A Chat With January’s Profile, Ann Killeen, General Manager of Montessori Services
Catalog Success: What are the catalog’s customer demographics?
Ann Killeen: We have a split demographic — we service Montessori teachers and schools as well as the parents of the children who attend Montessori schools.
CS: What classifies as a Montessori school?
AK: Montessori was started by Maria Montessori 100 years ago. She was the first woman physician in Italy and she observed children. From there, using sort of a scientific approach, she developed a very hands-on method for education where essentially it recognizes that children learn by doing things and repeating. One child might want to do something only once or twice, but some child might want to do it 50 times. Allowing the children to do those things repetitively, those children will be able to teach themselves. The job of the teacher is to create the right environment for the child to be able to learn. And provided with the right environment, and just a small amount of guidance, that child can learn on their own.
CS: The number of Montessori schools in the U.S.?
AK: There’s certainly thousands. One of the things that was interesting to me when I first started here is I didn’t realize how many public Montessori schools there are and that Montessori goes all the way from preschool through high school. Although certainly in the United States it’s more common in preschool and elementary school, but there are middle and high schools that are Montessori schools.
CS: What is the catalog’s primary merchandise?
AK: Materials used in a Montessori classroom — toys/games and books for children at home to support a Montessori. Toys, games and books is a little narrow. Our two strengths in the Montessori market are preparing the environment and practical life. Preparing the environment is sort of what I talked about with Montessori, setting up the right environment for the work to be able to be done. Sometimes it’s setting things out on a tray, so we might sell the trays; or being able to sit on the floor and work, so we might sell rugs to roll out on the floor. Storing things in clear plastic boxes so the child can find it and get at it easily and can be put away in a neat manner for the next child to be able to use. We sell a lot of items that are for preparing the environment. Really, our biggest category we sell is called ‘practical life.’ Practical life would include cleaning things, kids love to sweep or wipe the counter. Kids love to help out in those ways, but a regular broom is hard for a three-year-old to use. So we offer brooms, mops, little dust brooms — all kinds of things that you could use for cleaning that are child-size. A big thing in Montessori is to learn by doing, but part of it is to learn realistically by doing. For example, in Montessori there’s use of a lot of glass. It doesn’t use pretend things but uses more real things. So if you’re going to pour with a pitcher, you’re going to use a glass pitcher. So we’re going to sell a glass pitcher that’s going to fit in a child’s-size hand. They learn that if they drop it, it breaks. It’s learning that real, practical experience. Pouring is a big part, transferring, washing, cleaning up, cooking, etc. So food preparation, we have little things like a banana slicer so they can lay the banana down and it sets down and slices the whole banana. Or child-size utensils, aprons, oven mitts — those kinds of things. We do kits for learning sewing, all of the steps of learning to sew, from something really basic to something more complex. Woodworking, including real tools. A real saw, a real hammer, a real measuring tape, level — those types of things that kids can learn how to really use real tools. Gardening is a big aspect. Every Montessori school has some sort of garden in it. The way that Montessori is taught requires a teacher to go out and find a lot of items that are at a lot of different places. You would think that we would just go to toy shows, but we don’t. We go to hardware shows, we go to houseware shows, we go to all different types of shows. It sort of reflects that a teacher would have to go to all different kinds of stores and places to gather these things. The owner of the company, Jane Campbell, who started the company 31 years ago, recognized that it’s very time consuming for a Montessori school teacher to have to go around and collect all of these things. It’s really to provide, and that’s why it’s called Montessori Services. It’s to provide a service to teachers where we can gather those things for them so they can focus their time on teaching.