On a recent weekday morning, eight preschoolers at Montessori Children’s House of Laramie sat quietly in a circle watching their teacher, Samantha Wilkins.
After finishing a song, they waited as she dismissed each student in turn to put on their shoes and jackets for recess. A few moments later, they were running laps around the grassy lawn outside the school, laughing and climbing play equipment as leaves dropped off nearby cottonwoods.
Montessori Children’s House of Laramie, now starting its third year of operation, is a private, non-profit preschool that follows the Montessori philosophy of education. The preschool is a separate entity from Laramie Montessori Charter School, a public charter school, although both were founded by Friends of Laramie Montessori.
“We have great educational opportunities in Laramie, and Montessori offers an additional one,” said board member Carol Kobulnicky.
The Montessori method of education was developed by Italian physician Maria Montessori in the early 1900s, based on her observations of children. The method is child-centered, with the classroom arranged to allow students to follow their interests according to their personal learning styles.
Wilkins, the head of school, said a typical day at the preschool starts with students putting their belongings away as they arrive before settling in for a two-hour work period.
“Maria Montessori really believed that children need two hours of work time to help them get into that routine and into that deep focus, and that’s really where the learning happens,” she said.
During their work period, students can choose to work with materials organized into areas such as math and language, practical life and cultural subjects. They’re free to work with any material once they’ve received a lesson for that specific piece from the teacher.
“They get to decide what to do, but they know how to do it because they’ve been given a lesson,” Wilkins said.
Materials are designed to develop concentration, coordination, order and independence. Kobulnicky said the method also promotes collaboration rather than competition and fosters a child’s intrinsic desire to learn.
“I think every kid has that in them, but when we give them a lot of external motivation, it can detract from that,” she said.
During the work time, students are free to take a break for a snack, which they serve themselves. Afterwards they clean up and wash their dishes. Two students at a time sit at the snack table together.
“It provides a great opportunity to learn how to be social and how to have a conversation over a meal,” Wilkins said.
Students also have a chance to resolve conflicts on their own by meeting at a vase with a plastic flower in it, known as the peace rose, to take turns discussing their disagreement and how to fix it.
Following the work period, students gather for a meeting, during which they sing songs and work on kindergarten readiness skills, such as letters and sounds.
Kobulnicky said having the option of a Montessori preschool in Laramie was an important asset in a university town that draws residents from around the country and the world. The method is known internationally and is a program that some families seek out.
“I had someone say that one of the reasons they decided to come (to Laramie) was the Montessori community,” Kobulnicky said. “That was one of the deciding factors.”
The Montessori Children’s House, located at 607 S. Fourth Street, got up and running with help from a Daniels Fund grant. The school is run by a volunteer board and is open for half-day, school-day and full-day enrollment.
The Montessori Preschool Scholarship Program, which was started a year ago by Friends of Laramie Montessori, has a need-based scholarship that is still available for the current school year.