It took Montessori Services founder Jane Campbell only a few mornings in the Montessori classroom to discover how time-consuming setting up and maintaining the children’s environment can be! Four years later, with her own new baby in tow, Jane set out to serve the Montessori community in another way: by helping fellow teachers gain access to hard-to-find classroom items. It was a short step from finding key materials to creating them…
When Maria Montessori began training teachers, almost everyone knew how to sew. That every teacher would be prepared to stitch up sturdy polish cloths, blindfolds, and mystery bags for the classroom was a reasonable assumption. Even in the 50s and 60s, most women could manage hemming a polishing cloth quickly and neatly.
Back in 1976, Jane got to talking with another new mother (also a recent Montessori teacher and a seamstress) about the general shortage of time available for preparing the “ideal” Montessori classroom. Jane had cut polish cloths for her classroom with pinking shears (and watched them disappear thread-by-thread from laundering). It seemed sewing had become practically a lost art!
Jane’s business idea was still just an idea. Carol was an accomplished seamstress with a better blindfold. The two former teachers convinced each other that many young teachers would love to purchase seamstress-made blindfolds with a unique (at the time!) peek-proof ruffle for sensorial exercises — and they were right.
A matching mystery bag, then folding cloths, polish cloths, and polish mitts followed — and they’re still classroom favorites today. The outright appreciation expressed by teachers practically ensured that Montessori Services’ original sewn materials would be the first of many teacher-designed materials welcomed into classrooms over the years.
And Shoe Buffers…
When teachers report that shoe polishing is still a favorite Practical Life activity, Jane tends to recall a time when fellow teachers had to saw adult-size buffers in half to complete their activity sets. It was a sincere attempt, yet the half-size buffers were still not easy for young children to grasp.
By the 1990s, even adult-sized shoe buffers were a rare commodity! Jane remembered just how excited her children had been by the results of the buffing step and decided something needed to be done to preserve that important point of interest.
A woodworker who had partnered with Montessori Services on other projects agreed to cut wooden blocks proportioned specifically for young children. The first blocks were delivered in 1994. Jane and crew cut fleece to size, glued it to the buffing blocks, and a classroom mainstay was born.
Finding time for details gets harder for teachers every year. Yet who wouldn’t want the satisfaction of preserving, intact, a classroom experience children love? Manufacturing a small item to complete a favorite activity helps prepare Jane and company to accept even bigger challenges to come.
And Little Brooms…
What would a Montessori classroom be without sweeping? Chances are a little broom and mop are at the top of every new teacher’s materials list. When Jane was teaching, she and most of her peers cut the top from a regular broom handle to supply the classroom. Later, her company found a full-size broom manufacturer to supply Montessori Services (and thousands of classrooms) with functional brooms with child-size handles. All was well for twenty tranquil years.
Then disaster struck. The broom company decided to abandon the children’s market altogether, leaving Montessori Services without a supplier for a key classroom material. It seemed Jane and her intrepid staff would have to track the elusive children’s broom to its source once more.
Enter Krissy Beoka, the enterprising buyer who refused to give up. Krissy scrutinized toy fairs and kitchen trade shows for suitable replacements.
Months of searching left Jane and Krissy with no more than a giant carton bristling with broom handles and mop heads — and the conclusion that toy company products simply would not stand up to real-world classroom use.
Krissy knew it was time for her relentless pursuit of functional child-size tools to take a more assertive turn. She approached a reputable manufacturer of top-quality full-size brooms with talking points on the Montessori need for functional brooms and mops in the classroom.
They listened as Krissy explained what teachers look for in a classroom broom (durability, functionality, the right size and weight). Before long, child-size mops were on the table. Mops with replacement heads (even yarn mop heads!). Mops that would stand up to everyday use. Krissy ordered prototypes and waited.
Multiple versions of sizes, handles, and heads were reviewed until finally the first shipment rolled in. Now, teachers can choose among five functional brooms and mops to serve their children, with matching handles and most with replaceable heads.
Krissy and Jane are eager to hear from teachers using the new black and red brooms in the classroom! Assuming the children are satisfied, perhaps a long term relationship can be forged that will ultimately provide teachers with a reliable source for functional, child-size brooms and mops for another 20 years.
From the beginning, Jane knew collaboration with other teachers at conferences and by mail or phone would be one of the most fulfilling aspects of her growing business. She still enjoys exchanging ideas and expertise, and encouraging teachers with an improved design or original material they hope to share with their colleagues.
Jane’s antennae lifted a few years ago as she browsed an impressive physics curriculum display by Montessorian Meg Fedorowicz at an AMS conference. Jane was excited by the possibilities!
She also realized that Montessori teachers, as carefully trained as they are to create Practical Life activities, might be treading unfamiliar territory where science activities were concerned. Jane contacted Meg, eager to understand the program and learned that Meg’s hands-on science curriculum had no written guide… yet.
At the urging of staff teacher Kelly Mannion, Jane suggested Meg write up the lessons so teachers could replicate her presentations. She was not the only one asking! Meg got to work on Nurturing the Young Scientist. Later, Jane was thrilled to offer Meg’s new book, and excited by the idea of making the program even more accessible by assembling activity sets to match the lessons. Collaboration, as always, would be the key.
With Jane at the helm, the Montessori Services staff identified key activities from Meg’s book, especially those with oddball materials teachers would otherwise spend hours collecting. The prodigious piles of toothpicks, golf tees, jars, sea shells, and drinking straws that Krissy brought into the office raised more than a few eyebrows!
Months later, the manufacturing team began packaging complete, child-approved, teacher-designed hands-on science kits that dovetail seamlessly with Montessorian Meg Fedorowicz’ comprehensive Montessori physics program.
Creating opportunities for teachers like Meg and Carol to share their classroom expertise.
Seeking out key items like brooms and mops to ensure they remain available for your children.
Bringing hard-to-find alternatives together in one convenient location to save teachers time.
These are the motivating forces that prompted Jane to add “Services” to the company name long ago. They remain the backbone of the Montessori Services product development and manufacturing philosophy today.
With your continued feedback and support, Jane (and all the staff at Montessori Services) hope to remain in service to children and teachers for years to come…
Practical tips from teachers now online!
When we invited teachers to review our products online, we expected reviews to be helpful to other teachers. As it turns out, teachers are finding our new review tool to be a great way to share classroom successes, presentation tips, and innovative uses for our items with fellow teachers.
“This work is not about learning to hammer, although it also introduces this skill. It is an essential sensory work for any classroom. It helps to satisfy the proprioceptive needs of the child. When a child is inappropriately banging other manipulatives, introduce this hammering work and you will find a perfect match.” – Mauve from DC (Hammering Tees)
Delightful! Maria Montessori could not have imagined that Montessorians all over the world would be able to collaborate so easily! The world wide web offers today’s classroom teachers so many sharing opportunities.
“I used this bug magnifier as a seed magnifier!” – Marcia from IL (Bug Box Magnifier).
“Smaller brushes work well for small vases; the larger for water glasses during dishwashing.” – Jean from IL (Bottle Brush Set)
“I used this spoon for a pearl spooning activity. I used a shell as one container to house the pearls and this spoon for spooning them to another bowl. The pearls were taken off a fresh water pearl necklace. It gets a lot of attention from the 3-6 child.” – Marcia from IL (Olivewood Mustard Spoon)
If you haven’t yet had a chance to share the benefit of your experience, please visit our website. You can post your feedback on any product page. Teachers will draw on your comments to improve their children’s classroom experience!
Teacher feedback from product reviews is making good items better, helping Montessori Services clarify or expand item descriptions, and generally improving our products and your overall experience. We all thank you!