Looking to the future innovators of Juneau

Posted: Tuesday, January 05, 2010

There are people around the nation helping the U.S. economy to dig itself out of a deep hole. This column will not focus on those dedicated business leaders, economists, regulators and elected officials working on today's troubles. A lot has already been written about them.

Instead, this piece will highlight problem solvers of the future. These nascent innovators ask questions such as, when will the dinosaurs come back? How do you spell "abacus? And, can I help? They try to figure out how things work by pulling pieces apart, or by combining objects that don't normally go together to make something new.

These perpetual experimenters attend the Juneau Montessori School, a 24-year-old private preschool for children ages 15 months through kindergarten. The school operates on the philosophies of Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian educator and physician, who more than a century ago developed a learning system based on scientific observations of young children. At the heart of her work was the belief that children learn through their senses, evolving from concrete experiences into abstract learning including language and mathematics. The educator believed that children have a natural curiosity for mathematical concepts, and look for order and patterns in the world around them.

Today in Juneau, Montessori's work manifests itself in 3-, 4-, 5-and 6-year-old children learning math concepts earlier than many of their peers - from addition and subtraction to long division, multiplication and fractions.

So how do abstract concepts in preschool relate to solving economic problems in the future? The answer lies in curiosity and a six-year study of 3,000 creative executives conducted by professors from Insead and Brigham Young University.

The study found that people leading some of the nation's most successful companies - visionary entrepreneurs such as Apple's Steve Jobs, Amazon's Jeff Bezos and P&G's A.G. Lafley - share certain traits. One is an ability to make connections across seemingly unrelated issues. Another skill is questioning - an ability to ask "what if," "why," and "why not" questions that buck the status quo and reveal the bigger picture. The study also found that creative entrepreneurs are consummate experimenters and are good observers, especially of human behavior. They thrive by finding ways to relate to other smart people who may be very different from themselves.

Authors of this groundbreaking study, writing recently in Harvard Business Review, pointed out that the innovative leaders were raised in an atmosphere where inquisitiveness was important.

"We were struck by the stories they told about being sustained by people who cared about experimentation and exploration," they wrote. "Sometimes these people were relatives, but sometimes they were neighbors, teachers or other influential adults. A number of the innovative entrepreneurs also went to Montessori schools, where they learned to follow their curiosity."

To read a synopsis of the article, go to http://hbr.org/product/the-innovator-s-dna/an/R0912E-PDF-ENG.

And this winter, join Juneau Montessori School as we celebrate our future innovators and Maria Montessori's belief that, "If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men."

The Juneau Montessori School is holding a dinner and dance celebration to support early childhood education. This year, we hold our ninth annual Hot Salsa - Cool Ballroom extravaganza starting at 5:30pm Feb. 6 at Centennial Hall. Please call 364-3535 at the Juneau Montessori School for questions about the Montessori method of learning or the mid-winter dance.

• Lupita Alvarez is the director of education at the Juneau Montessori School in Douglas. Contact her at 364-3535.

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