Montessori preschool celebrates next milestone

Published 6:58 pm Wednesday, September 21, 2016

For 35 years, the Montessori School of Washington has given parents and their young students another option for education.

It all began when Frances Ray spearheaded the effort to open a Montessori preschool in 1981, officially opening to students from its first location at First Presbyterian Church.

With the support of parents through the years, the school relocated to its facility on Highland Drive, and the building was purchased in 1993, thanks to the determination from about a dozen families.

At its 35-year mark, the school is now celebrating a new era in its time of operation — with the mortgage recently paid off, any money given to the school is going straight toward renovations and updates to keep a good environment for students, according to administrator Sarah Gruninger.

Gruninger is still noticeably excited and passionate about the Montessori way of teaching, even after 15 years teaching and now leading the school.

“I’m very connected to this school,” she said. “The whole concept and just the philosophy — you can’t touch it.”

NEW AND OLD METHODS: A Montessori preschool student works with wooden spindles, a longtime method for learning how to count. (Sarah Gruninger)

NEW AND OLD METHODS: A Montessori preschool student works with wooden spindles, a longtime method for learning how to count. (Sarah Gruninger)

Divided into Child House 1 (for 1- to 2-year-olds) and Child House 2 (3- to 5-year-olds), every aspect of the classrooms is designed for a child, from the minimized sinks to the smaller workstations. The environment is one for independent learning, capitalizing on a child’s natural desire to learn, using old and new techniques, according to Gruninger.

She was quick to show off the old-school “word drawers,” which help to teach students to read as they first learn the sound of a letter and then how to connect letters into a word. Students also have a section dedicated solely to everyday activities, or practical learning, such as doing chores.

Whether it’s watching tomato plants grow outside or learning the very basics of music, the school’s activities operate on a routine and try to mirror a child’s capabilities at a particular age, Gruninger said.

Gruninger said keeping a Montessori preschool in operation is no small feat, as operations are supported solely through tuition and donations. Without dedicated parents and teachers, the school would’ve never survived, she said.

“They sacrifice other things so that their children can have a good start,” she said of the parents. “Children will do what you expect them to do. If you expect excellence, you will receive excellence.”

To commemorate the 35th year, the Montessori preschool is launching a “35 for 35” fundraiser, in which current families and alumni are asked to donate $35, or more, toward the school.

With those funds, Gruninger said she hopes to see the school continue growing in the right direction, building the foundation for successful adults.

“I get to see the children of children,” she said. “That is really, really neat.”