Raising Children of the World
An Education for Students Aged 3 to 11
Today's world is flush with global opportunities. It is a playground of innovation, culture, and connection for the adult with the right skills and frame of mind. The individual that can focus, self-regulate, and problem-solve—that has the foundation that she needs to understand herself and to recognize and investigate the world around her—has access to a truly full life, one unencumbered by borders and boundaries.
Polis offers a program focused on developing precisely these executive functioning skills, creating cosmopolitan thinkers and actors. 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 executive functioning 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. Both our early childhood and elementary programs rest 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-based learning environment that integrates regular trips out into the city
Mandarin language programs 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
Taken together, these facets add up to a program in which children 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, mastering a second language, and more. It's a program where children learn how to illuminate every corner of their minds, developing deep, lasting knowledge and skills that ensures that the curiosity, lust for life, and work ethic that they develop at Polis will become an enduring part of their character.
Polis programs feature a high-fidelity implementation of the Montessori method, an approach that creates a highly structured learning environment that allows students to be equally highly autonomous. This combination—high structure and high autonomy—is what is missing from other educational paradigms, and 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.
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. The classroom structure and schedule is set up to leverage this seemingly simple action to great advantage. 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. 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, he is naturally motivated to put in sustained effort, which further develops his 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. That is exactly what the Polis program 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. 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.
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, and 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.
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 Mandarin Language
Polis offers focused, deep learning of the Mandarin language. All of our classrooms feature lead teachers (“guides”) who are native Mandarin speakers and who fully integrate Mandarin into the daily classroom experience.
Our Children's House 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.
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, that they don't take the methods and algorithms for granted, that they 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—but since we clothe all of our thoughts in words, it has this effect not just on one subject, but on all of thinking. Students gain an understanding that 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 tremendous amount of 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.
For Students Aged 3 to 6
The Montessori Children's House at Polis World School is an authentic Montessori program for children between 3 and 6 years of age.
The Montessori approach to education was developed a century ago by Maria Montessori. Drawing from emerging insights in learning theory and developmental psychology, Montessori created an educational approach that was a marked improvement over traditional early education programs in every respect: self-control, manners and sociability, and academic learning. (Read more about its history on our program overview page.)
The Montessori preschool represents a highly developed model for education children in a way that is both fully child-led, allowing them to make real choices and practice independence, and highly academically rigorous, offering children a structured sequence of lessons and materials on everything from language to self-care to math to culture.
Polis's implementation of Montessori also includes full Mandarin immersion. Students learn Mandarin by exposure from a lead guide who delivers Montessori classroom instruction with Montessori materials purely in native Mandarin.
The result of three years in a Polis classroom is a 6-year-old with persistence and concentration, a high degree of independence, an academic foundation that is both wide and deep, a real facility with the Mandarin language—and the hard-earned confidence, excitement, and growth mindset that comes from the systematic, full exercise of one's mind.
Polis's Children's House program features:
High-fidelity Montessori with freedom of movement and choice, long uninterrupted work periods, and mixed age classrooms
A foundational curriculum that is developmentally sequenced, culturally rich, and instills the foundations of analytic and scientific thinking
Full Mandarin language immersion that takes maximum advantage of native-speaking Mandarin Montessori guides, the multi-modal Montessori curriculum, and the child's sensitive period for language
Excursions into Manhattan, starting with parks and playgrounds and ending with cultural outings with the elementary students
Polis applies the highest globally recognized Montessori standards to each Children's House classroom, from the training of the guides to the selection of curricular materials to the schedule and culture of the classroom.
Each Montessori classroom is carefully prepared so the preschool-aged child can feel and be truly at home. The furniture is sized for the child, the shelves and wall art are at her height, and the physical space itself is kept open and unobstructed to afford easy locomotion. This space is joyous for the children, but it is also critically pedagogically necessary: it is optimized for the independence of the students during their time at school, enabling them to move, to choose, set up and clean up their work, and to care for their own environment. Rather than play at doing these things, the environment is set up so that children can actually do them—naturally, as a default, and throughout the entire day.
In addition to learning from the classroom materials and guide, children in a Montessori classroom learn a tremendous amount from another. The Children's House is a mixed age environment, featuring a three year span of students, from 3 to 6 years old. This significant developmental span affords children a much richer set of social experiences than more age-segregated alternatives. Young children observe their older peers, who are much more capable than they are, not as a threat, but as a target for imitation and source of inspiration. Older children get to practice actual leadership, teaching younger children how to use classroom materials, how to successfully engage in basic practical life tasks, or even in emotionally reorienting a child who is upset or frustrated.
Finally, each Children's House guide has received training from the Association Montessori Internationale, the international gold standard in Montessori training. They are provided with a program of ongoing development, support, and oversight from seasoned Montessori experts to ensure that their practice is sharp and up-to-date.
