What is Montessori?

The Montessori Method was created by educational trailblazer, Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educational theorist.  As a physician, she applied the same principles of the scientific method to her practice with young children in institutional settings, and her observations of children revolutionized the field of early childhood education.  She experimented with concrete, hands-on materials, building upon the work of special education pioneers Edouard Seguin and Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, and developed her own set of didactic materials that are now the shining stars of Montessori classrooms.  Dr. Montessori opened her first school in 1907, and since then Montessori schools have been established across the globe - on every continent except Antarctica!  Moreover, this 109-year educational tradition of child-centered, child-directed, hands-on, differentiated teaching and learning is now being supported by current research in child development and brain science.   

A Montessori education is an approach that values the human spirit and the growth of the whole child, emphasizing the importance of meeting all of her/his developmental needs - cognitive, emotional, physical, and social.  The learning environment is a unique child-accessible setting organized by the curriculum areas of Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, Language (phonetically based), and Cultural (including art, botany, geography, music & movement, physical science, and zoology).  Peace education, including conflict resolution and grace & courtesy, is also an integrated subject in Montessori classrooms.       

The Montessori classroom is a dynamic, multi-age learning environment, where children learn on three different levels:  having a formal lesson with the teacher, exploring the self-correcting materials alone, and teaching younger peers.  The Montessori teacher (often referred to as a guide) spends time engaged in giving lessons as well as carefully observing each child.  By taking the time to observe, the teacher can match individual lessons with individual children, and accommodate the needs of each learner in this long-standing tradition based on differentiated instruction.  In this constructivist environment, children also work independently, choosing the materials of interest to them.  High-quality, beautiful materials provide a concrete, hands-on way for each child to independently explore.  These self-correcting materials engage the child in sensory-motor activities that help her/him learn from direct experiences: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touch, and movement.  Finally, this unique multi-age environment fosters and respects peer-to-peer teaching and learning, where children are free to engage in work with other children.  In this non-competitive space, children belong to a community of learners.  This community has an incredible ability to help guide and support the efforts of others when competition is not part of the value system of the classroom, which in turn leads to motivation becoming intrinsic versus a system of extrinsic rewards and punishments.

What is a growth mindset?

Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is one of the world's leading researchers in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford.  Listen as she explains what is a "growth mindset" - the idea that we can grow our brain's capacity to learn and to solve problems - and why people succeed (or don't) and how to foster success in educational settings and beyond!


CaSondra L.

CaSondra LaFrance hails from Rochester, New York.  This fall she began her freshman year at Western Kentucky University on merit-based, four-year scholarship as a special education major.  Her joy for diverse learning styles and teaching modes was solidified while volunteering for a non-profit organization called Best Buddies during her sophomore year at Cane Ridge High School.  While there, she worked with people with unique and differing intellectual and developmental abilities.  She came to accept her own distinctive learning style as well as that of the other students, and found a passion for her work in education.  Shortly after beginning her studies at Western Kentucky University, CaSondra entered the world of Montessori.  Here at Ithaca Montessori she has been a witness to the determination and self-directed nature of learning and creativity of our students.  Ultimately, CaSondra wants to be an agent of change in the lives of young people.  When she is not working or studying, CaSondra loves to play softball and coaches at a local high school.  Softball has taught her the importance of teamwork, determination and hard work.  She is thrilled to see how these same qualities can come to fruition with Ithaca Montessori.

What we Believe

We believe in educating the whole child - mind, body, and spirit.  We adhere to a growth mindset:  that one's abilities are determined by one's effort and attitude, and failures are opportunities to grow.  We believe that every child and adult has something to offer to the educational setting by simply being present; learning is a dynamic and exciting endeavor if everyone’s experience and wisdom is honored. We believe in empowering human beings of all ages through the implementation of the Montessori Method and philosophy as present and engaged Montessori educators. 

Meet our Teachers

Marina P.

Marina was born in Phoenix and raised in Tempe, Arizona. Her interest in education was piqued during her junior year in high school while working with her first mentor, Father Arthur, a Jesuit priest, assisting at-risk children at the poorest church in the Phoenix area. Teaching those young children that year and the following year was the highlight of her last two years at Xavier College Preparatory.  Marina holds one degree from Arizona State University in Elementary Education (B.A.E) and one from Belmont University in Early Childhood and Montessori Education (M.A.T).  She also holds a TN state teaching license with two endorsements: Early Childhood and Elementary Education, and an American Montessori Society primary diploma (2 ½ year olds to 6 year olds) with a MATCE (Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education) endorsement.

Marina shares her life with her husband David, a local physician who specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry and addiction medicine. They are the proud parents of Zelda, a beautiful black lab, who dictates meal times and walking schedules twelve months a year.

Marina enjoys being with family, both biological and chosen.  She is inspired by travel, hiking, and attending art shows. Last year, Marina visited 30 cities, and she hopes to break her record in the coming year. She feels privileged to be a Montessori teacher, a mentor to new teachers and to direct Ithaca Montessori. Opening her own school was an idea born from the suggestion of Dr. Merrie King, Marina’s mentor.  Marina is grateful and proud for her school to bear the name of Dr. King’s original Montessori school in Franklin, Tennessee.