Journal Entry

Meet Polis Montessori World School

Today's world is flush with global opportunities. It is a playground of innovation, culture, and connection for those with the right skills.

Raising Children of the World

An Education for Students Ages 2 to 11

Today’s world is flush with global opportunities. It is a playground of innovation, culture, and connection for those with the right skills and mindset. The person who can focus, self-regulate, and problem-solve—that has the foundation to understand herself and to recognize and investigate her world—has access to a truly full life, unprecedented in history, unencumbered by borders and boundaries.

A Polis World School student working with Montessori wooden puzzle map materials to learn about global geography

Polis offers a program focused on developing these executive functioning skills, creating students who are at home in the world.

Executive functioning is the mind’s fundamental ability to control itself. The child—and adult—with developed executive functioning skills can exert conscious control over his thoughts and actions in a way that tremendously amplifies their power. He has an ability to focus, concentrating on a chosen task through distractions and challenges. And he has the ability to make choices that reflect his full understanding of the situation and full range of values, rather than be lured to action (or inaction) by momentary impulses.

At Polis we help children develop self-mastery and agency in a way that lasts—and so that it will manifest fully in today’s world, informed by timeless thought and ready for timely action. Our program rests on four pillars:

  • The Montessori method, a pedagogical approach focused on independence and filled with direct practice of grit, persistence, practical know-how, and intelligent choices
  • A classical knowledge curriculum focused on the intellectual foundations of global civilization—science, literature, art, and history—as well as a structured approach to writing skills and true quantitative fluency
  • Urban experiential learning that takes full advantage of being located in one of the great cities of the world, with a discovery learning school environment that integrates regular trips out into the city
  • Mandarin language program options that offer a chance to develop bilingual thinking, giving the twin gifts of direct access to a whole new realm of culture and opportunities, and access to a whole new perspective on one’s own mind and expression

At Polis, your child will practice real life choices in both highly designed educational environments and culturally rich natural urban ones, all while joyously learning a sequence of history, science, grammar, math, and foreign language opportunities. It’s a program where children learn how to illuminate every corner of their minds, developing deep, lasting knowledge and skills that undergirds insatiable curiosity, confident know-how, and an impassioned work ethic.

 

Montessori

Polis programs feature a high-fidelity implementation of the Montessori method. We offer a highly structured learning environment, in which your child will be highly autonomous. This combination—high structure and high autonomy—is at the heart of what makes Montessori such a uniquely effective system.

The Montessori approach to education was developed a century ago by Maria Montessori. Montessori was an Italian doctor and educational visionary who took on the task of educating some of society’s poorest and seemingly least-able children. Drawing from then emerging insights in learning theory and developmental psychology, Montessori created a methodology that was so impactful that her students greatly surpassed well-off students in traditional early education programs. In every respect—self-control, manners and sociability, and academic learning—children in Montessori environments flourished and advanced in dramatically evident ways. Over the last hundred years her timeless practice has been refined.

Polis World School shelves, with materials well-prepared for student learning

Each of these materials, once presented by an adult guide, can then be used independently by the students, allowing students to actively select and practice their own work. Each morning is marked by an uninterrupted three-hour work period, where students to engage with their selected learning materials for extended periods, developing their ability to concentrate and purposefully direct action.

Polis World School elementary students working together

Adult guides (and, at elementary levels, the students themselves) track their own progress and choose areas of focus within an optimized framework of outcomes. Because the work is chosen by the student, she is naturally motivated to put in sustained effort, which further develops her capacity to take pride and joy in his own efforts and achievements. And because the work is grounded in a rigorous sequence of learning manipulatives, the student’s work results in learning high-value content, honing foundational skills, and developing healthy habits of mind and being.

The freedom in a Montessori classroom—the choice, the individualized pace, the drive towards practical and cognitive independence—represents direct practice of executive functioning skills, of awareness and mastery over one’s mind and body.

A Classical Knowledge Curriculum

Nothing empowers the mind, and the human life it serves, like profound, systematic knowledge. Polis offers the opportunity to explore, acquire, and be perennially informed by a truly foundational and knowledge-rich academic curriculum.

