INDIAN TRAIL – It’s been fewer than six months since Randi Eccleston launched a one-hour, one-day-a-week Montessori class at the Indian Trail Cultural Arts Center.
But the program rapidly expanded into its own entity – a school dubbed The Montessori Schoolhouse – since its inception in September 2013, and will begin offering weeklong classes next week at the Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail.
The Montessori Schoolhouse will officially open Monday, Feb. 24, offering weekly classes for children ages 2 to 6. Two-day, three-day and five-day programs will be available, and parents can choose between morning or afternoon sessions, which run from 8:15 to 11:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., respectively. Classes will be held on the second floor of Extreme Ice, 4705 Indian Trail Fairview Road.
The school is a dream come true for Eccleston, who fell in love with the Montessori method of teaching years ago. The method, named for founder Maria Montessori, offers instructors a “hands-on” way to guide students to academic success. Classes typically span several ages and give children the opportunity to learn from each other, exercise independence and develop academically at their own level and pace.
“It really does increase the child’s independence and ability to learn,” Eccleston said.
Eccleston taught at both traditional and Montessori schools for 15 years before taking some time off to raise her children and then launching the Montessori classes at the Cultural Arts Center last year. She began by hosting one-hour classes one day a week for children ages 3 to 6, and subsequently added a second class for toddlers.
But starting a Montessori school in Union County has been a long-term goal for Eccleston ever since she noticed a lack of Montessori-based education in the county. So bringing the Montessori way of teaching to Union County, while also returning to more full-time work, has been a double blessing.
“I feel like there’s a need in the Union County area for a part-time Montessori school … I’m just excited to be able to bring the Montessori philosophy to Union County,” she said. “I’m excited to get back into the classroom for more than one hour a week.”
The daily three-hour sessions will typically start with the children arriving, hanging up their coats and putting their belongings away. Eccleston will read a book and lead the children in some songs and group lessons appropriate for all ages. The children eventually will break up and focus on their own individualized curriculum and activities.
“It’s not a lot of me standing up and teaching the same lesson to (the class),” Eccleston said. “During work time, I move around the room giving kids individual lessons.”
While the program focuses on traditional subjects like math, language development and science, the Montessori teaching method places special emphasis on two unique areas of learning – sensorial, which deals with the five senses, and practical life, which teaches children hands-on skills they’ll need for the rest of their lives.
“We’ll maybe have two bowls of pretty Valentine hearts, and children will use tongs to transfer the hearts back and forth,” Eccleston said. “This strengthens their hand strength, which helps them in the language area of the classroom – where they’re learning how to write.”
Eccleston has been surprised and thrilled at the amount of interest in the Montessori classes. Looking ahead, she hopes to continue expanding her program to reach more Union County children. While Eccleston is currently unable to offer classes for toddlers at the new location, one of her goals is to expand the age range of the classes. She also hopes to offer half-day summer camps in summer
“I want to create a place where children can come and learn and grow at their own pace and develop that love of learning (Maria) Montessori started so many years ago,” she said.
The Montessori Schoolhouse will host open house events Friday, Feb. 21, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 22, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. The school’s website currently is under construction, but people can email Eccleston at the
firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.