Butler Montessori: In the Beginning

Providing a Montessori Education Since 1970

In the 1960s, a re-discovery of Dr. Maria Montessori’s revolutionary approach to child development spread across the United States. Rilla Spellman, founder of Butler Montessori, was among the first wave of educators who embraced Dr. Montessori’s philosophy.

In this process of discovery, Rilla became one of the founding members of the Washington Montessori Institute and enrolled in the first Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) Primary Training Course offered in Washington, D.C. Over the next five years, Rilla became directress in two different Montessori schools.

When her family moved to Seneca, Maryland, in 1969, Rilla recognized there was no Montessori education available for the children of Upper Montgomery County. Rilla’s appreciation of Dr. Maria Montessori and a desire to develop a school that would best reflect Dr. Montessori’s philosophy led her to take the step of opening the first class of what is now Butler Montessori.

From Idea To Reality

The school’s initial location was at the Fairhaven United Methodist Church in Darnestown and was called “Fairhaven School.” The year was 1970, and Darnestown was really still “the country.” Quince Orchard Road was barely paved and wound its way to Gaithersburg. The first Safeway, and a few more stores, had opened at Quince Orchard and Route 28.

Posters at the Safeway and a few other places informed the community about this new Montessori program for preschoolers, and information spread easily. The school color was bright yellow, with yellow stationary and enrollment forms. Parents came to meet with Rilla, learn about Montessori and fill out their forms. Soon there were 13 3- and 4-year-old children enrolled in the school’s first Primary class.

Rilla spent a great deal of time explaining that Montessori was not another nursery school but an entirely different opportunity. She met with each and every parent, often more than once to help parents feel comfortable with this new idea and to give them confidence in the step they were taking.

A Real Montessori Environment

Sufficient enrollment made it possible to place the first order for real Montessori materials with Nienhuis in the Netherlands. It is hard to imagine the difference between intercontinental commerce then and now.

The materials were ordered by letter and paid by certified check. They were then shipped to the Port of Baltimore, and to pick them up at the dock, one needed to be a bonded agent or hire a third party to perform this step. It is quite a different story now when one can sit at the computer and simply order, pay online and have anything delivered to your door.

Throughout the year, new materials were added to the classroom, and the children were eager for all of the possibilities. The year sped by, and the students seemed to soak up knowledge every day. A few more students were added to the class during the winter so that at the end of the year the enrollment in that class was up to about 17 children, leaving room for seven new 3 year-olds to be added for the coming year.

The first year was a success. The children were excited to learn everything they touched and parents seemed pleased to have them continue and to tell their friends and enroll their younger children.

After several years, Fairhaven School outgrew its original location due to growing demand. The school acquired its current 22-acre campus in 1983, expanded to 6th grade and was renamed Butler School. The Intermediate Program for young adolescents opened in 1995.

In 2012, Butler School once again realized the need for a new name that reflects its continuing evolution. In an effort to highlight the roots of our educational principles to those who might not yet know us, the school was renamed Butler Montessori.