By Steve Guntli
Blaine’s first Montessori preschool opened its doors in late September, giving parents the opportunity to explore a unique early-learning option.
Peace Arch Montessori, located at 508 F Street in Blaine, is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Tim and Fawn Ventura, who set up their new school on the ground floor of their home.
One of the Venturas’ first challenges has been informing the public on just what a Montessori school is and how it differs from traditional education.
“I consider myself a fairly educated person, and even I wasn’t sure what it was at first,” Tim said. “But so far I think the community has really embraced it. They really like having more options here in Blaine.”
Italian doctor Maria Montessori first developed the method in the late 1890s. The method emphasizes freedom and self-directed work time as the key to learning. Children are encouraged to learn and play on their own, developing their own interests and setting their own schedules. In this way, the children learn to solve problems creatively, and learn to take initiative rather than just waiting for orders, Tim said.
Some of the Montessori method’s prestigious graduates include actor George Clooney, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and video game designer Will Wright (“The Sims”).
The Venturas first discovered the Montessori method when they were living in Phoenix, Arizona. They enrolled their then 2-year-old daughter, Sarah, at a Montessori school and were amazed at how well she was retaining letters and numbers for such a young child.
When they returned to Washington and enrolled Sarah, now 5, in a more traditional school, they began to see diminishing returns in her education.
“She spent a lot of time running around on the playground with other kids, which is great, and it’s really important,” Tim said. “But I noticed some of her numbers and letters were starting to slip away.”
The Venturas tried to enroll Sarah at a Montessori school in Ferndale, but the wait list was too long. Fawn has been working with kids for more than 10 years, ever since she immigrated to the United States from Thailand. After her positive experience in Phoenix, she’d begun focusing her studies on the Montessori method and finally earned her certification earlier this year from the Age of Montessori school.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’m certified, I’ve been wanting to do this for years, why don’t I open a school now?’” Fawn said.
Sarah is now one of five students already enrolled at Peace Arch Montessori. Since she is one of the older children in the program, which usually caters to kids from 2.5 to 6 years old, Sarah often provides guidance for some of the younger kids.
The Montessori method encompasses four avenues of learning: math, language, sensory and practical life. A student focusing on the practical life avenue may, for example, learn how to button buttons on a shirt, or how to pour a cup of rice into a bowl without making a mess.
Fawn stays near the children to observe and supervise, but she doesn’t interfere unless the student asks for help. Students nap when they’re tired and eat snacks when they’re hungry, but they are responsible for cleaning up their own nap areas and washing their own dishes at a small basin set up in the living room.
Fawn works with the students, with assistance from Tim’s mother, Bonnie Ventura, a local Blaine artist. In the meantime, Tim works out of his upstairs office, developing software and doing marketing for a real estate company, and helps out with the school by managing the business aspects.
“We don’t want people to think we’re against public school,” Fawn said. “Public school is really important for a child’s social development. But for pre-K kids like this, Montessori can work wonders.”
Once Sarah is old enough, the Venturas plan to enroll her back into the public school system and have her continue to learn and help with the Montessori school in her free time.
In the meantime, Fawn is hoping to expand the school’s student body, and is working on getting her certification in the Montessori method for 6- to 12-year-olds.
For more information, visit peacearchmontessori.com.