New inclusive preschool opening in Perham this fall
The Montessori Inclusive Preschool at Empowering Kids will teach kids in a hands-on, student-led curriculum.
PERHAM — When Empowering Kids opened in the Perham community, Chelsey Hendrickx learned about the Montessori Method, an early childhood education style that is particularly beneficial for kids who have autism. The more she learned about it, the more she was drawn to it, and she and Empowering Kids soon decided they had to introduce their own school with this method to the Perham area.
"I was like, 'Let's do it. I'll go back to school and learn more about it,'" Hendrickx said, remembering the time she pitched this new preschool to Empowering Kids. "And that's exactly what I did."
Though Hendrickx already had a bachelor's degree in early childhood education, she decided to study at the North American Montessori Center to specifically learn about the Montessori Method, in order to bring it to Empowering Kids.
Now, that dream of having a new Montessori Inclusive Preschool in Perham is coming to fruition in 2022, with Hendrickx as the educator. Developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, this education style encourages kids to learn what they'd like, at their own pace. It's student-directed, with hands-on and interactive learning activities.
Classrooms are multi-age, meaning students ages three through six will be able to interact with one another, and the uninterrupted work periods allow for students to practice time-management skills and learn about their particular interests. Through her studies, Dr. Montessori learned that kids go through a sensitive period where their brains are very active and engrossed in a particular activity. Through encouraging this sensitive period, children can learn and grow at their own pace.
"Kids who have autism sometimes have something they'll hyperfixate on for a while before moving to the next, so it gives them the opportunity to fully explore without saying they have to put it down," Hendrickx said. "It gives them time to explore the world around them and see what is happening and why things are happening. It's really cool. I like that kids can do that."
Though the Montessori Method is particularly beneficial for kids who have autism, it also benefits neurotypical kids. They'll be able to interact with fellow students of multiple ages as well as kids who are different from them, allowing them to experience diversity early on.
"Classrooms with different types of children are a great program for anybody, whether they have a disability or not, because you're going to encounter that the rest of your life," Hendrickx said. "Having children that have empathy toward others is very important. They can learn that someone might be a little different from you, but they're still your friend."
Ten spots at the Montessori Preschool are for neurotypical children. There will also be five total spots for kids who have autism, who are also a part of the Empowering Kids Early Intensive Developmental and Behavioral Intervention program, also known as EIDBT. These kids come to the program with their providers, who will work with them one-on-one in the school environment.
"They can work with their peers and also have the support of their providers," Hendrickx said. "That way, if a communication breakdown occurs, the provider can help them and hopefully explain to them what is happening and help them process and avoid meltdowns. It gives everyone a chance to work together by having more support."
According to Hendrickx, the small classroom size will also be quite beneficial for her young students. Classes will also start even smaller. When they open on Sept. 6, a few kids will be introduced to the classroom in small groups each week, in a staggered entrance. That way, kids will have time to adjust without all entering the classroom at once in a large group, which can be overwhelming for some.
Each day, Hendrickx will have a morning meeting with the kids, so they can all get settled in. They'll start small and work up to longer work periods throughout the day, as the students lead the direction and develop more stamina. Throughout the days, students will learn about practical life, language, math, sensory exploration, culture, science, and cosmic education.
With this curriculum, students will master practical life practices, such as pouring water, that they will need at home, but they will also learn about the typical educational topics, such as geography, Hendrickx said. When she was learning about the Montessori Method herself, she was absolutely blown away, and she's excited to bring this to Empowering Kids.
"Just seeing this is something really special," Hendrickx said. "It's so nice being able to live in a small community and have so many different types of education for parents to choose from. I think that's just a blessing because that's not the case in lots of places… You need to have the community backing you to create a nonprofit like (Empowering Kids)."
There are currently seven spots for neurotypical kids left open in the Montessori Inclusive Preschool, on a first-come, first-serve basis. The staggered entrance for classes will start Tuesday, Sept. 6. For more information or to register, call Empowering Kids at 218-346-2322 or visit their website at empoweringkidsperham.org . They can also be found at 231 Fox Street.
"I would just like to say thank you (to the Perham community)," Hendrickx concluded. "Without the support, there's no way we could've made Empowering Kids what it is today. It's so amazing to see everyone behind you. They want to help you. They want to support you. That is really special."