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Montessori: A Dream School For Preschoolers

By Therese Emanuel Grey

Edward and Barbara Goodfriend dreamed of creating a preschool for children that would offer all that a child's heart desires. Two years ago, they bought a piece of land and built a dream school that serves as a model for Montessori enthusiasts in the area.
"We want to provide children with a foundation for life," says Barbara, who has taught preschoolers Montessori education for the last twenty-five years.  "We love seeing happy children here."

I first heard about the Goodfriend Montessori from Dr. Elizabeth Caspari, a Montessori pioneer who was a close friend and student of Maria Montessori and who, at the age of 101, still teaches children and trains teachers.  The Goodfriend school, which will host the Caspari Institute teacher training again this January, offers children literally a "hands on" approach to most aspects of learning. Maria Montessori believed that the fastest way to the intellect was through the hands, and that's how students at Goddfriend Montessori learn.

Goodfriend Montessori teaches three to six year-olds language, sensorial, math and practical life skills in a beautiful setting a few miles from downtown Bozeman on the way to Four Corners. It's situated on three grassy acres of land with a view of the mountains, a sledding hill, a pond for ice skating, and a small creek nestled in the woods where children try to catch frogs and fish during the summer.  "It's so nice for children to be in the country surrounded by water and trees," says Barbara "Just the other day, we took a walk and each child hugged a tree."

The school is a haven for children, a miniature kingdom of leisure and learning. As you walk in through the sun room, you are greeted by the benevolent face of Dr. Maria Montessori, whose portrait hangs on the wall, and the soothing sound of a waterfall emerges from an abundance of tropical foliage.  Every plant offers a special gift.  The jasmine plant brings forth sweet smelling flowers.  Two lemon trees bear lemons the children pick and cook with.  One plant shoots ruby cone flowers that look like lipstick tubes, another flowers that look like goldfish and another, flowers that look like stars. 

The school is immaculately clean, orderly, and esthetically appealing.  Beautifully framed art hangs from the wall at the level of a child's eyes.  Pale hardwood floors, large bay windows and a wide variety of plants create an atmosphere that is light and airy.  Everything is child size-from the kitchen table to the bathroom sink, to the upholstered armchairs in the quiet corner. 

Visiting Goodfriend Montessori is a very good introduction to the educational principles heralded by Dr. Maria Montessori.  The school is divided into four sections that correspond to the four avenues of learning defined by Dr. Montessori: math, language, sensorial and practical life.  Each avenue offers many lessons the children can choose from, organized from left to right, to develop the mind for reading and writing.  Most learning is self-directed and self-correcting and children advance at their own pace.  They choose which lessons they want to learn and once they know the basics, are free to do them at leisure. Two or three hours of daily lessons are interspersed with outdoor recreation and extracurricular activities like Kindermusic, art, Kidcercize, "a gymnastics class" and French lessons.

In the math area, a child learns numbers one through ten with beautiful materials, such as long red and blue rods (numerical rods), wooden spindles and sea shells. Next the child is taught the decimal system-it's easy to count thousands with the "thousand cubes." Many other lessons in math atrract their eye such as colorful beads that teach the multiplication tables and wooden strips with numbers on them that can be added together.

Next to the math area is the language area, which highlights the sound and letter of the week.  Children learn letters by seeing them, feeling them, and hearing them repeatedly.   Everything is based on phonics.  Some activities teach how to match objects with their sound.  In the "bb" drawer, for instance, children find a ball, a banana and other "bb" objects. A popular activity is letter bingo, where they learn to recognize sounds and match to the corresponding letter in the card.

Once the letters are learned, reading begins, first with a few words, then with small sentences.  As a result, most preschoolers trained in the Montessori method can read before entering first grade.  The children also learn to write, first by tracing sandpaper letters with their hand, then by tracing letters with beautiful color-coordinated pencils using metal insets to provide tracing exercises that prepare the hand for writing.

Flags of the world hang in the sensorial area, where children learn about the world around them and about colors, textures, tastes notes and sizes.  Here they learn about geography, botany and other subjects with wooden puzzles.  They explore different weights to learn what is heavy and light.  Sandpaper tablets show what is smooth and rough.  Wooden blocks show geometric shapes.   Montessori bells feature all of the notes to help anchor perfect pitch and prepare for music.

Further back is the practical life section, a very special part of Montessori education which prepares children for life.   Here they learn how to button, zip, tie, buckle, and sew; how to pour water, polish shoes, arrange flowers, fold clothes and pack a suitcase; how to wash and set a table, cut a banana, peel and cut a carrot, squeeze an orange and wash dishes; and how to take care of a bird, a fish, a bunny and plants.  Barbara says that the children find these activities very enjoyable. An important part of practical life is learning social skills. Once a child has set a table, for example, he or she can invite a classmate for tea.  

Children can also invite a friend to visit in the beautiful quiet room in the back of the school that looks like a miniature living room. In this room they may sit and visit a friend or have some quiet time alone. When problems come up between children, the children are taught to work them out with each other.  Sometimes, meetings are held where the children can openly discuss these problems.

Next to the school is a separate building that serves as a recreation room, complete with gymnastic mats and a woodworking area where Barbara's husband, Edward, gives woodworking lessons twice a week, helping children carve and paint the project of their choice, be it a wooden plane, a boat, flowers or a pencil holder.  In a large cage next to the recreation center, a furry gray bunny peacefully chews on some grass and carrot bits that the children have left him. 

In the backyard behind a large playgound lies a large garden that parents helped build and maintain, with boxed garden beds that make it easier for children to reach without getting mud all over.  There, they grow all kinds of vegetables, fruits and flowers transplanted from seedlings started in the sun room.  The largest box in the garden, in the form of an "S" to keep insects at bay, is devoted to strawberry plants, a yearly favorite. On a bench along the side, children can sit and watch the fruit of their labor come forth.  At the other end, they can play in a large row of green bean teepees. A large row of sunflowers provides shade during the day.  

At harvest time, most of the crop ends up in the school's kitchen for cooking projects and snack time.  Children learn, for instance, to pluck sunflower seeds out with tweezers and roast them, to carve pumpkins and squash and to shuck corn. The surplus is brought home to parents.  "The lettuce this year was the best I've ever had," says Barbara.  "We had so much of it we just kept giving it away. The radishes, the onions and the strawberries were unbelievably good as well." 

A rooster who adopted the school as his own can be seen walking the grounds on his own terms.  "He's the mascot of the property," says Barbara.  "He's very pretty, very gentle with the children and he has very funny feet."

Goodfriend Montessori has earned a very good reputation with parents and educators.  Students come from all over the area.
"We always dreamed of having our own place with children and a school in a beautiful setting," says Barbara.  "When we found this place, it didn't look anything like what you see today and it was hard to imagine that we could make it look like this.  Little by little, we worked to make this dream come true and we will continue to do so."

The Goodfriend Montessori School is full, however they are accepting applications for next Fall, and can be reached at 587-3817. Also, Caspari Montessori preschool education course begins January 5th at Goodfriend's Montessori school, and is designed for educators, administrators, aspiring teachers, parents, grandparents and everyone who loves children. Call 333-4270 for more information or visit www.montessori-training-cmi.org. Other Montessori schools in the area include:

 Giving Tree Montessori  585-5847
 Great Beginnings Montessori  587-0132
 Learning Circle Montessori  587-2672
 Pallas Athena's Montessori  556-8459
 Sourdough Montessori  582-1548
 Montessori Garden  333-4270
 Montesorri Plus  848-2355