Have you walked on Millwood lately near Trace Manes Park?
If so, you’ll no doubt have noticed a vibrant new mural that appeared on the exterior of Leaside Children’s House, an Early Childhood Education Montessori School which opened in 2005.
The glorious display of pictorial flowers is the work of Chris Perez whose spray-paint murals grace several buildings, including the Heaps Estrin Real Estate office at Bayview and McRae. Lillian Nimis, director of the accredited school, explains that the flowers represent the children of the school, who “grow at their own rate, in their own direction and in their own time,” depending on their care. She adds that their teachers nurture the children with “the right lessons at the right time in their development.”
When Lillian and her husband, school supervisor Jim Karaiskakas, opened the school, they were attracted to Leaside because of its proximity to their home in East York and its lively, family-oriented community. Indeed, it has gained a devoted following over the years largely through word-of-mouth. Many parents call the school a “hidden gem” and register after hearing about it from family and friends.
The school features two levels: the toddler program, for 10 children aged 12 to 30 months, and the “casa” program, for children aged two and a half to six, including junior and senior kindergarten, with a maximum enrolment of 31 children in two classes. The multi-age classrooms are a Montessori staple enabling teachers to personalize instruction and get to know their students over the years through inquiry-based learning. Lillian says that multi-age classrooms “encourage older children to help others through sharing their knowledge and younger ones to engage in higher levels of conversation.”
There are two to four educators working with the toddler group and a minimum of four in the casa program. Parents appreciate the “consistency and support” provided by this program, says Lucy Ruiz, who commented, as did many others, on the caring instructors who “help to foster opportunities for each child to grow.”
An important hallmark of the Montessori program is the belief that “play is the work of a child” and that the use of special educational material can bridge the gap between concrete and abstract learning. This is especially evident in the development of mathematical skills using objects like “golden bead material” to demonstrate the decimal system.
Another highlight of the program is the fact that students become fluent readers by the end of kindergarten through their study of phonics using multi-sensory language materials like the sandpaper alphabet. Many parents report that teachers are impressed with their children’s reading skills when they enter elementary school.
In addition, as mother Shazmeen Manji says, activities like sponge art projects about animals and passports to travel the world “encourage creativity, nurture independence and promote a positive learning environment through play.” Parents also appreciate the school’s welcoming atmosphere, the tight-knit community and connections with other families, often gathering in Trace Manes after school.
Lillian and Jim are grateful for the parents’ support and consider the recent painting of the building “their gift to the community.”