I love to visit other Montessori Schools. Other schools provide the joy of seeing the familiar . . . “Oh look, there’s the pink tower” . . . with novel ideas that can inspire you to introduce new lessons and activities in your own school. Recently I visited Childlife Montessori School in Bellingham, and was welcomed with a big hug and beaming smile from Kathie Wilson, the founder and owner of the school. It was spring break, so I could not watch the classroom in action, but instead enjoyed an hour long, one-on-one visit with Kathie.
Some big ideas quickly emerged from our conversation and my observation of the environment. Number one was the strong feelings of love, joy and family. Kathie and her husband run the school together, with the assistance of their daughter, who has grown up in the school and will soon be a lead teacher. Throughout the years, the husband and wife team have shared duties, allowing them both time to be lead teacher and to assist one another, to parent their children, while also leaving time for their other passions and interests. They live next door – what a wonderful commute! Steve Wilson has also built the shelves and much of the furniture for the school. The school is part of who they are as a family and reflects their lifestyle.
Number two big idea was the passion for practical life. Not only were there many shelves devoted to practical life activities, but the school also had a woodworking shed, with child sized woodworking bench and tools, a large garden for growing vegetables to be donated to the local food bank and also animals, chickens and rabbits, that needed care. That’s a lot of invitations to work.
Number three big idea was the sharing of passions, interests and talents. Kathie has visited Kenya, and the children were involved in a study of life in Kenya. Steve is a skilled carpenter, and shares his love of woodworking with the third year students. Daughter Hannah is skilled in sign language, and teaches sign language to the children. Sign language is included on the peace pole at the entrance area to the school, showing its importance as a way to communicate.
Number four big idea is the love of the outdoors. The school is situated on an acre of wooded property. The classroom is surrounded by windows, so even inside, one feels in touch with the natural environment just outside. The use of natural materials inside, especially wood, reminds us of the trees outside.
Now on to the small details I loved. The side by side sinks near the snack area are so wonderful and useful. Children in a Montessori classroom wash their hands frequently and there is a constant need for water for many of the activities – food preparation, washing, painting, land and water forms, taking care of plants . . . I imagine friends enjoy washing hands side by side before eating snack together at the snack table built for two!
I loved a long, low window that overlooked the woods. Kathie told me that in the winter this area is set up as a bird watching station, with bird feeders just outside the window, a table and chair for one child, small binoculars and bird identification charts. How wonderful!
Who could drive by the school and not notice the eye-catching rainbow boat? This boat was donated to the school, and fixed up by one of the parents over one summer. I’m sure it now provides inspiration for so many games on the playground. The boat also reflects the importance of the Puget Sound to Bellingham. In Bellingham, you are never far away from water and boats.
Now I am inspired to look at our own school, the Montessori School of Pullman, and wonder what are our big picture ideas and small details that make us who we are!