PUBLISHED: 9:12 AM on Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Juneau Montessori School teaches life skills

Courtesy photo
  Children at Juneau Montessori School work together in an activity.
A recent study of Milwaukee schoolchildren published in the September issue of the journal Science highlights what supporters of Montessori education have believed for decades: that Montessori students might be better prepared academically and socially than students in traditional classrooms.

Among the findings: 5-year-old Montessori students had better reading, math and social skills than 5-year-old non-Montessori

children, and 12-year-old Montessori students wrote essays that were more creative and sophisticated than those by 12-year-old non-Montessori students.

Montessori education in Juneau has grown from humble beginnings: one Children's House (3-6 year olds) with 15 children 22 years ago to one Toddler Community, two Children's Houses, two Lower Elementary classes, one Upper Elementary and one Adolescent Program today. At any one time, 165 children are in a learning environment based on the teachings of Dr. Montessori.

The noncompetitive, stimulating environments result in fewer discipline problems and, in many cases, accelerated learning.

Things are, not surprisingly, fairly quiet here most of the time. Children stay busy with their work.

Everything is very hands-on. When children investigate a subject, they research it and experience it. They move at their own learning pace, which encourages independence.

The basic components of the Montessori curriculum are practical life, sensorial, math, and language, including care of the self, care of the environment, self-discipline, grace and courtesy. These practical life skills are meant to prepare the child for a Montessori environment, as well as for life at large. Montessori schools have mixed ages in each classroom. The younger children learn by observing the older ones with their work, and the older ones' knowledge is reinforced when they get to help a younger child.

Children can move about in an environment made up of everything their size. Low desks, tables and chairs and anything placed on the walls are at eye level for the children.

All materials are also child-size and some are even breakable, such as things made of glass, porcelain and pottery. This helps them learn to be careful with their environment and work with fragile objects and beings found in the real world, including animals and plants. In the spring and summer sessions, children care for a garden and grow cabbage, lettuce and potatoes.

Children learn to love the weather, no matter what its condition. Nationwide some educators are concerned about "nature-deficit disorder," but at Juneau Montessori, it's outside every day.

This not only has positive ramifications for kids' mental and physical well-being, but also for Mother Earth's.

And community interaction is central to the school. Every year children bake bread and deliver it to the Glory Hole. And they benefit from involvement of community members. Gardeners, weavers and businesspeople all volunteer to help make Juneau Montessori a stimulating place.

At Juneau Montessori School in Douglas monthly tuition is about $700, and about thirty percent of our students receive tuition assistance. There have four Montessori-certified teachers on site.

The major fundraising event to support Juneau Montessori School initiatives is our Hot Salsa Cool Ballroom winter dance celebration and auction. This year it's scheduled for Feb. 3, at Centennial Hall.

Salsa Borealis and The Thunder Mountain Big Band will play live music and simple dance instruction will be offered before the bands begin.

We're now accepting auction items, selling tickets to the event and we welcome new volunteers. For more information, call 364-3535.

One hundred years ago, Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy, opened the first school of its kind in Rome. Her goal was not only to help the minds of children develop to their fullest potential, but for the purpose to restructure society and bring about peace.

Montessori's method quickly spread through Europe, and in 1937 Montessori gave a series of lectures at the Danish Hall of Parliament called "Education for Peace." Although Montessori was forced to flee Italy for India after Italian dictator Benito Mussolini closed all of her schools, she didn't stop her mission. She wrote several books on the method, and she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1949 and 1950.

Now, Montessori schools are open worldwide. There are a variety of Montessori schools in Alaska and more than 5,000 throughout the United States and Canada.