The Foundations of Knowledge
Polis programs start imparting foundational knowledge and skills right from the beginning.
The youngest students in the Children's House start with sensorial materials designed to hone their observational skills. The ability to extrospect—to carefully observe, to notice perceptual relationships both subtle and gross, to actually take in the world through one's senses—is a real skill, part of executive functioning, and something every child can learn systematically. Through sorting activities that isolate increasingly complex sets of attributes, children learn this extrospection and comparison. And they are also, due to the brilliant design of Montessori materials, simultaneously acquiring an implicit foundation in the decimal system, in geometry, in algebra, in biology and geology, and even in the world of tools and technology: virtually every material in the Children's House classroom teaches specific fine motor skills that are critical for intelligent action, such as construction or writing, down the road.
For English literacy, Polis teaches a writing-first approach. Education research suggests, and the Montessori approach capitalizes on, the fact that in English encoding is easier than decoding. Students learn to associate phonemes with letters through a sequence of letter-tracing and writing activities, and then how to put those sounds and letters together into words with a movable alphabet. Third-year students who have been through a Montessori program are capable of not only reading stories but of writing their own.
In the Children’s House, children are exposed to rich and varied mathematical materials that build skills step-wise, reinforcing fundamental thinking skills at each stage. Each child works with the decimal system into the thousands, is exposed to addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—and through this develops a keen number sense, the foundation for a lifetime of quantitative and analytic fluency. For example, the golden bead materials introduce the child to the concepts of the decimal system, place value, quantity, and the four operations. Slightly more abstract and symbolic, the “stamp game” uses color-coded tokens to revisit the same four operations. Older children learn long division from the “racks and tubes,” where sets of beads allow them to literally divide a quantity that can represent numbers into the thousands.
Lastly, students in a Polis Children's House receive a curriculum in science and history that introduces them to the systematic study of the human and natural worlds. Children's early experiments with physical properties, land and water forms, natural objects, gardening, sorting, parts of animals, and parts of plants inspire them think scientifically—to question, to organize, to explain. A child’s work with puzzle maps, flags, cultural items and photographs to compare and categorize, together serve to introduce him to varied geographies and cultures, and represent the first steps on a path that will later lead to the study of history and flower into a cosmopolitan worldview.
Mandarin Language Immersion
All of Polis's Children's House environments are full Mandarin immersion environments, featuring a strong norm of full-time spoken Mandarin and integrated instruction in calligraphy and simplified characters.
The Montessori curriculum and pedagogy is extraordinarily well-suited to second-language instruction. The entire pedagogy is built around sensitive developmental periods, of which language is the paradigm. Exposing students to a second language between the ages of 3 and 6 is the ideal time to get the benefits of a second language; the mind of the Children's-House-aged student is particularly tuned to language acquisition.
Further, the Montessori curriculum is multi-modal, employing learning manipulatives that can be used and understood by demonstration in addition to language. Thus exposure to Mandarin and academic instruction can occur in parallel. The child's natural interest in the learning materials provides additional incentive to learn the second language, and their fascination with the second language deepens their interest in the materials.
Each lead guide is not only Montessori trained, but a native speaker of Mandarin; she offers the full suite of Montessori lessons in Mandarin, and conducts daily conversation and classroom management in Mandarin. The assistant teachers are also Mandarin-fluent.
The benefits of learning a second language are well-establishing in education research, and bolstered by psychology and neuroscience. Learning a second language bolsters executive functioning. It also, in the long-run, provides additional facility with one's native language; having two languages makes it easier to understand, by comparison, the structure and character of each.
The English language, particularly reading and writing, is taught by a Montessori-trained English-native teacher who rotates through the Children's House classrooms. She makes herself available to students as they are ready to progress with their writing. To protect the target language immersion environment, she is in the classroom as an exception rather than the rule and dealing with students one-on-one or in small groups, rather than the whole class.
For Students Aged 6 to 11
Polis's elementary program is truly unique. It is a mixed-aged Montessori community, with 1st through 5th graders learning alongside one another in a rich social environment. It continues the Montessori practice of highly individualized lessons and extended periods of concentrated work, and embeds within that framework a sequence of classical academic content in the humanities and the sciences. The elementary-aged student is hungry for structured, abstract thinking—for the whole edifice of human knowledge. Polis's elementary program satisfies that appetite and then some, challenging students to grow their knowledge, their skills, and their character.
The elementary-aged child is also ready to fully appreciate the global education of Polis. The program leverages Manhattan through a series of experiential learning opportunities, including opportunities for the older children to spearhead researching and organizing class excursions into the city. And the elementary program continues with Mandarin language exposure, offering a bilingual program, with language and content instruction in both Mandarin and English.
