The preschool is in a home setting that Dr. Maria Montessori called 'children's houses."
The preschool is in a home setting that Dr. Maria Montessori called 'children's houses."
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Erika Locatelli says the world would be a better place if every school followed the Montessori Method of teaching.

The Peaceful Place Montessori founder has roughly doubled her effort, opening a second preschool in Madrona within a year of the first.

Locatelli has had a waitlist since Peaceful Place opened last fall at 1114 29th Ave. While she had always planned to open another preschool, she hadn’t thought then that it would happen so quickly.

But, when the right location became available — one she’d had her eye on previously — Locatelli had to take the opportunity, she said. It also made space for her teachers to keep educating young minds.

“I knew that I would lose them if I waited any longer,” Locatelli said.

She called Max Liebowitz with the Madrona Company to see what was available.

“I knew that if Max had a place, it would be perfect,” she said, “and I called him and, sure enough, it was available.”

People driving down 34th Avenue might not suspect that the house at the corner of Spring Street is actually a preschool, brimming with activity. The Peaceful Place Montessori sign will come down at 3310 E. Spring St. when enrollment ends — there’s currently two spaces left, Locatelli said.

Dr. Maria Montessori believed children under six learned best in a home setting, Locatelli said, and she called them “children’s houses.” The idea of child ownership is reinforced in every room, because part of their early education involves caring for the space.

“What we notice is when children are small, they love to help,” Locatelli said, but that attitude isn’t always encouraged in young children, and such motivation can be depleted when they get older. “So, we try to say, ‘Yes, you may cook, you may clean, you may sweep, you may help out.”

Giving children that ownership in their early, formidable years makes them careful and respectful, Locatelli said.

Peaceful Place Montessori, and the new Peaceful Place Montessori East, provide preschool education for children 3-6. The half-day program has three-day and four-day options, and runs 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Thursday.

Locatelli said it’s not all wealthy families, as she wants Peaceful Place to be accessible at all income levels. She tries to make tuition free for at least one student in each school per year — she wants to do more — and at least two students she provides with assisted tuition. Those families that pay what they can are often eager to volunteer around the schools, she said.

“We have plenty of families that scramble to make it work or reorganize to make the one o’clock work,” Locatelli said of the half-day schedule.

Locatelli lives by the Montessori Method, and also lives in her first school, on the lower half of the split-level house on 29th Avenue. Peaceful Place Montessori East lead teacher Merrill Preece lives in the adjoining space of the old duplex on East Spring.

“We feel very fortunate to live in our classrooms,” Locatelli said, “because we can really make our ideas come to fruition.”

Locatelli had her first assistant teaching position with an after-school program when she was 16, and moved to Seattle three years later. Her first exposure to the Montessori Method was at Pacific First Montessori downtown, where she said she watched children working quietly, each student provided with individualized care.

“It was so peaceful, so functional, so highly academic, but with no push,” Locatelli said.

Locatelli and Preece completed their teacher training together at the Montessori Academy at Spring Valley in Federal Way, the first Montessori school in Washington. It was founded by Madeleine Justus, who did a lot of work spreading the word of Dr. Montessori, Locatelli said. Prior to opening her first school, Locatelli spent three years as a co-teacher at Jackie’s School, a longtime preschool in Madrona.

When describing her school, many of Locatelli’s sentences start with, “Dr. Montessori believed” this and that.

“She believed that each kid had an innate gift within them,” Locatelli said, “something they were meant to share with the world.”

From practical life to sensory education, every student receives individualized care that is meant to make them feel confident, enhance their social skills and prepare them academically for the next step.

Each month the students learn a new letter and continent, the lessons tailored to each child’s skill level, Locatelli said. Children learn the sounds of letters before their names, and the qualities of numbers before their symbols.

Parents are asked to fill out a questionnaire about their child that addresses their interests, relationships, behavior, food preferences and more, Locatelli said, but how that child learns is something that teachers have to observe.

While not a favorite aspect for some parents, Peaceful Place also conducts home visits in the fall, Locatelli said, which isn’t about judging, but again about observing.

“We really value observation of the child,” she said.

Peaceful Place also has a Parents Night Out each month, where students come to the school on a Friday night for movies and games. Parents and guardians do look forward to that night, Locatelli said.

Peaceful Place runs nearly parallel to the Seattle Public Schools schedule, with the same breaks and holidays, and some summer school availability.

Locatelli said she plans on letting parents choose next year which of the two schools they want their children to attend, at least until one fills up. Tours are planned to start in October.

The old house where Peaceful Place East sits will eventually be redeveloped, but Locatelli said she’ll have it for at least the next three years.

“I’m hoping that we can keep it for much longer than that,” she said, with the long-term goal being to purchase a permanent facility.

Find out more at peacefulplacemontessori.com.