Felician-sponsored Montessori ministry inspires a lifetime of learning

Children learn numbers, shapes and colors at the Montessori Center of Our Lady, a ministry of the Felician Sisters in Livonia. Montessori education allows kids to learn at their own pace by interacting with their environment. Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Livonia — On the grounds of the Felician Sisters of North America’s central convent, a school has stood for 42 years embracing a holistic vision of education.

The Montessori Center of Our Lady, located off Newburgh Road in Livonia, has provided Montessori education to preschoolers and kindergarteners since 1976, when Sr. Mary Paulita Bikowski, CSSF, felt the need for the Felicians to introduce an educational experience that emphasized the techniques of famed Italian educator Dr. Maria Montessori.

“A Montessori education promotes a peaceful community in the classroom, which helps the children become independent and self-reliant,” said Maria Mueller, administrator and president of Felician Sisters Child Care Center, which oversees the Montessori Center of Our Lady. “We don’t race children through lessons. We allow them to do their work for their own satisfaction.”

After a short two- to three-minute lesson, the teacher will introduce material for the students to interact with, ranging from different color beads, to a hammer and nail set, to flags of different countries around the world.

From there, children interact with the materials or observe other children interacting with the objects around them, learning through observation and imagination.

“In Montessori education, there is a freedom of choice, where they pick what they want (to interact with) whenever they want; it’s up to them,” said Shiranthi De Silva, program director of the center. “It’s up to the teacher to guide the child, so the child can get the overall education. The child learns choice, but the choices are limited.”

Teachers set up an open classroom with material easily accessible for children, who move about freely as they learn and grow.

“Students take as much time as they need on a particular piece,” said Gale Jones, marketing and operations director of St. Mary’s Child Care Center, another Felician-sponsored ministry in Livonia. “If they are working on mathematics, they can spend two hours working mathematics. Where in a traditional learning environment, there might only be 45 minutes of math before moving on to another subject.”

The Montessori Center of Our Lady offers five classes with about 20 children ages 3 to 6 in each classroom. De Silva said having children of different ages and learning levels helps with the learning process.

“With the multi-age groups, the children learn from one another, particularly the newer students, watching the older students do reading and writing, addition and subtraction, and they’re interested in that,” De Silva said. “Students instinctively know when they are ready for more advanced materials; after they learn what they needed from the materials, they are curious and they are ready to learn more.”

The Montessori Center of Our Lady boasts a diverse student population, with administrators estimating only 40 to 50 percent are Catholic. But De Silva says a Catholic identity is still present in the classroom.

“Dr. Maria Montessori believes that once the child is at the age of five, the child knows that God is our Father and protector,” Montessori said. “Religion is communicated directly in select moments, and expressed indirectly through traditions and ceremonies. We don’t go deep into religious thought, but they take part in holidays and traditions like the crowning of Mary or singing songs in the Felician chapel.”

Whether it’s the religious background of the class, or the loose structure of the daily lessons, De Silva said parents are amazed with how the Montessori Center of Our Lady operates on a daily basis.

“People are amazed when they visit a classroom and see we don’t discipline children, that we direct them to examine what they might be doing wrong first,” De Silva said. “This is the age when some of them can’t understand what is going on, so we direct them to the peace table. If there is an argument, they can go to a corner where they can sit and have a calm time before they are ready to talk.”

Montessori-style learning might seem different compared to more “traditional” classroom settings, but Mueller said alumni and parents say the school has been a foundational experience.

“The Montessori Center of Our Lady really builds on the self-confidence of our students, exposing them to so much more than what a child can be exposed to in a traditional preschool or kindergarten,” Mueller said. “If a child is drawn to literature, they are going to be reading more at a higher level. If they are more interested in math, they are going to expand their knowledge of addition and subtraction.

“The teachers we have here are truly believers in the Montessori method and truly follow the core values of our Catholic identity, those are our bases,” Mueller said. “The respect and education we have, that’s a huge proponent of why we are here. This is an important time in a child’s life, a great building block for the future.”

Montessori Center of Our Lady

Visit montessoricenterofourlady.org or call (734) 838-0841 to learn more about the center, including costs, enrollment information or to schedule a visit.