These children at the Montessori Community School in Makiki learn by a philosophy and system developed by Dr. Maria Montessori in Italy more than one hundred years ago.

It’s really approaching education in a very holistic way, looking at the whole child developmentally in physical, in cognitive and even in a spiritual way, said Dr. Elizabeth Park, Chaminade University professor & Montessori expert.

The Montessori approach is all about engagement. It’s all about having a person focusing their attention on what they’re doing and making sure it’s meaningful activity, said Dr. Cameron Camp, Center for Applied Research in Dementia, And when a person is engaged in meaningful activity they cannot at the same time be exhibiting a challenging behavior.

Dr. Cameron Camp is an internationally known research scientist on aging, recently in the islands.

And then the next child comes now repeat after me lefty loosey, righty tighty and the first child goes to the next learning station where they learn how to put their clothes on a coat hanger so they can put away the clothes themselves, said Dr. Camp. 

He was in New Orleans, trying to teach older adults with dementia how to remember things. 

That started at exactly the same time that my children started at Montessori School and I walked into that classroom and I looked around and I said this is the way. So I talked with a friend of mine who was a neuropsychologist. I brought him to the school and I said am I crazy or is this the way, he goes this is it, says Dr. Camp. 

Dr. Camp says, we as a society need to think differently, that dementia is a disability, but we need to emphasize the use of abilities and remaining capacities. That people with dementia need to be seen and treated differently. Start seeing what is possible. It’s about inclusion and it’s an issue of human rights.

There’s a thing called the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is why we have ramps for people with mobility challenges, so where are our cognitive ramps, says Dr. Camp. 

A goal is to create an environment where people with dementia are as independent as possible, can make choices and be treated with respect, dignity and equality. Give them the tools and training so they can begin to believe there is something they can do.

And so this is about humanizing the way we look at persons with dementia, including them into society. It’s about enabling them to be active participants, it’s about removing the stigma that we have it’s about reducing fear and giving hope, says Dr. Camp. 

What it really came down to was realization that Montessori is a way of lifej. That it applies to any age and it’s really about respecting human beings, said Dr. Park.

And it’s already starting to be explored and incorporated here in Hawaii at the Saint Francis Intergenerational Center in Ewa Villages.