Three Generations of Early Childhood Education on the Eastside

In her own words: Jayme T. Stahl tells Kirkland Lifestyle about her family's Montessori journey

I have been the Director of Lakeview Montessori School in Kirkland since we opened our doors in September of 2010. Previously, I was the Assistant Director at Bellevue Montessori School from 2007-2010, and a Montessori teacher and administrator before that at both Bellevue Montessori and Lakeside Montessori.

Montessori is a child-focused method developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, Italy’s first female physician (Editor's note: Maria Montessori lived from 1870-1952 and graduated with honors from medical school at the Sapienza University of Rome). Montessori education is an individualized approach in which each child has natural opportunities for independence and discovery. Children master concepts through repetition and use of the skillfully designed multi-sensory Montessori materials as they move from concrete understanding toward increasing abstraction of the concepts, eventually being able to carry their learning on to other applications. Children work in multi-age classrooms and follow their interests and curiosity at their own pace, taking their time to meet individualized learning goals.  

The outcome is children who are self-directed, confident and accountable learners. Montessori nurtures children’s innate desire for understanding and knowledge with a focus on respect for the child, the community and the environment. As Dr. Montessori said, “Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire 'to make him learn things,' but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence."

My grandmother, who had eight children of her own, was always passionate about early childhood development and education. She used to run a music kindergarten from the basement of her Clyde Hill home. She learned about Montessori when she took one of her children to a Montessori school in Seattle after a local school said they “could not keep up with his learning.” The director at that Montessori school prompted her to start her own Montessori school.  

My grandmother pursued a degree in early childhood education, brought Montessori teacher trainers over from Europe, and eventually founded Bellevue Montessori School in 1966, the first Montessori school on Seattle’s Eastside. She also established a Montessori teacher training center. She was truly a pioneer of Montessori education on the Eastside.  

My mother completed the Montessori teacher accreditation in 1971 and received her degree in early childhood education from Washington State University in 1974. She audited the Montessori course as a refresher in 1984 and founded Pine Ranch Montessori School (now Lakeside Montessori) in 1985. My mother grew her school from a one-room farmhouse Montessori preschool to a multi-campus Montessori school for students 2.5-6 years old on the Sammamish plateau. My aunt Jeannine Hanson, also a Montessori certified educator, took over my grandmother’s training center in 1998 and later founded Chestnut Montessori School in 2008. 

Although I grew up surrounded by Montessori and attended Montessori school through 4th grade, I never planned on a career in education. My dream was to become a broadcast journalist. After completing my BA in communication from WSU, I traveled to Thailand. On that trip I contracted a rare mosquito-borne disease that had me hospitalized for weeks and in rehabilitation for months.  

During this time I returned to my Montessori roots. I enrolled in the Montessori teacher training, and immersed myself in learning the Montessori method from the teaching perspective. It became clear to me that this was the path that was intended for me. The method and purpose resonated with me in a whole new way.  I received my Montessori early education teaching certificate in 2005 and completed my Masters in Education with Montessori emphasis from Chaminade University in 2009.  

I am passionate about Montessori education because the philosophy so beautifully addresses childhood development, offering young children a unique sense of dignity and respecting each individual child’s process for learning and discovery. It is so much more than an academic model. Montessori is a holistic approach to understanding, appreciating, and supporting early childhood development. I am delighted every day watching our students discover new concepts, learn to exert their independence, and find joy in those “aha” moments.  

I feel so lucky to have watched my own two daughters thrive in this educational environment and I can’t wait to witness the joy and discovery that my third child (due this summer) will experience once she is a student as well. 

Five Core Components of Montessori Education (courtesy of the American Montessori Society)

  • Trained Montessori teachers: A properly credentialed Montessori teacher has the skills and expertise to implement high-fidelity Montessori.
  • The multi-age classroom: Classes with 3-year age spans facilitate mentorship among the students and encourage leadership development.
  • Using Montessori materials: A hallmark of Montessori is specially designed materials that provide a hands-on approach to learning.
  • Child-directed work: Students are given agency to self-select work, leading to intrinsic motivation and sustained attention.
  • Uninterrupted work periods: An extended period of “free choice” enables students to work at their own pace and without interruption.

This was the path that was intended for me. The method and purpose resonated with me in a whole new way. 

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