Local parents get a lesson in Montessori education

Supporters looking to integrate method into area public schools

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— Supporters of Montessori education in public schools used children's building blocks Saturday to lay a foundation of parental support.

The Montessori Steering Committee presented its vision for the future of Montessori education in public schools to the community.

The two-hour open house at the school district administration building included an introduction to the hands-on learning philosophy and provided interested parents with the answers they came looking for.

Lara Robinson wanted to learn more about the advantages of enrolling her 2-year-old in a Montessori preschool.

A Montessori environment encourages children of different abilities and ages to progress at their own pace.

The absence of competitiveness in a Montessori classroom appeals to parents, Robinson said.

She said she did not want her child to learn in an atmosphere that pushes students to be better than one another.

"I hated that as a public school child," she said. "I want her (her 2-year-old) to grow at her own pace."

Although many of the parents who attended the forum had children too young for preschool, they agreed it was never too early to begin thinking about their children's education and where the principles of Montessori might fit in that picture.

Montessori education directs students away from memorization and focuses on learning with all five senses.

Children in three different age groups, 3- to 6-year-olds, 6- to 9-year-olds and 9- to 12-year-olds, practice by doing.

They physically count with blocks, write with precut letters and express themselves with the help of pictures and plastic figurines.

The hands-on emphasis struck a chord with Chris Zuschlag, the father of a 20-month-old.

The benefits of giving children the keys to learn on their own last a lifetime, he said.

Zuschlag, who owns a landscaping business, said he sees too many job seekers who cannot solve problems on their own.

"They are book-smart people, but they don't have common sense," he said.

The Montessori method teaches children to be problem solvers, he said.

They are not just memorizing something they might forget as soon as they close the book, he said.

A Montessori preschool setting would provide his child with a structured learning environment, he said, unlike the loose structure of a day-care center.

"With this, the kids get a chance to play and learn," Zuschlag said.

The steering committee would like to see public Montessori education available to students by fall 2003.

But a substantial amount of work still lies ahead, including getting the district's go-ahead to integrate Montessori into the public schools, committee member Caroline Fisher said.

Proposals for integration include placing a single Montessori classroom at both Soda Creek Elementary and Strawberry Park Elementary or establishing a charter school.

Committee members want to make Montessori free and available to every child.

Because state funding is not available for preschool, the Steamboat Springs School District would charge tuition to its preschool students.

Whether parents choose to enroll their children in a Montessori classroom, giving parents a choice only improves their children's educational experience, said Harmony Harris, a teacher at Steamboat's only Montessori preschool, Yampa Valley Montessori Education Center.

"Regardless of the decision, if you're investing, everyone is benefiting," Harris said.

Susan Phillips said she thought her 4-year-old child would benefit from the Montessori experience.

The future of Montessori education in Steamboat Springs looks bright, she said.

"Our community is an ideal location," she said. "I think it will get a lot of support."

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