Lawrence Montessori School owner Kiran Paek applies the well-known Montessori method to her students. (Photo by Allie Ward.)

By Allie Ward

Children in Lawrence can now join the likes of George Clooney, Helen Hunt and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.

These celebrities are all graduates of The Montessori School, and the school’s Lawrence-based branch has been applying its well-known teaching method to children in the township for the past two years.

“The Montessori method really nurtures the individual child’s needs and interests and their ability to unfold,” said Lawrence Montessori School owner Kiran Paek. “Teachers are trained to look at individual developmental stages, including social development, a child’s emotional state and cognitive development. We call it looking at the whole child.”

Established by the first-ever Italian female physician Maria Montessori more than 100 years ago, the educational philosophy spread to America in the creation of the American Montessori Society, the group responsible for certifying instructors.

In Mercer County, there are schools in Hamilton, Pennington, Plainsboro, Princeton and West Windsor.

Paek, a resident of the Princeton/Plainsboro area and mother of four, fell in love with the Montessori teachings and decided to make it her career. She worked at Princeton Montessori for 12 years, but left to fulfill her goal of owning her own school.

After operating a small-scale Montessori program out of her home, Paek teamed up with Slackwood Presbyterian Church on Brunswick Pike, and rented space there for the Lawrence Montessori School, which opened in 2009.

The Lawrence Montessori School offers classes for children 2-and-a-half to 6 years old, before- and after-school programs and extracurricular Chinese, violin and piano lessons.

Lawrence Montessori teacher Deekshitha Vontivillu was Paek’s mentee at Princeton Montessori, and followed Paek to Lawrence when she opened her own school. Vontivillu said she saw the Montessori method come to life during her training.

“It’s always nature versus nurture,” she said. “Learning has to be the child’s choice, and that helps them a lot and I saw it.”

A key element in a lasting education is a working relationship with the parents, Paek said.

“Education takes place when we have a partnership with the parents,” she said. “I bring the parents in and we raise the children together.”

Lawrenceville resident and Montessori alumna Dipali Desai’s two children both graduated from the Lawrence Montessori School. She said her daughter attended a regular day-care center before enrolling in Paek’s school, and Desai really noticed a difference, which she attributed to Paek.

“I was worried about how she would fit in, but she excelled,” Desai said. “What I specifically found very valuable about working with Ki was that Montessori is something that can be interpreted in 1,000 different ways, and, while she knows the Montessori method like the back of her hand, she actually has a lot more practical experience and she brings in objects and things from actual life.”

Paek hopes to grow her school and become an educational cornerstone for the Lawrence community. Next school year, she expects to offer after-school programs for area elementary school students.

“My mission is to provide the best education in this area, and make sure that when my children move to the public or private schools, they continue to thrive on the joy of learning,” Paek said.

The Lawrence Montessori School is located at 2020 Brunswick Pike behind the Slackwood Presbyterian Church. For more information, call (609) 843-0108. On the web: lawrencemontessori.com.