Following The Child For 15 Years

Wednesday May 04, 2022

Photo provided by NSMS. Third Grader Lizzie Wieckowski hangs her poem on the tree.

ROWLEY – Driving along Rte. 1A beside the Town Common, you may have noticed one of the trees at the southern end of the park has sprouted colored paper this spring. Stop and look closely. The papers are poems, written by students at the North Shore Montessori School (NSMS). 

To celebrate poetry month each year, the children write poems about and draw their thoughts on paper in an event called PoeTREE in the park. The school petitions the Rowley Board of Selectmen for permission to hang the poems like blossoms or fruit from the tree limbs. The Selectmen granted permission with the understanding that the students do no harm to the tree.

“The children worked hard on their creations, which will be on display until the end of the school year,” said the school’s description of the event.

NSMS, a nonprofit school serving 60 children from preschool to sixth grade, was founded by Margaret Henry, the school’s director and lead Children’s House teacher. Its mission is to develop the whole child in an environment based on the philosophy and methodologies originally developed in the early 1900s by educational pioneer Maria Montessori.

Montessori was one of the first Italian women to be trained as a doctor. She also became an educator and through observations of children, developed a comprehensive program of learning that has been adopted around the world. 

“It was so heartwarming that the older children took the hands and partnered with the younger children to walk to Rowley Town Common,” Henry said. 

The event this year was even more special because Henry, her staff and students are celebrating the school’s 15th birthday. 

The PoeTREE in the Park tradition, which schools across the country participate in, was brought to NSMS by Upper Elementary (UE) teacher Paddy Cummings, who joined the school in 2017. 

“We were trained in an art program called Picture in Writing and Image Making,” Cummings said. “With our UE students, we worked with poetry lessons in the styles of cinquain, senryu, haiku, ballad and free form poetry that accompanies art pieces.” 

When she came to NSMS, she continued the tradition, including Lower Elementary and Children’s House students, Cummings said. 

“PoeTREE in the Park has become one of our cherished traditions at NSMS,” Henry said. “We are grateful to the town for its support in allowing us to install this poetry and art display on public land.” 

Henry’s three sons attended the Spring Street Montessori School in Newburyport, where she was inspired by the child-centered techniques used by teachers Maureen Moss and Nancy Plummer to take the training herself. 

“I was absolutely floored by the way everything connected — the math, the language, everything connected organically,” which makes Montessori unique, Henry wrote. “The methodology and the way the lessons are taught to the children — including the beautiful and simple hands-on materials — all of this speaks to the children.” 

Henry earned her Montessori teaching certificate and taught several years in Montessori schools before opening her own school in 2007.

Her school was initially housed in a commercial shopping strip on Route 1 in Rowley. As it grew, she bought the property at 121 Wethersfield St., converting a three-bay garage into a little red schoolhouse. 

The school focused at first on the Children’s House program, serving children ages 2.9 years through kindergarten. At the urging of parents, Henry added two multi-year elementary grade classrooms for students in grades one to three. In 2012, the school added the grades 4-6. 

The school focuses on the natural environment. 

“That’s why we’re on this land, and it looks the way it does,” Henry said of the schoolyard that features native plants and habitats for birds and pollinators, chickens and gardens that the children tend to, as well as play structures that spark the imagination. “Children need time to just go out and play,” she said.

Henry, who suffers from a form of dyslexia, said, “I love working with children who learn differently, because I think and learn differently too.” 

“We follow the child,” said Henry, quoting from one of the key Montessori principles. “The child’s interest guides us on their educational path,” she said. “As educators, we know when a child is ready to progress forward and introduce or guide them to the next lesson.”

NSMS has opened enrollment for next year. For more information, visit https://www.northshoremontessori.org.

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