The Polis elementary student graduates with an unmatched exposure to international urban culture, facility with two of the most culturally and practically valuable languages in the world, and an internalized system of classical knowledge. She is well on the trajectory towards becoming a modern citizen of the world—independent, versatile, connected, aware, and confident.
A Montessori Community
Polis elementary students have a chance to interact with one another, to get individualized lessons from their teachers, or to find a space to work on their own. The elementary spaces feature the full range of elementary Montessori materials and substantial additional resources that make up our classical knowledge curriculum.
Like in Children's House, the range of ages also creates an unusually rich social experience, allowing students to naturally practice leadership, collaboration, and peer learning. As a student grows, she can take on more complex leadership tasks, and serve as a mentor, role model, and sometimes even a teacher for younger children. As students work together in small groups, or even choose to organize larger, whole-class projects, they learn to include others in decision-making, negotiate agreements, and accept accountability for commitments made to work partners.
Elementary-aged children are highly social, and creating a community that genuinely fosters peer learning across a wide range of ages not only develops social skills, but is highly motivating for the students, accelerating their academic learning.
Finally, the Montessori practice of uninterrupted work remains paramount in elementary. Polis's elementary programs feature a three hour period in the morning where students select and do work. The ability to do a deep dive is particularly important in a student's initial forays into abstract content. The more advanced elementary curricular material presents the students with their first opportunities to not just sustain concentration, but to sustain concentrated thought—complex, multi-step, conceptual, abstract thought, typically instantiated in complex symbolic representation. Persistence in thought is the lynchpin of being an independent adult capable of pursuing a variety of rewarding, meaningful paths in a variety of cultures internationally.
A Classical Curriculum
During these work periods, teachers present individual and small group lessons and materials, the content for many of which have been created or adapted by Polis faculty.
The curriculum offers a foundation of classical knowledge in each subject area: history, science, language, and math.
At Polis, human history is presented as a cohesive story, from the pre-agricultural societies up through modern global civilization. History is taught not as a list of dates and events, but as an almost literary narrative of human existence. By learning the origins of science, culture, and society, students learn to appreciate every aspect of it. They come to understand and appreciate the personalities and ideas that drove invention and innovation in all of these areas, and in so doing come to understand and appreciate their world.
For older children, an emphasis is placed on intellectual history, especially on the ideas behind movements and developments in Western and Chinese history. This approach affords students the opportunity to learn about the big ideas that are still at play in today's world, and to explore how they came to be and how they affected the course of human culture. Like literature, history offers yet a lens into understanding cause and effect in the human world—not inward and at a personal level, but outward and at a grand scale, and with real facts and sweeping events.
Students graduate from Polis elementary having acquired key concepts—in civics, world events, and even philosophy—that enable them to understand and approach the modern world. They are poised to continue learning about—and shaping—their global community over a lifetime.
Elementary students are hungry for explanations—for the why and the how of everything around them. The Polis elementary science program capitalizes and amplifies a student's natural curiosity, transforming it into an appreciation of the natural world and an intuitively held set of scientific habits of mind. Each child becomes an observant naturalist, an ardent experimenter, and an insatiable tinkerer.
Students study the foundations of biology, physics, chemistry, and geology by direct experience. The curriculum provide students with rich materials to explore—such as seeds in biology, or magnets and wires in physics—in structured lessons that furnish a bottom-up understanding of the natural world. Key areas of the student's world are taken and transformed into real knowledge, so that she walks away with understanding and a feeling of being in command of her surroundings.
These lessons are delivered in a way that inculcates the scientist's mindset. Students learn to extrospect and notice every detail, to manipulate and measure what they notice, to pose and to fully develop questions, to formulate hypotheses and to try and test ideas, and to use each bit of knowledge gained as an opportunity to notice something else and to begin the process anew.
Literature provides the elementary student with the opportunity to study human nature. The elementary student reads carefully-curated literature and explores themes in those works with her peers in literature circles. The elementary guide Socratically shapes these discussions to emphasize the relevance of characters, plots, and themes to each child's life—to the people around her and to herself, to universal human needs and dilemmas and choices that cut across times and cultures.
The outcome is students who not only love reading, who not only have an ability to appreciate the depth and wonder of challenging works of literature, but who have rich inner lives and strongly grounded moral character.
The Polis elementary classroom is furnished with a rigorous writing curriculum. Writing is infused into every subject area, with students learning everything from practical journal-writing, to analytical exposition, to creative writing.
Writing is treated first and foremost as an aid for thought. Students are motivated to write on curricular subjects that they find fascinating, and are carefully taught the elements of writing with Montessori materials and with lessons from the Institute for Excellence in Writing.
The result of this technical command over writing is that the student can direct her thought with increasing clarity and self-conscious intention—putting her thought into words and weaving her words into tapestries that represent cogent analyses, creative expressions, and eloquent, self-aware thinking.
