Newtown resident Amy Mancusi is providing our community with something different when it comes to daycare. Amy, a resident for 12+ years, has opened Brown Stair Montessori Daycare at her home in Sandy Hook offering childcare for children who are walking to age 5. I had the chance to talk to Amy about her vision for her “micro-school” and what she’s offering families in our community.
Amy, thanks so much for chatting about your new daycare with us. Can you please tell us a bit about your background in teaching? Why did you choose to focus on the Montessori method?
I have a Masters Degree in Psychology and have worked with children and teenagers with developmental differences. This led me to become interested in a career in education. After working as a Head Toddler teacher in a local learning center, I came across the Montessori philosophy through a family member and immediately was intrigued by its unique and individualized approach to learning. I spent a total of seven years at Fraser Woods Montessori in Newtown in the Lower School and Toddler levels. I received my Montessori Primary Teaching Certification in 2017 from the College of New Rochelle. I have always dreamed of having my own Montessori preschool in order to share this wonderful methodology with as many families as possible. I’m very excited to begin this new adventure!
The Montessori method is centered on giving children as much freedom as possible to explore and engage in the curriculum areas to which they are naturally drawn. This method and the beautiful, intriguing materials tap into the sensitive periods of learning that children from roughly 2-5 years of age are currently in. Materials have a built-in control of error, enabling children to independently work and see their own errors naturally so they can correct themselves with minimal teacher intervention. This environment fosters within children an intrinsic desire to learn and seek out those things that interest them most! I believe learning is at its best when the topic is of interest to the child and something they can actively choose.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Montessori style of teaching, can you explain how it is different from other teaching methods?
Traditionally, children are more passive recipients of information as a teacher teaches the same lesson to a large group at once. In a Montessori classroom, children can freely move about the various curriculum areas of the classroom, choosing their own work and learning how to navigate the environment. Lessons are generally presented individually, tailored to the specific academic and developmental level of the child. The Teacher\Directress can adjust the lesson as needed for each child. Every child moves at his or her own pace, and the presentation of lessons reflects that. Learning is truly a sensory, hands-on experience in a Montessori environment, as children are encouraged to move, touch and explore the various the materials.
You picked a really unique name for your center, is there a special meaning behind “Brown Stair”?
What is a typical day like? Can you expand on how you adjust the classroom on days you have a variety of ages?
A typical day would begin around 7AM, as children are dropped off within the school. After children settle in to their environment, often engaging in familiar lessons and socializing with friends, we would have our daily morning meeting where we discuss the weather, the calendar, and perhaps have a group lesson or talk about anything important that may be happening that day. Children are then invited to begin their Work Cycle, as they can freely choose work and\or be presented with new lessons. Art and Music/Movement are enjoyed daily! After a busy morning, we will enjoy outdoor play, nature walks, sensory activities, etc. Lunch follows outside time, as children are invited to help clean and set the tables. After lunch, we do have a nap or resting period, after which we will enjoy a snack and a story before we head back outside! The work environment is always available to children, as they are free to work through the remainder of their day until pick-up.
The beauty of a Montessori environment is enhanced by the fact that children are of varying ages. All of the work on the shelves is prepared and designed in such a way that the youngest and oldest child in the environment can engage with a certain subject matter in a developmentally appropriate way. For example, if we are studying butterflies, I would present concrete objects (butterflies) for matching for the younger students. For the older students, we may make booklets where we draw and label the various species of butterflies. My Assistant may also take a few of the younger students and engage in more developmentally appropriate activities and I would take the older students for lessons more geared to their level. I often find that the older students truly enjoy assisting and guiding the younger children, as they embrace the idea of being role models. The younger children look up to them as well, and often look forward to holding the role of a “big kid” someday.
As a mom, I often hear about parents seeking flexibility in childcare options. And sometimes that’s not necessarily an option at larger daycare centers. Is there a standard set of hours families need to adhere to for your school? How much flexibility in scheduling do you offer?
Flexibility is very important, as many families have dual earners and one or both parents who may need to travel for work. Our hours are 7AM to 6PM Monday through Friday, but if a family requires a drop off before 7AM or a pick up a little after six, that’s not a problem. With advanced notice, we can adjust to meet the needs of our families.
What’s the best way parents reach you and set up time to tour your school? Are you offering anything special for new students?