Celebrating 100 years of Montessori

Cottage Montessori owner Kay Gapp uses flash cards to demonstrate the children’s knowledge of famous places as instructor Jeanna Harris looks on. - Photo by Rachel Brant
Cottage Montessori owner Kay Gapp uses flash cards to demonstrate the children’s knowledge of famous places as instructor Jeanna Harris looks on.
— image credit: Photo by Rachel Brant

One hundred years ago, Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy, developed the Montessori method of education.

Today, many educators continue to use this unique method to brighten the minds of young children everywhere.

Kay Gapp comes from a family of teachers, so it was no surprise she entered the profession as well.

Gapp owns the Cottage Montessori School in Silverdale. The school cares for about 20 children, ages 3 to 6. Three teachers, including Gapp, work with the children on a daily basis.

“My ambition is that a child’s first experience at school is positive and rewarding,” Gapp said.

The preschool and kindergarten-aged children work side-by-side. Students complete individual work along with some group activities.

“The preschool and kindergarten children are all in the same room and each working on different skill levels, not depending on their age, but on their interest at that time,” Gapp said.

The children are permitted to choose the subjects they would like to learn more about. The teachers then assist the children in the learning experience by offering assignments related to the subject area. In Montessori, these periods of interest in a particular subject are known as “sensitive periods.”

“These periods are when the child is receptive and has a peaking interest in any subject, being math, language or geography,” Gapp said.

Gapp, a self-proclaimed “geography nut,” incorporated her passion in the children’s studies for the month of May. Throughout the month, the children learned about the Great Lakes, continents, oceans and “anything you want to know about Northwest crabs.”

“The Montessori curriculum is creative and challenging,” Gapp said. “The 4- and 5-year-olds are working on the Olympic Mountain range, United States maps as well as names and shapes of land and water forms in the Pacific Northwest.”

The Montessori method uses hands-on manipulatives to foster learning. Eighty percent of the activities at the Cottage Montessori School are hands-on manipulatives, according to Gapp.

“Every piece of equipment, every exercise, every method (Maria) Montessori developed was based on what she observed children to do ‘naturally’ by themselves, unassisted by adults,” Gapp said.

Activities such as the “golden beads” and the “tower” are “self-corrected” works. These tasks allow children to repeatedly work on the assignment until it is done correctly.

“They (tower blocks) only go in one spot, but the children do it until they get it right,” Gapp said.

The Cottage Montessori School also has a private tea room. The children are permitted to invite an adult to the school for tea. The pair enjoys a private hour-long tea party. The tea party ends with the children washing the dishes and cleaning up after themselves.

“The tea room is an extension to the classroom in the daily practice of grace, courtesy and good manners,” Gapp said. “The children are just at the peak of politeness.”

The Cottage Montessori School is located on Schold Road in Silverdale. It overlooks the Clear Creek Trail and several acres of a bird sanctuary. To the delight of the children, a deer family occasionally visits the school in the spring.

The Montessori school was formerly located in Old Town Silverdale. Gapp and several family members built the new school three years ago.

“I have a wonderful job,” Gapp said. “It’s a job every teacher deserves, the freedom to teach without politics.”

Gapp first became exposed to the Montessori method of education when her sister enrolled her son in a Montessori school. Gapp soon enrolled her two children in a Montessori school as well.

“Maria Montessori was in many ways ahead of her time,” Gapp said. “She understood that all children, whether they have strengths or challenges in particular areas of learning, need their own time to master it.”

Gapp has been teaching for 16 years and still enjoys seeing the joy on the children’s faces after learning new things.

“You get to teach them so much about the world,” Gapp said. “The light bulbs are always going off and it’s a joy to see.”

Maria Montessori probably never dreamed her method of education would become so successful, but 100 years later, teachers like Gapp continue to use this educational method.

“Every Montessori school is the living legacy of this educational breakthrough,” Gapp said. “Montessori works for every child no matter who they are or where they come from.”

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