Preschool is considered by many to be the first fundamental step in a child’s education. But for some, an early start on learning can’t come early enough.
A new South Jeffco Montessori school is attempting to address that need, offering programs for infants only 6 weeks out of the womb to children as old as 3 — the age at which traditional preschool typically begins.
The niche for Sunflower Montessori School, which is tentatively slated to open Aug. 15, is obvious, said owner Cimarron West. No other Montessori program catering to such a young age group currently exists in the area, and the business provides an alternative to day care, she said.
“There’s a huge need for infant and toddler Montessori, as far as quality goes. There is not a single school in Littleton … or this whole area,” said West, a teacher involved in Montessori education since 1996. “I’ve had a vision to open my own school for many years.”
Though a structured, formal education may not necessarily apply to budding humans not yet trained to use a toilet, the tenets of Montessori do in fact support youngsters’ developing minds, West said.
“They can already see and hear really well. They start to learn voice recognition,” she said of infants. “They’re learning to get their needs met. When they cry, someone comes.”
In accordance with Montessori principles, the program is structured around “sensorial exploration, freedom of movement, independence and practical life activities.”
“A lot of people don’t understand how the Montessori philosophy applies to younger children. It’s based on respect,” West said. “It’s individualized. They get to choose their own activities. … Once they get older, we use real-life materials: wood, glass, metal — those kinds of things. There’s nothing containing them. They’re not in bouncy seats.”
The educational philosophy, for which West proclaims a fervent personal passion, seeks to address children’s emotional, physical, mental and spiritual needs while encouraging interaction across age groups. Older children, for example, can glean concepts of empathy and compassion for their younger classmates by working together, West said.
West even helped institute the approach in a nursery in Cairo, Egypt, as part of a volunteer project, she said.
“I implemented the Montessori philosophy into a Cairo nursery and trained the staff,” she said. “It was really hard living in a Third World country, but at the end of the six months … I didn’t want to leave.”
West, who holds a degree from Kaplan University and has teaching experience at the Montessori School at Ken Caryl and the Montessori Academy of Denver, said she plans to keep staff-to-student ratios lower than state averages.
“That’s how the children are going to get that one-on-one individualized attention,” she said. “I don’t have a business background. I’ve just paid really close attention to the administration of Montessori schools.”
And the name of the school doesn’t just represent a pretty flower — it’s symbolic, she said, explaining that the intricate components of the large flower are like young pupils.
“Sunflowers are my favorite flowers,” she said. “Inside (each) sunflower are tons of florets, which are little flowers.”
Though her program has yet to take off, West said her idea of attracting a well-trained and enthusiastic staff will yield good results. She plans to have a staff of eight in place by the time classes begin, she said, adding that she’s hopeful her program will encourage parents to later send their children to Montessori Peaks and other local preschools.
“I just have a vision of a wonderful school, where the staff wants to be there,” she said. “That will trickle down to the parents and the children.”
Sunflower Montessori School is at 11624 W. Belleview Ave. Visit http://www.sunflowermontessorischool.com for tuition rates and other details.