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  • Inspire your “Littles” with Gig Harbor’s stellar



Photos courtesy of Harbor Montessori & Curious By Nature.

Few things cause more parental angst than finding the right fit for their child’s first school experience. Preschool often begins as early as age 2 to 3, and pre-kindergarten programs are common for 4- and 5-year-olds. Parents want preschool to be fun, safe, enriching and meaningful; we want our beloved “littles” to be delighted, challenged, understood and inspired.

With the uniquely tailored experiences available for young learners today, parents increasingly seek to extend the intimate, play-based learning of preschool through kindergarten and beyond. Families also seek integrated community programs for all ages through their children’s schools. All of these choices are available right here in Gig Harbor!

Harbor Montessori School

Nestled in a peaceful neighborhood, this cozy school harbors big dreams; 125 big dreams, to be exact. This year, those 125 students ranging from infants to teenagers joined teachers and parents in celebrating the school’s 35th anniversary.

Harbor Montessori offers programs for infants all the way through middle school. It is operating at close to maximum enrollment, with waitlists for the infant and toddler programs. In fact, Jenna Brasch, admissions and programming director, counsels families who prioritize a Montessori experience for their child to consider applying even before conception!

What exactly is the Montessori approach, you may wonder? Head of School Aimee Allen explains it this way: “The Montessori philosophy is built around the idea that human beings are wired to learn. Our curiosity and desire to acquire knowledge form the foundation of every Montessori classroom. We intentionally prepare an environment of high-quality options, so that every choice a child makes is educational. The Montessori Method is over 100 years old, yet it lines up perfectly with today’s discoveries by neuropsychologists on how we learn.” She adds, “Giving children freedom along with responsibility not only helps them become excellent scholars, but also excellent human beings.”

Parents are welcomed and encouraged to be involved at Harbor Montessori. Jennifer Beard, whose son and daughter are both enrolled, comments on the benefits of a family inclusive practice: “I appreciate the tight-knit, supportive community. The kids form close bonds through multi-age classrooms, mentoring opportunities and small class sizes. Likewise, the parents develop close friendships by volunteering together, chaperoning field trips and visiting through activities around school. I have the privilege of knowing my children’s friends, their parents, and the teachers and staff. It forms a supportive net for all of us.”

As for Dr. Maria Montessori’s methods, Beard gives top marks. “A Montessori education encourages a desire to look outward to understand global cultures and helps our children find their own special niche in the world. The core concept is that children are naturally eager for knowledge and are capable of initiating learning in a supportive environment. I certainly can say that is true. My children voluntarily conduct research projects at home and continue their learning as part of their play. Dreams have launched, including ideas for a novel, travel plans to Antarctica and a doctorate degree at MIT. Of course, their dreams may change over time, but I hope their capacity to dream continues to grow.”

Think Harbor Montessori might be the right fit for you? Interested families can peruse the school’s website at, or call the office at 253.851.5722 to schedule a tour or a classroom observation.

Curious By Nature School

Operated by the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation, this charming school is easily the most vibrant tenant in the Mallard’s Landing Office Complex. You’d be remiss though if you assumed the school was contained within the building, because roughly half of every day is spent outdoors. In fact, the school refers to the nearby outdoor spaces by classroom names: Grasshopper Hill, the Bear Cave and Tallman (the Adam Tallman Nature Park). They’ve also developed an intergenerational literacy and art program with the retirement home next door, The Lodge at Mallard’s Landing, where the very young and the not-so-young work side by side on crafts and read stories together.

As the school’s name describes, Curious by Nature’s curriculum springs from children’s natural enthusiasm for investigating the outdoors. Enveloped in Gig Harbor’s natural beauty, early learners explore seasons, plants, animals, ecosystems, weather, habitats, people and cultures. Curriculum is STEM based (science, engineering, technology and math) with the understanding that “technology” refers to any tool, such as a lever made from a stick or a trowel to plant vegetables.

“We teachers are here to follow the child’s interests to facilitate learning. We encourage kids to ask questions and make observations. We work together to visually document those observations through art projects, pictures and photos, to make the process of learning visible,” says Odette Alina, the school’s director. “We’re outside rain or shine. Our students take laundry home every day! It is important that families are on board with that philosophy—that the kids will get to be kids, outside. They are going to get muddy, and the parents don’t mind at all.”

The school offers morning and afternoon half-day programs for toddlers, preschool and pre-k with class sizes of 10 to 14. Homeschoolers and other students ages 3 to 6 may enroll in the once-a-week Friday Enrichment class. Families can also participate through weekend events and summer camps. The Junior Explorer Club offers monthly Family Nature Walks on Saturdays, and periodic Lunch with a Scientist events that include a guest speaker and a workshop on an environmental topic. The Junior Explorer Club is open to enrolled families and also other families in the community.

Greater Gig Harbor Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer Julie Ann Gustanski notes, “The school has grown phenomenally during the five years that it has been under the Foundation’s purview, growing from 19 to 72 students. It fits well within the foundation because parks, environment and education are among our five core focuses. One of our goals has been to make Curious by Nature available to as many children in the area as possible, so we strive to keep tuition below the median for similar schools. Every student is subsidized to a degree, and we have developed the Steward Scholarship Fund.” This year the Steward fund offered five full scholarships and a number of partial-tuition grants.

If this active indoor-outdoor, nature-inspired program sounds right for your family, contact Odette at Curious by Nature School through the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation at 253.514.6338, or visit the school’s website at

Relax. You can’t go wrong.

Both of these unique early learning environments are child-driven and will support your little one’s natural curiosity and drive to explore. They are two stars among the terrific early learning alternatives in Gig Harbor!

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