New Montessori preschool opens with emphasis on play and outdoors

Preschoolers will lead the way at a new Montessori school opening on Vashon this month.

A Child’s Garden Montessori, just north of town, is enrolling children ages 2 and a half to 4 for morning or afternoon sessions, where preschoolers determine the play-based exploratory curriculum indoors and out.

“There’s a real emphasis on independence,” said Heather Baldwin, the school’s owner and teacher. “One of the tenets of Montessori is to follow the child. The (school) schedule is up to them. If it is nice weather and they feel like going outside or we need to move our tables outside to work, we have that opportunity.”

The preschool — a small cottage and surrounding property — is located in the backyard of Baldwin’s home. The garden for which the school is named is filled with edible and floral plants, and its yard is set up as a “mini-farm,” Baldwin said, with sheep, goats and chickens.

The outdoor environment is as much a learning place as the two-room preschool building, which Baldwin has set up as a “child’s oasis, all for them.”

“There have been a lot of studies done that say that American children don’t spend enough time outside,” she said. “It really has a calming effect on them and plants a seed, showing them they can help their Earth; they can enjoy being outside.”

The curriculum of A Child’s Garden will include art, math, language, history, geography, daily living skills and lots of play, Baldwin said.

“The emphasis is on play,” she said.

Daily living skills her students will get practice with include learning how to buckle, button, zip, pour water and serve their own snack, she added.

Baldwin, a mother of a 4-year-old and 9-year-old, has an extensive history as a Montessori teacher: She has taught at Montessori schools in Oregon, the Netherlands and Belgium. Baldwin became certified as a Montessori teacher in 1997.

“She has an extremely playful, inquisitive spirit, and she loves animals just as much as children do,” said Claudia Gross-Shader, who lives near Baldwin and whose children often play with Baldwin’s son and daughter. “She’s got a really nurturing spirit, and she is the perfect person to encourage children to explore the things they’re interested in and to be really excited about the discoveries they make at her school and in her garden.”

A Child’s Garden Montessori has morning and afternoon sessions — either 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday or 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday — and enrollment is limited to six children per session. The school follows the Vashon school district calendar. Contact Baldwin at for more information.

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