Polis's elementary math program starts with concrete Montessori materials that enable students to directly explore, perform, and ultimately master advanced operations such as squaring, cubing, and multiplication and division well into the thousands and millions. Geometry is introduced early to provide a firm sensory, visual foundation for the concepts that will ultimately flower into full algebraic thinking. Younger elementary students use the Montessori bead materials to develop a number sense, to master the decimal system, and to seamlessly turn counting into advanced calculation.
Older students transition to expressing their mastery abstractly and symbolically by using Singapore math and Polis's proprietary math resources. The goal with these lessons, as with the concrete materials, is to build within each child true fluency with quantities and analysis. The lessons impart a combination of powerful traditional heuristics, a knack for mathematical exploration and discussion, and an ability to creatively visualize and analyze problems quantitatively.
When taught in this way, math imparts in a student powerful cognitive tools that profoundly shape her thinking, allowing her to not only solve mathematical problems, but to solve any problem by isolating independent factors, understanding relationships and dependencies, breaking down tangled complexities into steps, integrating steps into clean, powerful inferences, and confidently committing to and acting upon a well-validated conclusion.
Dual Language Environment
Polis elementary features content and language instruction in both English and Mandarin, roughly fifty-fifty.
The lead elementary guides are all fluent in Mandarin. They conduct daily language intensives in the morning, ensuring that students are getting the systematic practice they need to master the foundations and mechanics of the language. And they give spoken instruction and classroom communication in Mandarin, ensuring that the students have enough raw exposure to be on the path to fluency.
In addition to group lessons and to raw exposure, because the school is set up as a Montessori environment, language instruction can be highly individualized. Students receive individual or small-group Mandarin language lessons throughout the day, in the same manner that they receive their other lessons.
Reading is critical to the elementary curriculum, as it is what allows students the ability to do independent research and pursue their passions. Students learn to write and read both simplified characters and the Pinyin alphabet, which is critical for modern dictionary usage and digital text input.
English-fluent guides offer the English content of the class.
The New York Experience
Regular excursions are a core part of each child's learning at Polis. They are an opportunity to practice independence and street smarts, to learn how to organize outings in an urban environment and author their own learning experiences, and, most importantly, to access an array of rich educational opportunities that just aren't available in any classroom.
Polis takes full advantage of the fact that it's location in Manhattan—the perfect home base for a metropolitan education. Students study of the humanities is supplemented by the Met's world-class collections in historical, contemporary, and Chinese art. These collections concretize centuries of dynasties and radically differing worldviews in history, and offer a fine arts perspective on themes present in the study of literature.
New York is flush with opportunities to visit cultural and historical sites, from Ellis Island to massive libraries to historical sites in Five Points to architecturally groundbreaking skyscrapers to cultural and community centers that house tremendous diversity of thought and host compelling educational and cultural events. In addition, students are regularly exposed to traveling in the city—they go out and play in nearby parks daily, they eat lunch out regularly, and our teachers look for opportunities to host classroom guests that bring unique enrichment and expertise.
New York is a slice of the globe—it is a hub of international commerce and art, a nexus for immigration, and houses over 800 spoken languages—and Polis students get to reach out and touch all of that richness. They learn to treat the city—and by extension the world—as their schoolhouse.
A Parent and Child Opportunity
A Polis World School weekend program in Manhattan
Your child's early years establish the essential foundation of his or her personality, and are designed for your child to develop persistence, self-confidence, and self-direction. When parents work together with these natural tendencies, the child develops these ways of being with ease and joy. “Montessori Together” will help you to establish a strong foundation in the essential Montessori principles and practices that set the stage for a lifetime of connection with your child, and help you support your child to truly thrive.
Our Polis World School “Montessori Together” programs will give you an introduction to Montessori principles and practices that you'll enjoy using at home, and will expose your child to Mandarin, as well. While your child experiences Montessori learning in a pre-immersion environment, you'll learn simple yet profound keys that will support you to engage your child in interesting activities, help your child develop focus, and inspire your child's independent play skills. You’ll be amazed at just how much a young child is capable of as you watch your little one engage with Montessori activities!
“Montessori Together” classes are a special opportunity for your young child to:
Learn in a social setting
Build confidence in new situations
Experience Montessori activities that develop your child’s hand, brain, and essential executive functioning skills
Be exposed to a second language during a crucial period for brain development
Enjoy an outing with you!
At the same time, you will:
Develop a deeper understanding of your child and associated developmental stages
Gain confidence as a parent
Help you shift your focus from reactive to proactive parenting
Give you simple yet profound tools that will help you deepen your connection with your child, today and for years to come
Feel closer to your child!
Our Montessori Together workshops are currently on pause until the beginning of our school year. Stay in the loop so you'll be the first to know when registration begins!