A school of her own

Cindi Dinkler created a Montessori school in the basement of her Port Washington home. Photo by Sam Arendt (Lower photos) DAN DINKLER, with help from friends, turned he and his wife Cindi’s basement into a classroom setting so Cindi (above) could run her Montessori school. Right, a student worked on a sensory activity called the pink tower extension. TWO STUDENTS at Cindi Dinkler’s Montessori school did a reading activity together this fall. Top photo by Sam Arendt, others by Cindi Dinkler

Cindi Dinkler wasn’t one who wavered in her choice of careers.

Her grandmothers, aunts and brother all went into education, and her mother taught kindergarten and her father junior high and high school music.

“It’s kind of in my blood,” Dinkler said. “I’ve always been drawn to it. I love to teach. I love to help somebody grow.”

But small business owner? That was a different subject.

Dinkler’s passion led her to run her own school. She started Mimi’s Montessori this fall out of her Port Washington home.

She had been an assistant at the Appleton Public Montessori School and last

year was lead teacher at Royal Montessori Academy in Green Bay.

Dinkler and her family moved from Appleton to Port last year due to her husband Dan’s job — he’s a pastor at Alliance Bible Church in Mequon and the pianist for middle and high school choirs in Port — and Dinkler had an idea.

She wanted to run her own Montessori school. Her husband wasn’t so sure at first.

“He wasn’t on board right away, but especially last year when I was a lead teacher in a Montessori school, he saw how much I enjoyed it, and my eyes were really bright when I came home from school,” Dinkler said.

Dan and some friends redid the basement of the Dinklers’ Port home so Cindi could run her school. She was excited to get started teaching, but that came after dotting some i’s and crossing some t’s.

“Getting licensed and paperwork and jumping through hoops — that’s not my favorite part,” she said. “I’d rather work with the kids.”

She had worked with several students besides her experience with the Montessori schools.

“I raised nine kids. I homeschooled a lot of those years,” Dinkler said.

Her oldest child was homeschooled all the way through, and her youngest not at all — “I petered out halfway in between,” Dinkler said. Her younger children attended traditional and charter schools in Appleton.

“When my kids were gone I didn’t feel like I was done,” she said.

Then came grandchildren. Dinkler has nine boys.

“My grandkids were going to school, and I wanted to go with them,” Dinkler said.

Using the Montessori philosophy when she opened her own school was a given. It closely aligns to how she taught her own children.

“It’s very individualized. It’s student led, so in a Montessori classroom it’s more focused on setting up the environment,” Dinkler said. “Dr. Montessori believed that a child will teach himself if they have the right direction and right materials.”

That’s how Dinkler set up her school.

“Instead of getting 20 children to do the same thing, the classroom is set up so they can work on their own and learn the things they need to learn to progress,” Dinkler said.

“There’s a focus on the child gaining independence and confidence. There’s a lot of order and beauty in the Montessori classroom. It’s very intentional. The children learn to be responsible for themselves and their learning and their environment.”

Dinkler has six of her maximum of eight spots filled. Three students are 3 years old, one is 4 and two are 5.

“Younger ones learn from the older ones, and the older ones learn to be leaders,” Dinkler said.

Two students are her grandchildren, “so that’s pretty special,” she said.

The school meets from 8:15 to 11:15 a.m. without scheduled breaks or recesses.

“With the other schools that I’ve worked in, once you get past the morning work period, it’s lunch, recess or playtime. My focus is on learning. It’s a school, it’s not a day care,” Dinkler said.

The three-hour work cycles, as they’re often called in Montessori schools, offer a range of activities found in trays or on baskets on shelves.

“It’s my job to introduce them to the work,” Dinkler said, after which students function independently.

“They just keep going. If they need a break, they take their own break.”

Dinkler has a play area for students to relax, and they may choose to eat a snack at a table.

As a result, contradictory perceptions have developed about Montessori schools.

“‘Oh, that’s a school where children can do whatever they want,’” Dinkler said, while others say, ‘“Oh, that’s a school that’s really strict.’”

The reality is it’s a little of both.

“There’s order and children are taught that,” Dinkler said, “but there’s freedom within there.”

Among the curriculum’s priorities is teaching real-life skills and hand-eye coordination. One of the activities on the shelves is pouring water into containers. Other include using tongs, scissors or tweezers, and sewing is an option.

“They have to be taught so many things. We have to assume that children don’t know how to do anything. Instead of being frustrated when they’re running or yelling or crying because they didn’t get their way,” Dinkler said, they are taught grace and courtesy lessons.

Skills include how to interrupt — instead of saying, “‘Miss Mimi,’” students are taught to come and put a hand on her and wait. They are also taught how to sit in and push in a chair and close a door, and Dinkler has a “peace branch” that children use to tell someone what they didn’t like about a certain behavior and how to make it better.

Students also take ownership of their classroom. They clean up and are taught how to wash and dry dishes and fold towels. Everything is child-sized to make it easier, Dinkler said.

“It’s their classroom, and they work in it and take care of it. It’s their little place,” Dinkler said.

The classroom has only one of everything, which is intentional. Students are taught to wait their turn and be patient and respectful of others, Dinkler said.

“It’s OK if you’re not first. It’s even OK if you’re last,” she said.

Not everyone saw it that way when school began.

“At the beginning of the year there were downright tantrums,” Dinkler said. “But they’re growing. Nobody throws a fit anymore. Sometimes, they get a little sad but they get over it really fast.”

One of the standards of a successful Montessori school, she said is, “We’ve done our job if we didn’t show up and the children would still know what to do. We’re teaching them independence.”

Dinkler said she doesn’t have an issue with traditional schools, but she has no interest in teaching 20-some students who may be at different levels to do the same thing. She would rather concentrate on the individual.

Dinkler has an English degree and is finishing a master’s degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She loves to read and said she has to hold herself back from encouraging that subject too often, although “I give little nudges as much as I can.”

She keeps the big picture in mind.

“We’re teaching the skills that are laying a foundation for academic success — more impulse control and coordination,” Dinkler said.

“There is a curriculum that we guide them through and of course we want to make progress in that, but the growth of the child is more important than anything we cover in the curriculum.”

For more information, visit www.mimismontessori.com.



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