A dozen mini writing desks sit lined up. Colored pencils are neatly organized in color coordinated cups along trays of letters and counting blocks. A bird, hamster and tarantula sit peacefully in their cages.
The scene is set.
All that is needed are the students.
On Feb. 28, the Rim Country’s first Montessori school will open in Star Valley, at 3632 E. Highway 260, the former space of town hall.
Morgan’s Creek Montessori director Roni Schutz is busy putting the final touches on the school, getting posters hung, learning tools organized and playground equipment set up.
Although there are no children yet, the whole space has a friendly, welcoming atmosphere Schutz said is key for learning.
The Montessori system of education, Schutz explains, is based on individual one-on-one learning with a facilitator rather than a teacher. Having a welcoming atmosphere encourages students to explore and take risks while learning in a safe environment.
You won’t find any worksheets or grade books in the school. Students will not sit at desks for long periods reading from textbooks or be scolded for walking around.
Students, ranging in age from 2.5 to 6 years old, are urged to explore based on the premise that learning happens best when a child can touch an object rather than watching a teacher write about it on the board.
“In most classrooms, everything happens on paper. Here, everything is tangible and they can pick it up,” she said.
For a typical lesson, Schutz will show a student how to do an activity and then they give the lesson back to her.
Based on their response, Schutz gauges how well they understood the concept.
Curriculum includes practical life skills — like washing dishes and packing a suitcase — math, English, arts and crafts, cultural studies, science, music and geography.
Since children develop at different paces, students work at their own level, advancing when they understand an idea.
“They are not like cattle, all learning at once,” she said.
Activities include tracing shapes, using counting beads for basic mathematics, such as addition and subtraction, using letters to learn phonetic sounds, matching animals with their name and placing blocks in the correct size opening.
The lessons are designed to allow movement in the classroom, something that fulfills a child’s need to be physical while learning, Schutz said.
“When they are young like this, you teach them very basic study habits without them realizing it,” she said.
Schutz said she stresses independence at her school.
“When they gain that self-esteem, they realize they can move mountains,” she said. “The child develops a sense of confidence when they learn to complete one activity and put away materials to begin another.”
Maria Montessori created this style of education in the early 1900s. Montessori originally developed the program for children with disabilities. The program worked so well, it was expanded to preschool and kindergarten students.
Schutz was first exposed to the program many years ago when she began the search for a preschool for her son.
“I found the school, but I did not know what it was. I thought maybe it was little monks running around,” she said.
After researching Montessori and watching a classroom first hand, Schutz knew the program would work well for her son, who had trouble concentrating and sitting still.
Now 28-years-old, Schutz’s son tells Schutz he still remembers the basic skills he learned at the Montessori.
Opening a Montessori school is a dream come true for Schutz, who taught at a similar school in California for 23 years. After moving to the Rim Country five years ago, Schutz said she missed the school environment.
For a few years, Schutz taught special education in the Payson Unified School District and for the last six months, she has worked hard to make her dream of a school a reality.
“It is something that is just part of me,” she said of the Montessori.
The school will offer three daytime programs.
The first runs from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and costs $123 for five days a week, $111 for four days and $105 for three days.
The second runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and is 15 percent less than the all-day program.
The last program runs from 8:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and is 23 percent less than all day. Tuition is paid on a weekly basis.
Call (928) 474-2256 for more information.