Montessori preschool to open in Salisbury
What is Montessori?
Montessori is a learning method developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian scientist who lived from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.
“She designed materials that were manipulative,” said Stacey Crosswhite, owner/director of Statesville Montessori.
A Montessori classroom is unique compared to other learning environments — it’s very tactile and individualized.
Students are “set loose” in the room with materials for various age- and learning-appropriate activities set out across the room. There are no lessons or worksheets.
“You let them work with that thing as long as they want,” Myra Tannehill said.
The teachers “observe the children and know where they are,” she said. “They have a lot of freedom.”
Those observations let the teachers know what sorts of activities to add.
“The teacher really sits in the middle and watches,” Tannehill said.
The students come to the teacher if they need something, but “the teacher isn’t the pusher or the mover.” The students “go to the materials they like,” she said.
The system allows students to develop on their own pace because it’s individualized, Crosswhite said.
“A lot of people have a misconception that it’s a free-for-all,” she said.
“I’m so not a day care,” she said. “They have things they need to do.”
The children have to complete the activities they’re assigned.
“They learn time management really quickly ,” Crosswhite said.
“They’re not bored,” she said. “Children need a sense of order.”
“They think they’re just playing,” Crosswhite added.
One of the hallmarks of Montessori education is that children of multiple ages are grouped together. The younger ones are able to learn from older ones, while the older ones reinforce their skills by sharing with younger children.
“One of the biggest outcomes is academic skills,” Tannehill said. “It’s already in us to love achieving and to love grasping something.”
Children in Montessori schools don’t just thrive academically – they develop self-driven motivation, responsibility and citizenship, independence, confidence and competence.
They youngest children deal primarily with concrete ideas. As they grow older, they delve into the world of abstract and make-believe.
The children often work on mats, which is their defined space, Tannehill explained.
The concept helps them learn to respect other people’s spaces.
Montessori also stresses independence.
“You never help a child do something they can do for themselves,” Tannehill said.
Sense of work ethic
Creativity and problem solving
Yadkin Path Montessori – Rowan County’s first Montessori preschool – could open its doors as soon as August.
Myra Tannehill spent years as a college professor at Appalachian State and Pfeiffer universities, but when her son JP was born two years ago, her focus on education shifted drastically.
“I want him to have Montessori,” the Salisbury native said.
Rowan County has a number of good child-care options — 15 four- and five-star facilities.
With 9,000 children under the age of 5 in the county and more coming every day, however, Tannehill said there are only 2,000 openings each year in those four- and five-star programs.
Montessori education is a world-recognized system of excellence, she said, adding that people may not know exactly what it is, but they’ve heard of it, and they know it’s excellent.
When it was time for her to go back to work after having JP, Pfeiffer let her bring him to work, but as he grew, the arrangement became more problematic.
“When he got to be a toddler, I couldn’t take him to work,” Tannehill said. “That’s when I realized I had to put him in day care.”
“We have to go outside of our community for that type of excellence,” she said.
Although she could have decided to take JP to an already established school in Statesville, Charlotte or Winston-Salem, Tannehill wanted him to develop relationships with friends nearby. She also wanted other local children to have the opportunity to experience Montessori for themselves.
So, she took matters into her own hands and decided to open Yadkin Path Montessori — a Montessori children’s home, or preschool.
Although Tannehill is stepping out of the college classroom, she said Montessori philosophy is very similar to her own teaching style.
“The teacher is a facilitator, but I’m setting them on the path of learning so they love it no matter where they go,” she said.
Yadkin Path will give her the opportunity to facilitate that love of learning earlier in life, Tannehill said. “I want to start earlier — college is sometimes too late.”
The name pays tribute to the Montessori curriculum goals of teaching “local geography, history and economical and social issues within your community,” Tannehill said. “We named it Yadkin Path because Salisbury is a junction of two trading paths.”
Tannehill will be Yadkin Path Montessori’s owner/director. She’s working on her Montessori credential, and has been certified in first aid, SIDS and CPR. She also went back to school and took the courses necessary to be recognized as an administrator.
Tannehill already has her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Roanoke College, and her educational specialist degree in Educational Leadership from Appalachian State University.
“It’s been a year and a half since I really committed,” she said.
Tannehill has also put together a board of advisors, which includes parents, childcare workers and business owners.
Right now, Tannehill’s focus is on finding a facility to purchase, and she’s made an offer on the former Camp Kiwanis property off Bringle Ferry Road in Salisbury.
Early in December, the Salisbury Planning Board approved changing the zoning at the site from general residential to residential mixed use in order to allow for the school. City Council approved the rezoning in early January.
If she’s able to purchase the property, it will need a lot of work, but Tannehill and her husband, Dean Hamilton, have their fair share of experience in remodeling.
They purchased their 1840s home in Woodleaf several years ago and completely remodeled it — doing the vast majority of the work themselves.
Tannehill even took all the classes necessary for a residential construction diploma.
In true Montessori style, the classroom will have a home-like feel, with child-sized furniture and accessible features such as sinks.
Because the Bringle Ferry property used to be a camp, it already has playground equipment.
To begin with, Yadkin Path Montessori will accept 20 to 30 children between the ages of 2 and a half and 5.
Tannehill said she plans to expand to include infants through 2 year olds, and an additional five to 10 elementary school students for an after-school care with a Montessori affiliation.
Depending on how it goes and what the parents want, Tannehill said the program could eventually grow through the third grade.
At the start, Yadkin Path Montessori will employ one or two lead teachers, one or two teachers and several assistants.
The lead teachers will be required to have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and a Montessori teaching credential so they understand how to teach and lead a Montessori classroom.
Tannehill envisions the assistants as high school students or retired people who work only part of the day.
She’s also trying to get a star-rated license, a process that will take six months after Yadkin Path Montessori opens.
“The government will be monitoring what I’m doing, as well as the Montessori community,” she said.
If she gets a three-star rating or higher, she can start taking children whose parents get government subsidies for childcare.
“It will give me a more inclusive community of children. I don’t want to be an exclusive community,” Tannehill said.
The rating process takes six months.
She doesn’t have a tuition rate set yet, but Tannehill said that unlike many Montessori schools, she wants to make Yadkin Path’s tuition right at or below the market rate for the county.
Long before she had JP, Tannehill knew she wanted her children to have a Montessori education.
Tannehill was first exposed to it when her niece, Katie Elkin, attended a Montessori preschool in Richmond.
“She was valedictorian of her high school class and she’s at Chapel Hill now,” Tannehill said.
“One of the thing her teachers had her doing was hold a bar of soap and use a vegetable peeler,” she said, adding that not only did those tasks help Elkin develop fine motor skills, but they were fun.
“They don’t have someone saying you’re doing it wrong. They learn so much by doing it on their own,” she said. “They learn to work with something until they figure it out.”
“I saw her classroom and her teacher and her focus,” she said. “It was remarkable.”