The next generation

Published 12:20 am Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mary Helen Singleton, hard at “work” at Montessori School of Washington, practices matching pictures to, and sounding out, words. The head start on reading is one of the ways the school prepares its students for kindergarten. (Contributed Photo/Beth Buckman)

Montessori School celebrates 30 years

Walk into Child House 2 and the world seems to shrink around you.

Small-scale versions of chairs are tucked beneath knee-high tables. Countertops with working sinks are hazards to the shins. But for people 3, 4 or 5 years old, and for this classroom, miniature makes sense.

The Montessori School of Washington has been preparing preschoolers for their next school experience — kindergarten — for 30 years. More than 500 Beaufort County little ones have been dropped off by parents at the school on Highland Drive for their first classroom experience.

“The minute they walk in — they come in, hang their bookbags up and then they go to work,” said administrator Beth Buckman, describing a day in the life of a Montessori School preschooler.

“We have a system — they look in their cubby,” Buckman explained, pointing to the, again, knee-high nooks. “If they find a music note, they go to the music room. If they find an art palette, they go to the art room. Otherwise, they go to the regular classroom.”

According to Buckman, the 3- to 5-year-olds adapt easily to the Montessori system, in which they are taught that everything has a place, to respect their friends, materials and teachers and to work independently, self-paced or the with a teacher’s guidance.

“We follow the rules here,” said Buckman. “They thrive on it — they love consistency and routine.”

Even next door, in Child House 1, consistency and routine — two things not usually identified with 18-month to 2-1/2-year-olds — is evident as the young ones sit in a circle and join their teacher in their daily singing.

The toddler room is the domain of Sarah Grunniger, who taught middle school for 12 years before coming to the Montessori School.

“It never ceases to amaze me, what these little ones can learn,” Grunniger said. “They are just like sponges, absorbing everything.”

As stated in the school’s brochure, the school and school day are set up to stimulate a child’s natural desire to learn, some of those in obvious ways, like each child being able to choose his or her own work projects, or choose what medium he or she would like to most express themselves with in art class. Others are not so obvious, as in that the entire classroom and its materials are set up left to right, for organization as well as to familiarize the children with the left-to-right path the eyes follow when reading.

“Most of our 5-year-olds leave here reading,” said Buckman with pride.

At 30 years old, the Montessori School has taught many children to read, and is now starting to see the next generation show up ready to work.

“This is the year where, all of a sudden, we have students who are the children of former students,” said Buckman.

In celebration of the anniversary, the school has instituted a 30th-anniversary, “Burn the Mortgage” project, in which engraved bricks purchased by donors will be installed near the entrance of the school. Any leftover funds not used to pay off the mortgage will be used for future facility or playground improvements.

According to Buckman, the school is investing in the future facility and the future of the children it teaches.

“Our program is not just for the preschool,” she explained. “It’s for life.”