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As in a real Montessori school, last week Brady Clark, 2, and Violet Babb, 3, played quietly together with a Montessori educational material called a knobbed cylinder, dressed as a toy. The group of mothers and toddlers that gather at the Bryan Center every Wednesday for play group plans to start a Montessori preschool in Yellow Springs this winter.

Parents start local Montessori

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Chaos reigned on a recent Wednesday in the Bryan Center gym, where a toddler play group meets each week. Balls were flying and kids caromed off of each other as mothers stood by watchfully. Then a box of curious looking toys were spread out, and one by one, the children came to sit on their mats and check out the shapes, colors and moving parts of the materials before them. The children were rapt, and according to Nacim Sajabi, they were learning in the Montessori model.

“Children focused on doing what they are interested in,” is what the Montessori method aims to achieve, and it’s an ideal way to foster healthy child development, Sajabi said in a recent interview. That is why she and a group of local mothers are starting their own Yellow Springs Montessori School this winter in the village. If the stars and the IRS are aligned, they will get their official tax status as a nonprofit group next month and open their first class for 3- to early 5-year-olds in January.

The Montessori method utilizes unique educational materials designed to stimulate curiosity through play, in a classroom that allows children to sculpt their own school day based on their interests and talents. That model, coupled with founder Maria Montessori’s emphasis on nurturing the “spirit of the child,” spoke deeply to Sajabi, who values educating the whole child. The model seemed to resonate with the school-age children she taught as a Montessori teacher in the Dayton public schools from 2003–05. And she and the four other Yellow Springs Montessori board members believe it would nurture youth in Yellow Springs as well.

“Montessori seems to me to be a very appropriate learning model for kids of this age group,” said Janet Mueller, who is vice president of the board. “The materials call to the kids instead of being pushed on them, and the materials are designed to spark curiosity and self-direction.”

There are several preschools in Yellow Springs, including those at the Community Children’s Center, the Antioch School and at Friends Care. But Jen Clark, who is secretary of the board, works part-time from home and feels that this Montessori school’s three-hour sessions three days a week is the right amount of educational engagement for her 2-year-old son, Brady, who plans to start next fall.

The virtues component of the Yellow Springs Montessori School was also a big draw for Clark, who feels most school environments don’t reinforce enough the importance of values such as kindness and compassion. And as the education director of the Yellow Springs United Methodist Church, she wants Brady to be exposed to those ideas from the perspectives of multiple religions, another component which isn’t taught in most schools.

“From the board’s perspective, there will be a strong emphasis on children as peacemakers of the future,” said Sajabi, who hopes their school will expose the children to different backgrounds of belief and unbelief, and use the writings of different religions to promote character development.

“You must show them that they are children of the universe, expose them to the cosmos, to different cultures…that’s how peace comes about — if they see the beauty in others, that’s how they’ll be more interconnected,” she said.

The Yellow Springs Montessori School is scheduled to open on Jan. 15 and will operate from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in one of the classrooms at the First Presbyterian Church downtown. Tuition is expected to be between $200–250 per month, which the board has been able to keep low by using a cooperative model — though the fee can be adjusted to match the level of participation families are able to give, Sajabi said.

To raise start-up money and to purchase more materials, the Montessori board is hosting a Snow Ball in January. The board has also applied for local funding and in the meantime has received in-kind services from area architect Jim Alt on classroom design, a local attorney regarding nonprofit status, and a business professional and friend about the school’s budget. Teachers from area schools, such as Nancy Schwab from the Springfield Montessori School and Lea Tyler from the Enon Montessori School, have advised the budding local Montessori and donated much-needed materials, as have other Montessori schools in the region, Sajabi said.

Classroom materials are an important component of the Montessori model, whose students get introduced to colors, letters, math and geography as young as 3 years of age. The sensorial materials are part of what drew Christy Comerford to Montessori. Trained as a Montessori teacher for 9–12-year-olds, Comerford plans to start teaching the Yellow Springs Montessori School classes while earning her teaching certificate for the younger group. With a degree in elementary education, a masters in special education as well as training in the Waldorf method, Comerford feels comfortable with the Montessori method because it stresses individual learning styles that allow students to progress at their own pace.

“I’m happy to be teaching because it means I don’t have to give up the things I love about that age — their wittiness, how inquisitive they are and picture books!” she said, recalling that time with her own two girls, who are now 9 and 12.

When the idea for a local part-time Montessori school first came up, everyone Sajabi spoke to seemed enthusiastic, and several mentioned regret over the loss of Valeska Appleberry’s Montessori school in the Vale. The list of 17 families who have since expressed interest or gotten involved speaks to the level of need for the preschool option, which wouldn’t have come together but for the volunteers who nurtured it along, Sajabi said. Other Montessori board members Molly Lunde, treasurer, and Stephanie Zinger have been key partners in the effort, as well as parents such as Elizabeth Green and others, who for various reasons are no longer involved.

“We seem to have overcome the hurdles that came our way,” Sajabi said. “It’s just really taken shape because everyone’s vision, dedication and devotion to it has created something I think is going to happen.”

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