Understandably, backpacks, lunch pails, and No. 2 pencils aren’t on the minds of kids (or their parents) right now. It’s summer, after all — in Michigan — and we all know that these precious months seem to fly by faster than the Concorde.
Who wants to interrupt their Slurpee-swimming pool-sandbox reverie by thinking about… school?
But just as we can count on Christmas decorations to hit store shelves in August (hey, you know the holidays arrive sooner every year), we can also rest assured that school days will return in due time. Why not get a jump on things by doing your homework now on prospective schools for your child?
And if your child (or children) happen to be under the age of six, you may want to learn more about Plymouth-Canton Montessori School. Founded in 1973, Plymouth-Canton Montessori School is an independent non-profit educational community which provides an individualized learning environment for children from preschool through kindergarten.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Kay Neff, Head of School at Plymouth-Canton Montessori, about the school’s programs and admissions.
Plymouth Patch: Before visiting your Web site, I didn’t know much about the Montessori philosophy, or Maria Montessori. The history is quite fascinating…
Kay Neff: Maria Montessori was a woman who was very much ahead of her time. She was born in 1870, and she was the first female medical school graduate of the University of Rome. In other words, the first woman doctor in Italy. In her medical training, she worked with children who, today, would have a variety of handicaps. What she discovered in her work with children was that they liked to do manipulative things, and she developed a lot of materials for working with them through her medical practice. Those children did better than some of the kids who were being educated normally. And it went from there. Essentially, she was a scientist and observed what students did, what they liked, and how they learned.
Plymouth Patch: Let’s start by delving into your programs. What can you tell us about them?
Neff: Essentially, Montessori discovered that the child was a self-educator — we’re talking about the young child — up to about age six. Montessori saw their mind as the “absorbent mind,” more like a sponge as opposed to an empty vessel to be filled by the teacher. In other words, the child’s job is to construct himself or herself. And when you think about how children operate when they’re first born, they are working like crazy to master how to eat, how to walk, how to talk…they are driven to develop from the inside. Maria Montessori feels that it is the job of the educator to be the facilitator, to set up an environment in which the child could become the best person that he or she was intended to be.
Plymouth Patch: Let’s talk briefly about accreditations — and Plymouth-Canton Montessori has many. Why should parents care about these?
Neff: Our accreditation system is called NAEYC -- the National Association of the Education of Young Children. They have benchmarks in ten different areas, everything ranging from the training of the staff, to the curriculum, to the organizational structure… every aspect that you could think of for having a school for young children, and you have to meet those standards, and they’re very intensive. Very comprehensive. Every aspect would affect the well-being of the child physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially. You have to be top-notch in all of those things in order to be accredited.
Plymouth Patch: Give us a glimpse inside one of your classrooms. When parents take a tour, what will likely stand out?
Neff: I think what will stand out the most would be…I would call it the industriousness of the children. They’re just fascinated by what they are doing. You will see if you look in a classroom that the materials are set out on low shelves so that they’re all available to the children. And then you will see children working on their own, with other children in small groups, and at certain times of the day the whole group works together -- singing, talking about the weather, or counting. You see this whole combination of individual, small group, and large group. Then you’ll see various curriculum areas, where the materials are arranged all together on shelves -- and they’re also sequential. We’re very concrete. We start with the simplest and then we go to the next step, and so on…
Plymouth Patch: The Montessori approach to learning is quite unique. What would you say are the cornerstones?
Neff: First of all, the hands-on approach — manipulative materials are very, very important; the child as a self-educator; the sequential learning of concepts, from the concrete to the abstract. And then there’s another element that’s implicit in Montessori: We care a lot about character; we care about how you treat other people, how you treat the materials; how you interact as a classroom community. That aspect is very important in Montessori. Grace and courtesy. If there would be a hallmark word that would really characterize everything about Montessori, I think that word would be respect. Respect for each other, respect for the materials, and respect for yourself.
Plymouth Patch: When do you accept admissions, and what is the cost of tuition?
Neff: We have rolling admissions. We enroll our own children starting in late winter, and then we continue to take enrollments until we are full. Tuition varies, actually, because it depends on the program. It’s always a five-day program, and we quote it as a yearly number. [A school year is 40 weeks; September through June.] The half-day is $5,600, and the full-day is $9,900 for the year. And we view ourselves as a school that offers extended hours: For our enrolled children, we offer optional hourly day care -- if the parent has a doctor’s appointment or gets stuck in traffic, for example. We charge $5 an hour, which is a very reasonable rate for child care. We prorate it to the quarter-hour, so if you’re 15 minutes late -- or two hours late -- we only bill for whatever time is used. That has been a really nice convenience.
Plymouth Patch: How long have you been Head of School?
Neff: Forever (laughing). I am the founder. This school started in fall of 1973.
Plymouth Patch: But you don’t seem nearly old enough to be the founder… you don’t!
Neff: It keeps me young!
Plymouth Patch: It must!
Neff: I started the Dearborn Heights school for my own kids -- that’s how it came about. My older son, who at the time was three, went to a Montessori school…and then it went bankrupt. And I looked, and looked, and looked for another because once you’ve had Montessori, it’s really hard to settle for anything else. I finally said to my husband, “I can’t find a school for Todd. I think I’m going to have to start one.” At the time I was a stay-at-home-mom -- I had been a high school English teacher, but that didn’t work with two babies. Then my wheels began to turn, and they ended up starting something. At the time, I really didn’t have the background. But at this point, I have a degree in Educational Leadership after going back to school to learn how to be an administrator, but I didn’t know at the time…
Plymouth Patch: What, after all these school years, continues to surprise and amaze you about Plymouth-Canton Montessori?
Neff: I would have to say the children. It’s always about the children. The kids are fabulous. When you give them an opportunity to show you who they are and what they’re capable of…it’s why we keep doing it all these years. The children just enrich your life.
To learn more about Plymouth-Canton Montessori, visit them online at http://www.pcmontessori.org.