Child Garden was founded by Marjorie Johnson in 1963. The small nursery school and daycare center served fourteen children and rented space from Trinity Community Church. Five years later, the building was scheduled to be razed for a parking lot and a search began for a new facility. Marjorie soon discovered that Minneapolis had very prohibitive zoning laws regarding locating childcare environments in residential neighborhoods. Nevertheless, after much perseverance, Marjorie finally gained permission and moved Child Garden into a large mansion on Groveland Terrace. The little school occupied the first level of this very unusual home and Marjorie and her family lived on the second level.
By 1969 enrollment had grown to thirty-five children. Marjorie’s interest in the Montessori Philosophy had grown as well after reading some of Dr. Maria Montessori’s books. However, Montessori education was not very understood or accepted in the United States in the 1960s. Likewise, there were not any resources available locally to help one set up a school.
Coincidentally, and fortunately, the first Montessori training course offered by the Montessori Foundation of Minnesota was beginning in St. Paul. Through their program Marjorie was able to locate two experienced Montessori teachers and was advised on how to obtain Montessori materials from Holland. Child Garden became involved with the training program, serving as a resource site for the Montessori students. The Montessori Foundation was able to use Child Garden’s facility for designing a Montessori classroom environment and Child Garden’s young students benefitted from the partnership as well. By 1970 we were a full-fledged Montessori school and have been ever since.
Life at the little school in the big mansion was good. The children attended class on the first floor, while Marjorie prepared the noon meal in her kitchen on the second level. However, just two years later, the Department of Health insisted that the home must go through a very expensive kitchen renovation in order for the school to remain.
Once again Marjorie was on the hunt for a new facility to house her school. Fortunately, a Head Start program located in the neighborhood had recently moved out, leaving classroom space just a few doors down. On New Year’s Day 1971, Marjorie moved her school into the First Unitarian Society. Over time the program has grown to occupy two entire levels to our present licensing capacity of 102 children.
The waiting list grew and Child Garden added a second location in 1979. The program, which was housed in Plymouth Congregational Church, flourished and grew and reached an enrollment of 101 children. Yet in 2005, due to extensive remodeling of the church’s facilities, Child Garden once again began the search for a new home. Opportunity came and an invitation was extended to move the second location into the education wing at St. Mark’s Cathedral. Child Garden operated two locations until the summer of 2014 when the schools were joined together at a new location, 1601 Laurel Avenue in Minneapolis.
More than fifty years later, the little school which Marjorie envisioned and founded remains true to her vision. Though the location has changed a few times, the school itself remains. It has been said that home is where the heart is. In our case, school is where the heart is.
Child Garden stands as a testimony to Marjorie, a dedicated woman, mother, wife, teacher, and friend. She enriched many lives with her encouraging smile, amazing strength, and promising spirituality. Marjorie’s legacy lives on through Child Garden in mutual staff support and cooperation towards the common goal of striving to be the school she envisioned – a safe and secure place for children.
Child Garden is currently owned and operated by Marjorie’s daughter, Mary.