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Today's Family Magazine

Montessori School of University Heights provides a foundation for life

By Deanna Adams

The Montessori method of education, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, has been utilized for more than 100 years, and continues to increase in popularity.  The Montessori approach, based on explorative hands-on learning, individualized self-directed activity, and a noncompetitive, collaborative, multi-age environment, lays a solid foundation for lifelong learning. 

The school’s mission is to assist each child in becoming the unique person each is created to be.  The school provides an environment specifically prepared to meet the young child’s developmental needs and encourages children to develop physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially, and spiritually according to each child’s own capacity in an atmosphere of peace, love, and respect. 

As the children engage with the unique Montessori materials, self-learning and self-development occur.  The children gradually develop an inner discipline, a sense of self-worth, and respect for others and the world in which they live. 

Former high school physics and chemistry teacher, Elizabeth "Betty" Hissong, along with her husband, Jack, believed so strongly in Dr. Montessori’s mission, and the importance of child-centered early education, that they opened the Montessori School of University Heights in 1968. 

Although the school now resides in Lyndhurst—inside the Church of the Good Shepherd—its mission continues to thrive under the leadership of Maria Wood, head of school.  “My husband and I became acquainted with this school when our first child was an infant.  I was immediately impressed with the peaceful, beautiful, engaging atmosphere.  I became an assistant in 1990, when both of our sons were enrolled,” Wood recalls.  “I took Montessori training and completed my internship under Betty’s guidance.  When Betty retired in 1999, I embraced the work of continuing the school’s mission.” 

The school is for children, ages 3–6, which is considered a crucial stage in a young person’s educational life.  Wood explains that Maria Montessori, an Italian medical doctor, was first to discover that young children between birth and age six have a unique mental capacity that she termed the “absorbent mind.”  Dr. Montessori described this capacity as the young child’s ability to absorb information effortlessly like a sponge absorbs water.  The Montessori primary environment is orderly, beautiful, and inviting.  No flashing lights, buzzes, bells or whistles.  Instead the children explore and learn from real objects made primarily of natural materials, such as wood, cloth, metal, and glass—and, surprising to some, includes china.  “We encourage this so that they learn to appreciate beauty and how to handle beautiful items with care,” Wood says.  “We want them to experience the delight of aesthetically pleasing materials.” 

Even at such a young age, children are introduced to a variety of subjects, such as math, language, geography, science, music, and art by exploring the Montessori materials that embody concepts in these areas.  

In the practical life area, children build fine and gross motor skills through activities for everyday living including fastening clothes, tying/buckling shoes, polishing, washing, sweeping, sewing, and woodworking, all using real materials. 

The sensorial work refines the uses of the five senses.  “Our school also serves the spiritual development of the child utilizing the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program,” notes Wood. 

Absent from the room are computers, tablets, and televisions.  “We believe a child needs concrete experiences with real objects.  There is a strong connection between the hand and brain.  The young child develops through meaningful interaction with real objects.  Through working with their hands the children develop order, concentration, coordination, independence and, as Dr. Montessori states, ‘reach a strength of character which is conspicuous.’” 

Since its formation, Montessori School of University Heights has served approximately 600 young children.  Many former students have used their Montessori foundation to go on to work as doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, social workers, teachers and in other successful professions.  “We build a foundation for lifelong learning in the sense that we help nurture the person’s curiosity and overall love of learning that carries them through life,” Wood says.  Many alumni enjoy reconnecting with the Montessori materials when they become parents and enroll their children in the school.

While the children receive individual presentations on the Montessori materials, they also develop social skills, grace, courtesy, manners, respect for others, and the ability to relate to others as they work together with the Montessori materials, play together on the playground, and eat together at the snack table.  Both children and their parents often develop life-long friendships due to the school’s small family-like atmosphere.

Applications are accepted year-round for children who will be 3 years old by the fall.  New children visits are typically held in March or April. 

The Montessori School of University Heights is located at 23599 Cedar Road in Lyndhurst.  For more information, see, or phone 216-381-8388.