In 1897 Maria Montessori launched a radical theory of child development, challenging the traditional teacher-student relationship and enabling children to follow their own intuitive path to learning and psychological development. More than 120 years later, that philosophy is flourishing, not only in Montessori schools around the world, but in public and private institutions, now moving toward more personalized, individual learning in a child’s most formative years.

For 40 years Dr. Montessori’s principles have guided the teachers and curriculum of the Pennington Montessori School. “We develop students who are capable, accountable, knowledgeable, and who have the strong sense of self they will need to thrive in the real world,” says the school’s director, Kathleen Hannah. A wide body of research shows the importance of quality early education that lays a foundation for learning and development throughout the child’s lifetime.

“From birth to age three, the human brain is most receptive to learning,” Hannah says. “The Montessori methods have been widely adopted in many school systems and in early learning programs such as Head Start.”

The current school facility was built in 1998, on three picturesque acres in Pennington. The contemporary building spans 13,157 square feet, including a striking Great Room, a garden area with a greenhouse, three playgrounds, and an amphitheater.

The school serves approximately 150 children aged six weeks to six years. Teachers are Montessori trained and licensed by the State of New Jersey. All staff members are dedicated to providing a safe, nurturing environment where children can learn by doing, intuitively following their own individual interests. This principle of child-led learning is the foundation of the successful Montessori method. “Dr. Montessori saw, more than a century ago, that a one-size-fits-all approach to learning will not help children to reach their full potential,” Hannah asserts.

Montessori training begins early and so should preparations for enrolling children, since the Pennington Montessori School has a waiting list. “We recommend that expectant parents who want to enroll their child do so as soon as they are aware of a pregnancy,” Hannah suggests. And by Montessori’s progressive standards, six weeks is not too soon to start. “We are constantly amazed at the capabilities of children as young as 18 months,” Hannah says. “They can put on their clothes and shoes and participate in many of our enrichment programs.”

The enrichment programs include Spanish, yoga, technology, culinary, and the very popular outdoor education program. The school maintains a large garden where children grow flowers, herbs, and vegetables. The students plant seeds, care for the crops, and prepare simple dishes from their harvest.

Diversity is not just encouraged — it is a key element in the school’s mission to teach children courtesy and respect for every member of their community. Various traditions are celebrated during the week of Cultural Festivals when a Global Cafe features foods from different nations. A variety of community outreach programs raise awareness of social issues. Parents participate in these and other activities and are kept informed of all developments at the school.

In an increasingly complex and conflicted world, Pennington Montessori School seeks to develop independence, a strong sense of self, intellectual curiosity, and the ability to connect with others. “These principles are as relevant today as they were 120 years ago,” Hannah affirms. “They provide the foundation for a productive and positive life for all of our students.”

Pennington Montessori School, 4 Tree Farm Road, Pennington. 609-737-1331. www.penningtonmontessori.org.

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