Before arrivals even begin, the children who participate in early day activities are abuzz, knowing that today is Wednesday and Wednesday means Mr. Bob is coming. Mr. Bob, or Robert Kleinfelder is one of number of older adults from the local retirement community who are senior volunteers in Seton Montessori School, Illinois, United States. Read Head of School, Jennifer Nolan’s blog about the experience here.
A group of assiduous students go out to carry in the larger armchair that serves as Mr. Bob’s perch for his weekly, one-hour visit in the classroom. Before anyone knows it a line of smaller “waiting” chairs have been cued alongside. This is where the children will gather eagerly to wait for their turn to read to Mr. Bob. Sometimes the line grows to as long as six or eight child-sized chairs, as anyone who is a “reader” longs for this special time shared with our celebrity guest.
Everyone’s spirits are lifted with the goodness of this shared experience. As a parent heads off to work with a smile on her face as she delightfully exclaims on her way out, “The children are already lining up for Mr. Bob!” And we are still an hour out from his arrival. Those esteemed guest chairs signify an opportunity, a bridge, a relationship, and an intergenerational learning experience that touches the core of who we are as people. This is what Wednesdays look and feel like for us at Seton Montessori School.
Mr. Bob is just one of several guests from the local senior retirement community who come to volunteer to listen to children read each week. This partnership, which began a few years ago, treasures and connects these community elders with children who are delighted and inspired by meaningful interactions with adults of all ages.
“I just love to come and spend time in the classroom with the children. It’s fun to watch them run about, especially because I can’t run anymore,” quipped the infamous “Mr. Bob”, Robert Kleinfelder. “It is amazing what they can do at just five years of age. Their teachers are amazing too. I look forward to coming every week… and I even get a snack!”
Intergenerational learning is a natural fit with the Montessori approach. Each Montessori learning community is comprised of multi-age groupings, most typically in the three-year age spans that correspond with the planes of development that Italian physician and educator, Dr. Maria Montessori developed. This model, which mirrors life in a family, helps children gain confidence in and develop compassion for the idea that we all have something to learn and we all have something to teach. Learning with and from people with differing abilities and life stages is a rich part of daily living in Montessori schools. Participants in this collaborative approach, from children to faculty to parents and other adult mentors, are broadened in their mindset on learning and recognize that it can beautifully take place up and down generational lines.
As former Senior Editor for LION Magazine, the publication for the Lions Club International organization, and co-author of the book Lion’s Club in the 21st Century, language is in Bob’s blood and I’d like to think that working with children in early language learning resonates with his soul. What I know is that his engagement, and that of his peers, with the children at our school illuminates the path of life-long learning for our students and faculty. We gain mutual energy and life from each other. And while Mr. Bob now arrives with a walker, his mind is bright and his spirit even brighter, and we are all better because of Wednesdays.
To contact Jennifer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Seton Montessori School was founded in 1965 and is a lab school for the Seton Montessori Institute, a Montessori teacher and administrator education program based in Clarendon Hills, Illinois. Accredited by the American Montessori Society (AMS) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), Seton Montessori School serves children from infancy through 12 years of age.