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BENTON STEPHENS: Montessori students celebrate Roald Dahl's birthday with papier-mâché peach

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 | 5:48 p.m. CDT; updated 7:21 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 4, 2011
From left, Kendra Boone, crouching, 9, Isadora Grossman, 9, Lauren Peck, 9, Aidan Toohey, 9, and Dylan Foote, 8, work on painting a papier-mâché peach at Windsor Street Montessori School on Wednesday. The Windsor Street Montessori School is a not-for-profit, independent private school that offers a learning environment that includes multi-age classrooms and independent learning.

COLUMBIA — To the staff of the Windsor Street Montessori School, gooey papier-mâché and bright orange paint seemed just the thing to celebrate author Roald Dahl's birthday.

For the past week and a half, students therehave been building a large peach, a nod to Dahl's "James and the Giant Peach."

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The peach is made from strips of old Scholastic Book Club order forms soaked in paste and layered over a yoga ball, which creates a large round shell. The body of the peach was finished by Tuesday, and the painting began Wednesday.

Susan Fields, lead teacher of the school's 3-to-6-year-old class, said her group mostly worked on the papier-mâché. It was messy work, Fields said. "Just the way they like it."

Mary Windmiller, the school's director, said the idea of building a giant papier-mâché peach came about while reading Dahl's popular children's novel.

"One of the kids made the comment about, 'What if we had a giant peach?'" Windmiller said.

The comment came at the perfect time — the teaching staff was trying to figure out a papier-mâché project they could do with their students.

Summer Foote, a teaching assistant who's been working at the school since the middle of last year, initiated the project about a week and a half ago while the kids were outside. She invited anyone who wanted to work on the papier-mâché to help out, she said. Since then, progress on the peach has been steady.

"It's fluid," Foote said. "If no one wants to work on it, we don't." 

Every age group at the school has contributed to the peach project, a common feature of Montessori-style learning, which emphasizes mixed age classrooms.

"From ages 0 to 6, (students) are sponges and they'll learn as much as you can give them," Windmiller said. "And then at ages 6 to 12, they are full of questions like 'Why?' and 'What if?' And they are still just soaking up information and so eager to learn." 

Dahl, the author of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Matilda," "James and the Giant Peach" and other famous children's books died in 1990; Sept. 13 would have been his 95th birthday.

Michelle Mustain, a lower-level elementary teacher at the school, said Dahl has been the focal point of this month's curriculum. Some students have been learning about Dahl through their book clubs and the Roald Dahl website

"They didn't know he was 6-foot-6," she said, which is something they have learned in the last few days. On the website, they also saw a picture of the caravan wagon Dahl sat in while writing "Danny the Champion of the World."

Students choose books and read them as small book clubs. Many selected works by Dahl this month. Windmiller said they answer discussion questions, practice vocabulary words and do projects associated with the books they read. The construction of the peach is one of these projects.

It's been a year since Windsor Street Montessori opened the doors of its new facility at the corner of Windsor and Ann streets. Windmiller said the process of transforming a run-down property into a learning environment was frustrating, but that she is happy with the results.

"It would have been probably less expensive to just level it and start over, but there's just something about an old house that has such character and you can't copy it," Windmiller said. 

After the success of their first year, Windmiller said the upcoming school year will see few changes. They will work on building a greater school community, instituting service to others as a theme and further developing their art curriculum.

More pictures of the peach-making process can be found at the Windsor Street Montessori School's blog


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