Principles of Puddletown
Meet 45-year-old Andrea Ludlow. Not only is she a baker, a dog owner, a horse rider, and a non-stop puzzler, but she is also co-founder and principal of Puddletown School. Ludlow started Puddletown almost twelve years ago. She lives with her dog, Penny, and her boyfriend, Christopher. She has a stack of books beside her bed, but is not currently reading any of them.
“I was always drawn to working with children, and I didn’t think that I would fit in in a public school setting, so I started my own school,” she says. Ludlow worked at various schools and ran an after school theater program at a local Montessori school, where she met Sam Montaña Gardner. A few years later they began looking for a space to start Puddletown. Puddletown is a Montessori school for ages 3 to 9 that started as one classroom; it has since expanded to three mixed-age primary classrooms and one elementary class.
By starting Puddletown, Andrea provides an alternate education for those interested in the ways of Montessori. Montessori is just one way among many to educate children. Ludlow chose Montessori because she believes it encourages children to make their own decisions, and when they make mistakes, montessori teaches children how to fix them. Montessori gives children the space they need to grow, and gives them the opportunity to develop their own unique persona. By starting Puddletown, Andrea gave many children the opportunity to have this freedom.
Starting Puddletown wasn’t easy. It was a big commitment for Montaña and Ludlow to make. Ludlow grew up and went to school in Marlboro, New Jersey. Her mother was a teacher, and was very supportive of Ludlow’s career choice. Ludlow’s father died before she started Montessori training, but was supportive of all choices that she made because, says Ludlow “He grew up in a world where he had to get a job to make money, and support his family, so he was happy to help his daughters achieve their dreams.” Ludlow got a masters degree in Montessori education, and an AMI certificate (Association Montessori International). It may not have been easy, but with help, Ludlow managed to start a Montessori school that now gives over 85 families the chance to give their children freedom of movement, as well as a calm and ordered classroom.
Saved by the Bell
Ludlow’s day is packed. She gets up at 7:00 AM, prepares her daily meals, takes a quick trip to the dog park, and then heads to school. From 8:30 AM on, she does the many tasks that are required to run a small school. Her day includes responding to parents’ emails, talking with teachers, and touching base with Montaña. “It’s a challenge to have so many people relying on me,” says Ludlow, “because I feel that I should be there for them, and I can’t always because it’s too many things at once.” Ludlow may enjoy her work, but it can be quite draining at times. Children are occasionally sent to the office if they need some time to calm down. It’s Ludlow’s job to calm the child down while being careful to not shame the child, or make them feel as if being sent to the office is a punishment. “Just telling him ‘no, stop,’ wouldn’t have worked,” Ludlow explains about a child who was having a hard time, “so I had to make a game out of it and get him distracted and interested in something else.” It’s more challenging than it looks. Besides needy children, there are staff who aren’t able to do things that are required of them, and unlike many other places, if somebody isn’t able to perform correctly, Ludlow can’t just go find someone else, she must catch the teacher up to speed right then and there.
Oscar was one of Puddletown’s first students, and he took to Montessori as if it was made for him. Eventually he graduated and went on to first grade. A couple weeks in, Oscar came home to his mother and said: “Mom, I just spent three years at Puddletown learning how to make good choices, and now they won’t let me make any choices.” Montessori education is really an amazing way to educate your child. It can leave a lasting impact, as it did on Oscar. Public education just didn’t offer the same freedom.
An Alternative Education
Going to a Montessori school is a unique chance. Schools like Puddletown are often very activity-oriented, and hands on. Children of all different ages work together in the same classroom, which gives them opportunities to make friends who are older and younger. Instead of grades, there are written evaluations for each student. These are benefits that are not always provided at public schools. The fact that Ludlow created a safe haven for children out of the wonderful world created by Maria Montessori proves that if you try hard enough, you can achieve your dreams. It shows in every child who walks out of the door of Puddletown School, a smile on their face (and possibly some dirt).