Walking down Fay Avenue, you can spot the La Jolla Village Montessori School by its bright blue and yellow facade. The school’s sunflower emblem greets people at the door and leads them inside a well-organized classroom, full of every imaginable learning tool.
When I walked in the door, many of the children looked up curiously, yet only for a moment. They seemed incredibly well-behaved, focused and engaged at the tasks in front of them. I voiced my impressions to the director of the school Joanne O’Neil. Joanne just smiled and told me that at her Montessori the motto is to “help me do it myself.” Children are engaged because they choose their own activity and have a multitude of options to explore.
The school is split into two almost identical classrooms. The right side caters to a younger group of 2 and 3 year olds, about eighteen students, and the left side has no more than twenty-four 4 to 6 year olds. Each side has shelves, mini chairs, tables, open carpet space and three teachers, all educated in Child Development and certified by the American Montessori Society.
These teachers believe it is important for children to learn about themselves by exploring their world. Each month the classroom hosts a new theme. Last month’s theme was geology. Then, the shelves were packed with geology related books, puzzles, toys and pictures. Students learned about the Earth through hands-on activities such as using a hard-boiled egg’s shell and yolk to represent the Earth’s crust and core.
In this Montessori environment, children are learning not only about their world, but taking care of the things around them. The backyard of the school has a patio, lots of grass and a playground structure. The school pets, several guinea pigs and a salamander, are housed under the patio. Students learn how to feed and groom the pets. They take care of gardens, growing organic veggies to feed the animals and even snacks for themselves. Joanne buys ladybugs to release in the garden to catch, monarch caterpillars to watch turn into butterflies, and earthworms to dig out of the soil.
I had walked in during work time. While some students were in individualized lessons with teachers, most worked independently or in small groups. Some students were even outside with one of Joanne’s older sons doing wood work. Students are able to pick from a variety of activities during work-time such as art, math games, yoga or using small utensils to pour, stir or scoop. All these exercises develop fine motor skills and concentration which indirectly prepare kids for reading and writing.
Joanne said that her role as the school director is to create an environment for children to learn social skills, grace, courtesy and problem-solving techniques. She is a strong follower of Maria Montessori, the founder of all Montessori schools nationwide. According to Montessori, Maria Montessori had a philosophy that “since every child is different and has different skills and needs for development…if an adult watches and listens carefully, the adult can prepare an environment in which a child can thrive.” Children are absorbent sponges who need to use all five sense in order to explore and learn. Maria Montessori saw her method of education as the way to “insure that adults in the future would be thoughtful, independent, clear thinking problem solving individuals who contribute to society in a meaningful way.”
Each Montessori school is personalized by its director. Joanne wants her students to absorb the beauty and importance of art, music and science. She has recently bought a multitude of keyboards for music lessons three times a week. She has incorporated science instruction about the brain and the body in partnership with Rendezvous Science Center. Children also receive art lessons next door at My Art Shed with Porscha Talbert.
“The environment I create is homey,” Joanne said, showing off her warm presence by introducing me to students who smile, hug, and seek out Joanne like chicks to their mother hen.
The outside patio is peaceful with a loving chair to groom and hold the guinea pigs and watch the garden grow. By the time I left, it was play-time outdoors. I was able to see first-hand the freedom of little minds set loose to explore. I left the school feeling refreshed and pondering the importance of such a well-rounded and individualized early childhood education.
La Jolla Village Montessori School follows the public school calendar. With Spanish instruction during regular school year, it also offers more intensive English as a Second Language classes in the summer. To learn more about this school and its programs visit our La Jolla Village Montessori School listing.