to demonstrate the wonders of Montessori education.
“Everything is very tactile because we know the hands are the eyes of the brain for young minds,” she said.
Medina, a member of the District 209 Board of Education, has been a Montessori educator for three decades. She has taught, created curriculum, and consulted all over the world — from Colombia to Prague.
In 2012, she conceived the idea of building a school of her own. She had looked at a Forest Park church and even an old firehouse in nearby Maywood, but when those plans fell through, she looked in her own backyard.
Last year, Medina broke ground on a 900-square-foot addition in back of her family’s home. A series of headaches later, Medina’s Bilingual Montessori Lab Academy is now accepting its first class of young minds. She wants to accept children from all over Proviso Township and beyond, but no more than 20 enrollees at a time — at least in the beginning.
Although Medina declined to disclose her prices, she said that she’ll be working with Illinois Action for Children, an organization that coordinates with the state’s Child Care Assistance Program to help low-income working families pay for child care services. Medina said she’ll start by accepting 3-, 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds.
“Montessori is all about hands-on learning and that small detail leads to fine coordination skills at a very young age,” she said, adding that students in Montessori also become bilingual and learn subjects like geography, reading, writing and math much earlier than usual.
“Language and learning is not categorized when children are at the ages of 3 to 6,” Medina said. “We categorize language once we’re adults, but the children don’t. This is when they’re in a phase called the absorbent mind. Everything is natural to them and wide open, so pronunciation of different languages becomes very simple.”
Medina’s Montessori classroom is an extension of that educational philosophy.
There’s a turtle near the window, soaking up the daylight. Rolled-up maps of the continents sit in wooden placeholders until they’re ready to be unfurled.
The room has a tranquil ambience. The calm is deliberate, Medina said.
“When you feel peaceful like this, you learn so much better,” she said. “You almost feel as if you’re out in nature.”
Medina said she hopes the school can become a training ground for other Montessori educators in best practices. And, who knows, perhaps one of many more to come.
“I’m hoping that this is just the first of the Bilingual Montessori Lab academies,” she said.
For more info on the school, visit: https://www.bimontlab.com/.