Molly Bernhardt is a Lower Elementary teacher at West Side Montessori and has been teaching for 27 years.
"I love that a true Montessori experience allows the children to be themselves and create and construct who they will be. I love that children are free to follow a passion, or a need or a challenge and are trusted to make these choices."
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?
I am the wife of an elementary principal, mom of 4 “kids”, ages 23, 21, 18, and 16, one dog and grandma to a one-eyed adorable corgi! I was raised in Toledo and went to Kent State University to study graphic design, and luckily found my calling, early childhood education. I have been teaching since 1994. I enjoy camping, swimming and pottery. I dream of retiring to the mountains of North Carolina and living in a log home with my husband.
Q: What do you love about Montessori?
Where do I start? I love that a true Montessori experience allows the children to be themselves and create and construct who they will be. I love that children are free to follow a passion, or a need, or a challenge and are trusted to make these choices. I love that a Montessori environment is SO rich with possibilities for each child’s potential! THE CHILD IS THE CENTER!
Q: What is your favorite area in the classroom and why?
Probably the math area because it’s where I get to share what I’m passionate about. Maria Montessori was brilliant in discovering and designing the math materials to be so beautiful, concrete and effective. To hear a child who enters the Bluebird room not really loving math tell me they love math or thank me for a lesson is joy!
Q: What would you tell a prospective family about West Side?
As a mom of 2 West Side graduates, I would tell them to be patient with the process and trust. The environment and materials allow the children to go so much deeper into the curriculum and work at their own pace. The teachers will love them (and guide them) as their own. In the older levels, watching your child struggle at times through the process can be painful! Montessori is hard work. But in the end, they have learned how to pick themselves up. I have seen the results. My children are independent thinkers and problem solvers that understand learning vs. schooling. The collaboration that takes place in the classrooms and the social skills they gain are invaluable and crucial to our future.
Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?
I still love the Narnia series. My older sister read them to my brother and I when we were young and I have returned to them several times. They bring back fond memories of summertime cooldown time.
Q: What first appealed to you about Montessori?
That it is self-paced and child-driven.
Q: What advice do you have for new parents trying to incorporate Montessori at home?
Create as many spaces or opportunities as you can that allow your child to be independent. Allow them to be a participant and not just an observer when you are cooking, cleaning, reading, writing, building, whatever. Children experience great joy in persevering and accomplishing a task by themselves. “ME DO!” We can respect young children by asking them if they’d like help. They are capable of so much!
Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?
Maria Montessori was an amazing scientist! The many years of research that came before the Montessori method mean that we are a part of a movement focused on the child, the human that is developing. We get to be a tiny part of this every day.
Q: Why did you choose to teach/work here?
West Side Montessori just fits with my philosophy on children and education. I believe children should be active and able to move at their own pace and in this setting, I can support the child that needs a challenge or the child that needs more time. The materials let the children steer.
Q: What's the most important life lesson you'd like to share with your students? (How is this conveyed in your classroom?)
Not to compare yourself to someone else. We all have our own strengths and challenges. My gifts and talents may not be your gifts and talents, but we can appreciate our differences and what we bring to those we interact with. In the classroom, I try to observe carefully and nurture each child’s gifts. Giving the natural leader opportunities to lead, the detail-minded person the chance to plan activities or lessons, the entertainer a chance to “be on stage”.