LMS in the Media

Lincoln Montessori marks 40 years of a passion for learning
By Erin Andersen/ Lincoln Journal Star | Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Aiko Dominguez, 5, builds words with movable letters at the Lincoln Montessori School.

Susie Sup of Lincoln says her children grew up to be very independent and confident adults. 'And I feel that this is partly because of their Montessori school training.' Ask Matt Marvin what he remembers about his toddler years, and he barely hesitates.

Lincoln Montessori School founders Larry and Mary Verschuur join Caroline Fortenberry, 3, as she works on a matching exercise, an indirect preparation for reading.

"I was extremely jealous of my sister," says the 19-year-old college student, recalling how Katie Marvin, two years his senior, attended Lincoln Montessori School.

When Marvin grew old enough he joined his sister at the sunny school tucked away on Austin Drive. He has many fond memories: playing on the hills of the side yard, hanging out with his sister and making pyramids with the pink building blocks.

"That is the one thing I completely remember. That was sooo cool," Marvin reminisced.

Saturday, he will be one of the many former students returning to his very first alma mater to celebrate the Lincoln Montessori School's 40th anniversary. Marvin, a pianist, will provide the musical entertainment.

The school was Lincoln's first Montessori school. Founders Larry and Mary Verschuur are still very much in the classroom, just as they were in 1969 when a group of Lincoln parents traveled to Omaha and asked them to bring the hands-on, child-centered, preschool-kindergarten program to Lincoln.

Back in 1968, Montessori was not well known, Mary Verschuur said. And its concepts of teaching and learning varied greatly, depending upon interpretation.

Many child care centers/preschools adopted the American Montessori model, which is quite a bit different from the European model based on the philosophies of Maria Montessori, said Nancy Smith, one of the parents who helped bring the Verschuurs and their Montessori program to Lincoln.

The Lincoln parents wanted the European approach, which is based on the premise that given the opportunity and appropriate modeling, children can teach themselves academic, social and life skills.

Mary, a native of Scotland, received her Montessori training in Dublin, Ireland. She was recruited by U.S. schools and worked first in Chicago and later in Omaha.

Meanwhile, Larry Verschuur was a 26-year-old single parent raising a 2-year-old boy, enrolled in Montessori training in Chicago.

"The philosophy spoke to me," Larry said. "Treat children with respect. ... Children learn through doing and they do things that are real and speak to them."

The Verschuurs, who had schools in Omaha and Bellevue, agreed to come to Lincoln if the parents could come up with a minimum of 25 students.

"They came up with that and more," Mary said.

Parents of those very first Montessori students described their children as energetic, challenging and always into something. The Montessori School encouraged that natural curiosity and limitless motivation to discover and learn among its students.

Smith's daughter Jessica (who's known as Lulu), now a renowned silversmith in Seattle, credits the school with fostering her individualism and self-discipline.

Susie Sup of Lincoln says her children grew up to be very independent and confident adults.

"And I feel that this is partly because of their Montessori school training," she said.

The Montessori program stimulated children to want to learn, said Mary Nefsky, whose twin daughters, Karen and Laura Endacott, now 41, attended the school.

Looking back, she says her daughters have always had a greater interest in tackling life and exploring things than their older brothers, who did not have an opportunity to attend the Lincoln Montessori School.

Those first students are now doctors, artists and international business managers.

"There is not a sluggard in the entire group of kids," Smith said. "They are always doing something breathtaking."

As for the school, little has changed in the past 40 years. That's because the Verschuurs say the Montessori approach and materials are just as relevant and effective today.

Which means you won't find any computers or other high-tech gadgets.

"Computers are non-sensorial. They do not allow children to know things firsthand," Larry said.

"Children absorb from their environment and culture. To do that they have to be active in their culture, not through a picture of their culture."

And so, the children learn by example, modeling Larry, Mary and the other teachers as they embark on various challenges: planting a garden, building puzzles, peeling carrots, washing tables, taking turns and interacting respectfully.

"There is the misconception that if I tell you something, you will remember it for life. Talking to children is not effective. It is showing them how," Mary said.

"But you have to do it with interest. And you have to be genuine," Larry added.

After 40 years the Verschuur say that interest and passion remains as strong as it did on day one.

Raquel Souto, 4, polishes her shoes, a practical life exercise she’s chosen to do.
Ethan Izumi, 2, works with a cylinder block, a self-correcting classic Montessori exercise.