In Memoriam: Margaret Skutch (1932-2021), Founder of The Children’s School

It is with great sadness that I write this tribute to The Children’s School founder Margaret Skutch, who passed away recently at the age of 89, in Montclair, New Jersey.

It is impossible to think about our school and its venerable history without connecting it to Margaret, whose deep love for her sons and implacable drive led her to better the early learning options available to children and their families in the early 1960s. With little teaching experience and a paltry budget, Margaret started the school in a Stamford church basement because she was unable to find one that suited the needs of her two young sons, David and Christopher. The year was 1964.

Thus began the journey of the “little school that could,” which Margaret ably guided while raising her boys as a single mother, earning a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees and writing two books about the school. How she loved Maria Montessori’s enticing learning materials and belief that children should be in an environment designed exclusively for them, scaled to their eye level, with low shelves that would invite them to take part in the learning process. Those elements formed part of the School’s philosophical foundation. But it was Margaret’s trust in every child’s innate capacity and inquisitiveness that served as the bedrock of everything she did to create a school worthy of that promise and curiosity. Her unshakeable conviction that children should be taken seriously is in the school’s DNA to this very day.

Margaret Skutch was my mentor and friend, and I will always be profoundly grateful for the opportunity she gave me and so many others to teach with and learn from her. As I walked through our campus and beautiful building this morning, the spirit of the woman whose great vitality and strength left a mark on all those who met her, was everywhere. As her sons wrote in her obituary, Margaret was a tireless champion of the young and their drive to explore and experiment. Her tools for nurturing their eagerness to learn, as David and Chris observed, were “tactile materials, color, music, storytelling and movement.” Almost 60 years after she founded The Montessori School of Stamford, the progenitor of TCS, Margaret’s vision of a school devoted exclusively to the young—one that would respect them and nurture their marvelous potential—is alive and well on the corner of Gary and Scofieldtown Roads. It will never fade or be extinguished.

In the coming year, The Children’s School will commemorate Margaret’s vibrant life and legacy, remembering her as a lifelong learner whose powerful intuition and intelligence about children made her truly ahead of her time. Her courage, grittiness and independence are with us always as we move The Children’s School forward. Let me close with words from one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, in “The Summer Day.” Tell me what is it you plan to do/With your one wild and precious life? Oliver asks of herself, and all of us, as she contemplates the astonishing world in which we live. The poem speaks to the quality of attention that we need to bring to the big and little things around us, and, in that, it expresses an important truth about Margaret Skutch’s life. I believe the founder of our school would answer that question by saying: I lived it well, with vigor, determination and love in my heart for my children—and all children—above all. What else is there?

Always in our hearts … Margaret,