‘B’ is for Balanceby Jacqueline Bull July 29, 2019
Beth Montessori is entering its 15th year as the only Jewish preschool to fully follow the Montessori practice in San Diego. Cecilia “Ceci” Krongold, co-founder and Executive Director of Beth Montessori agreed to reflect on the school and the Montessori philosophy.
“To be able to put Montessori into a nutshell is that there is a lot of freedom given to the children to follow their individual needs, but the biggest misconception is that there is just that freedom. Most people don’t realize is that there is actually a lot of structure that allows that freedom to work in a peaceful and non-chaotic manner.
“So it is finding that balance between freedom and discipline, but at the end of the day, the focus is on the child and making sure that the child’s individual needs are being met,” she said.
The example that Ceci provided was being able to cater to both especially physically active children and children that are more shy or introverted. For a child with a lot of energy, the structure of the classroom awards them the freedom to be comfortable in their body by being able to get up, move around, carry things, and not be punished or have a negative association with being active in a classroom. The active child could have that need met while also engaging in the curriculum, developing and learning. The same classroom would also be able to cater to a quiet or more introverted child and allow them social situations for them to open up and become more comfortable. This classroom set-up also allows for children to work together and help each other learn. And according to Ceci, children learn best from each other.
“In our preschool, we mix three year-olds all the way through six year-olds in the same classroom. And the whole philosophy around that is that the younger children learn by watching the older children and the older children get to take on a mentoring role of helping the younger children, so it creates a really beautiful dynamic where everybody kind of works together–a lot of collaboration, a sense of community. So that kind of helps balance out these individual differences,” Ceci said.
Another aspect of their day-to-day is the integration of Jewish cultures and traditions into the school day. They include the Jewish holidays in their circle time with stories, songs and activities. The children bake and take home challah every week. And they have a “very strong symbiotic relationship” with Congregation Beth El where they do communal Shabbats with Beth Montessori families with a service and potluck.
“And then of course we have Shabbat which is definitely everybody’s favorite day of the week. We have someone who comes in with a guitar and drums to sing Shabbat songs with them … We have a couple little traditions that we do on Shabbat. For example, children come dressed in a white shirt every Friday and they bring a single flower that they use to create a communal bouquet in their Shabbat table. But the neat thing [is that] in the morning when the children are physically getting dressed, with their white shirt and picking out their flower, they already know that it is a different day from the rest of the week. It sets the tone for it being a special day. It definitely is a big part of our Jewish experience,” she said.
Nearing the fifteen year milestone, Ceci explained that she is most proud of the warm and inviting environment they have created within the school that has kept true to the Montessori philosophy and being able to work with a passionate staff. She also credits the partnership and friendship between her and co-founder and co-director Lina Wolf as a big component of the school. (“We complement each other really well … I couldn’t imagine doing this without her.”)
“We’re very happy with how far we’ve come, where we’re going, where we’re at and we just feel very fulfilled with the work that we’re doing; I think that that’s the bottom line. We love what we do and I always tell people how fortunate I feel in the mornings to wake up and love my job because that truly is a blessing … The secret ingredient to the school is that everybody truly puts their heart into what they do.”