In the News

A Lesson in Montessori

December 30, 2007, Lexington Herald-Leader

There are no desks in this school. No designated nap or snack times either.

Math lessons often revolve around beads. One way children learn geography is by listening to foreign music. And pupils need not ask permission to use the bathroom.

Welcome to Creative Montessori, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary next month. Although the school has a Nicholasville address now, it was established at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Clays Mill Road in Lexington in 1998.

"I named it Creative Montessori because some people tend to interpret Montessori very rigidly," said director Susan Vorhis.

Students here are exposed to art and drama, and with 15 students and three teachers, it is the smallest of the Montessori schools that serve Lexington. Most are in the central part of the city. Creative is in the basement of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, just across the Jessamine County line, and is the only Montessori within 2 miles of south Lexington.

Providence Montessori, which opened in 1965, is the oldest in Lexington. Since then, interest in Montessori has been growing, with a middle school opening in 1996 after parents from Providence, Lexington Montessori, Versailles Montessori and Community Montessori formed a corporation and retained a teacher. Now the seventh- and eighth-grade middle school is on Audubon Avenue and has 60 students and five teachers. The middle school is set to move to 13 acres of land on Stone Road.

"There's just a continued interest, and a lot of times it's by word of mouth," said Diane Lentz, who heads Southern Hills Montessori, which has been in town for more than 30 years. "It's so popular in other, larger cities that we get a lot of people moving into town that are looking for a strictly Montessori program."

Tuition at Creative Montessori is $3,240 a year for preschool and $4,140 yearly for kindergarten. During one recent morning at Creative, one pupil is working with boxes, arranging them from smallest to biggest near the math area. A peer nearby crouches over a set of what looked like salt shakers, holding them to his ear and listening. A 3-year-old girl decorates pink Christmas stockings, and near her, a classmate is writing.

A light switch goes on and off, no words are spoken, the children all pull themselves away from their activities and gather on a rug. First it's Jingle Bells. The students sing along, a few snapping their fingers together, one slapping his legs to the rhythm. Now it's time for another song.

Marisa Nicholson, 4, has a suggestion.

"The fa-la-la-la-la song," she says.

There are areas of the room designated for various subjects, such as geography with maps of the United States, other countries and continents. The language corner includes stacks of sandpaper letters for pupils to begin sounding out the alphabet, and more rigorous language puzzles for children at a more advanced level. At Creative and all Montessoris, children of various ages interact with and guide one another. Teachers refer to themselves as guides.

Those are the principles behind the method of education founded by Maria Montessori, a 19th-century physician from Italy who believed that children teach themselves.

"One misconception is that Maria Montessori teaches a free-for-all -- run around, do whatever you want," said Beckey Breeze, whose 5-year-old, Shelby, is in her third year at Creative. "If you give children choices in an environment that everything that you choose is a positive learning tool, what would be so wrong with choosing yourself?"

This year also is the 100th anniversary of the Montessori form of education. The first school opened in 1907 in Italy.
"All the research in education that's been done in the past 20 years is pointing out that (in) classrooms, you need less instructional mode, you need fewer workbooks and fewer worksheets, you need fewer one-way transmission of information from the teacher to the children, and you need more student collaboration and more individualized instruction and more cooperative learning among students," said Marilyn Stewart, president of the American Montessori Society. "We're talking about research not done by a Montessori organization, but done by leading educational research institutes in the country."

Elena Dapp drives more than an hour from Morehead to bring her son Robin, 5, to Creative Montessori. A Montessori school in Morehead closed, which is why she travels so far. Dapp said she makes the effort because her son has been transformed by the Montessori method.

"Before he got here, he wasn't organized," she said. "He spilled all his toys everywhere."

Now, Robin works on one thing at a time and finishes it, she said. She also plans to send her son Kevin, 3, to Montessori schools.

Kimberly Browning sent her two older boys to Creative, and now they attend Stonewall Elementary. When asked how her sons are doing in public school, she doesn't hesitate: "Straight A's."

When Christopher, now 11, entered Stonewall in the first grade, he had already learned everything covered in that grade at Creative Montessori, Browning said. Browning's younger son, Jeremy, 4, is now in kindergarten at Creative.
Vorhis said her goal for the next 10 years is to keep her school small. She wants to offer an intimate setting and wants to retain three Montessori-trained teachers.

"We offer a good program," she said.