Environment and method encourage self-discipline
Child learns and works at his/her pace
Mixed-age groupings -- generally three-year span
Child can work wherever he chooses, move about and speak freely as long as behavior does not interfere with others
Emphasis on cognitive, social and emotional development
Teacher/adult enforces discipline
Pace is set by mid-range or norm of group
Same age grouping
Child is usually assigned desk/seat. Freedom of movement and conversing is limited
Emphasis on cognitive development
Source: The Montessori School
Obviously the rebel of the group, Vivian Russo bounced from one activity to the next Friday morning.
Claude Debussy's "Claire De Lune" could be heard in the background as 3-year-old Vivian switched from counting numbers to practicing rolling up a mat to sketching on paper.
Her indecisiveness was just fine with her preschool teacher, Sharon Shedrick.
"I really follow the students rather than stick to a rigid schedule," she said. "If it's not working today, it's not working."
Shedrick owns Red Bank's newly opened Heritage Montessori School, which she runs in a modest two-bedroom white house on Dayton Boulevard. At Heritage, the 2- to 4-year-olds study classical musicians such as Mozart, authors like Maya Angelou and artists like Pablo Picasso. Much attention is given to learning early life skills, such as training to pour liquids and learning how to stack or sort objects. There's also plenty of time spent studying the alphabet and mathematics, too.
Montessori-style instruction is mostly individualized, with students choosing their own activities. Shedrick has more than 100 individual activities laid out on trays throughout her preschool.
"The Montessori classroom is a prepared environment for the child," she said. "But the kids get to choose what they want to do when they come."
Though the concept has thousands of practitioners worldwide, there are few Montessori schools in the Chattanooga area -- something Shedrick and others hope to see change.
Bobbe Spink, head of Montessori School on Duncan Avenue, said Shedrick's preschool program would mark only the fourth Montessori-type school she knew of in the area, with another one in Cleveland and one in the Ooltewah area.
"We need more Montessori in this town," she said. "We have a waiting list -- you pretty much can't get into this program unless you're a 2-year-old."
But Spink cautions that not all Montessori programs are created equal.
"Anybody can say they're a Montessori. There's no copyright on the name," she said.
While several groups accredit or train Montessori programs and teachers, Spink said there's often no way to tell how legitimate a school is without seeing it.
"That's the problem with Montessori, there's no standardization," she said. "That's why it's important to go and look at the school environment."
Shedrick, who formerly worked at Spink's Montessori School, said she is certified by Montessori Educational Professionals International.
The Montessori School has about 250 students from age 1 to eighth grade, Spink said. The new program in Red Bank is just for preschoolers so far, with 10 students for one teacher and an assistant. Both directors said Montessori schools often start small with only a few students in a church or home.
The Montessori Method was developed in the early 1900s by Maria Montessori, Italy's first woman to receive a medical degree, who worked in psychiatry, education and anthropology. The method is now used in as many schools as 20,000 worldwide, with as up to 6,000 programs in the United States.
Yet, "a lot of people here still don't know what Montessori is," said Spink.
Since putting up her preschool's sign a few weeks ago, Shedrick said she's received many phone calls from people asking what Montessori is. Shedrick, who says she has more than 10 years of experience working in Montessori schools in Tennessee and Georgia, wouldn't share the costs of her program, but did say it's affordable when compared to other preschool programs.
"I want it to be reasonable, because I know Montessori works," she said. "I think Montessori can help all children."
Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249.