Even starting at 3 years old, children are engaged with sensorial learning manipulatives that teach the rudiments of calligraphy and handwriting, and that implicitly convey the key concepts of the decimal system. These sensorial exercises ground lessons all the way through the end of elementary that teach, e.g., advanced writing, structured techniques such as sentence diagramming and multi-stage editing, and mathematical competency in areas like algebra and constructive geometry.

Montessori Geometric Solids material at Polis World School

Every activity is selected not only on the basis of the fundamentality of its contribution to a logical sequence, but also the density of out-of-the-classroom knowledge and experiences it makes accessible.

In science the approach is discovery-driven, channeling the natural curiosity of students into a penetrating scientific mode of thought. In the course of learning the basic underpinnings of the natural world, students also learn how to carefully observe and extrospect, how to hone initial puzzlement into profound questions, how to generate and test hypotheses, and how to hold in mind and assess multiple competing explanations.

A Polis World School student in the science area

History and literature focus on understanding human civilization and human nature. Young children are exposed to different cultures—inside and outside the classroom—and these lessons gradually transition into a chronological study of Western and Chinese history. The historical scope and sequence extends from ancient times up through the modern era. It is focused on intellectual history, on the philosophical ideas that waxed and waned and drove human advancement. Literature offers a chance to study similar ideas, but in the context of particular human lives including one’s own. The Polis literature program is a progressively demanding Socratic course in reflection, moral reasoning, and character development that iterates on basic human themes, and that is informed by the study of language and stories from the master poets and authors of the ages.

Polis students in a reading area.

In all areas, the curriculum is sequenced so that each stage in learning represents real, independent understanding on the part of the student. This ensures that they aren’t just memorizing rules or learning to a test, but that their knowledge represents a real exercise of their mind, one that will stick with them through future lessons and through the rest of their lives.

 

The World is Your Classroom

Polis takes full advantage of being situated in in the cities of the world. Polis has two campuses in Manhattan, one coming soon to Toronto, and more coming over the years to major international urban centers. Each of these cities is a priceless learning opportunity for developing students.

A Polis field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Polis students take weekly excursions out into the city. World-class institutions for learning, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum, feature resources that are baked into the design of our science and art appreciation programs.

Our elementary students learn to research and organize excursions themselves. We offer resources and guidance to each Polis students as she simultaneously develop independent interests, and master the ability to independently pursue them. Our students become adept at navigation, logistics, financial planning, and street smarts as they organize their own excursions to shows, libraries, museums, restaurants, and other cultural centers.

Montessori classrooms are a prepared environment, carefully curated to allow each student to flourish, grow, and learn. The city itself is a decidedly unprepared environment, offering a slice of the chaos, richness, and value of life in our complex global civilization. At Polis, we give students both. The city provides an experiential and curricular richness to the curated school environment, and the school provides a structure for and a harbor within the vital energy of the city.

Polis World School students enjoying an excusion outside during the winter.

The Mandarin Language

Students enrolled in the English classrooms at Polis receive a cosmopolitan cultural exposure, with a special emphasis on Chinese culture.

In addition, Polis offers opportunities for a deep learning of the Mandarin language. Students in our Mandarin language classrooms feature lead teachers“guides”) who are native Mandarin speakers and who fully integrate Mandarin into the daily classroom experience.

Our Children’s House and Toddler language classrooms have full immersion programs that take maximal advantage of young children’s sensitive period for language. Our elementary community has a bilingual language program that afford students the opportunity to gain mastery both of English and of Mandarin, getting lesson content and explicit language instruction in both tongues.

A Polis World School student matches pictographic representation of Chinese symbol to learn Mandarin

More than that, he’ll have a new perspective on his entire mind. In math, we teach children more than one way to solve a problem, as a way of ensuring that they think about what they are doing. We don’t want students to the methods and algorithms for granted and apply them as rote rules. We want them to have the ability to understand that math is a powerful, flexible tool that can be applied in novel and unexpected ways. Teaching a second language has the same effect—and since we clothe all of our thoughts in words, the effect extends to all of thinking. Students gain a profound understanding of how language and thought themselves are powerful, flexible tools that can be applied in novel and unexpected ways. They learn to not take language for granted, but to take command of it and to fully put it in service of their minds.

There is evidence from psychology, neuroscience, and education research that fluency in a second language has a significant impact on executive functioning. So Mandarin is doubly a gift for Polis students: it opens up new vistas of Chinese culture, and opens new vistas in the very stuff of thought.