FARGO - Learning is once again thriving by the former Woodrow Wilson school.
Children's Montessori Center Downtown recently opened at 301 N. University Drive, just a few yards south of what are now the Woodrow Apartments.
About 20 children ages 3 through 5 play and learn in two bright, airy classrooms filled with books, plants, music - and a rabbit named Floppy.
The center's STEAM curriculum blends the arts with an introduction to science, technology, engineering and math skills. Children flex their time between a STEAM classroom and a traditional Montessori classroom
"The music is to help them focus, to rest, to help them attend to what they're doing. It grounds them," Director Camille Brandt said. "There is such a link between music and math and engineering."
STEAM learning is a natural fit for Montessori and its emphasis on constructive problem solving, she said.
"Imagining it, creating it, sharing it," Brandt said.
This is the third Montessori school opened by Brandt and her husband, Jason, in Fargo since 2007. Children's Montessori Center at 1612 Tom Williams Drive accepts infants to kindergarteners, while Children's Montessori Center West, 3487 45th St. S., is also designed for ages 3-5, she said.
Brandt said the downtown center was opened because of all of the revival of the city center and surrounding neighborhoods. North Dakota State University is nearby, as is Sanford Hospital and scores of businesses.
The single-story building was designed to closely match the brickwork and lines of the three-story 1917-vintage Woodrow Wilson.
"We really want to bring this downtown because of all the wonderful things downtown," Brandt said.
The center's capacity is 40 children, but Brandt said she is fine growing slowly and getting "to know the neighborhood."
The classrooms have a farmyard theme, with barn lights and wooden floors. Many of the items of the room are sourced from Fargo businesses, or like the books, from the downtown Fargo Public Library. There is an outdoor playground, and the school has an agreement to use the gymnasium that was kept as part of the Woodrow Apartments.
While each child can "choose their learning," teachers guide each child as they progress from the least to the most complex concept in each subject, Brandt said.
The children also learn practical classroom and life skills: how to fold items, use scissors or tongs, pour liquids, put on boots and coats.
"Independence is really the goal. Independence and competence," Brandt said.
Samantha Haluptzok has been teaching using the Montessori method for a number of years. The learning is "amazing. It's just incredible watching what they do," Haluptzok said.
Brandt, who has a doctorate in curriculum and instruction, said the blending of art and learning improves education.
"There's art all around us," Brandt said. "It's so peaceful. They (the preschoolers) just get lost in what they're doing. That's when you know you're doing something right."
To learn more, go online to fargomontessori.com.