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Wedding education with education

Economy takes toll on alternative preschool programming

Andrea Guzman, at right, an SCCC student, works on a reading exercise with Tianning, who is nearly 5 years old, on Friday, Dec. 2, at Gateway Montessori Preschool located on the college’s campus.

Andrea Guzman, at right, an SCCC student, works on a reading exercise with Tianning, who is nearly 5 years old, on Friday, Dec. 2, at Gateway Montessori Preschool located on the college’s campus. Photo by John Purcell.

— Children at Gateway Montessori Preschool choose what they learn, prepare their own snacks and decide when its time for a break, but chaos doesn’t ensue.

The alternative preschool is offered at Schenectady County Community College in a building separated from the main campus. There are children as young as 2-and-a-half years old learning in the same room with children up to 6 years old.

There is also an individualized kindergarten component for 5-year-olds promoting literacy, social studies, science, math and the arts. The preschool features authentic Montessori materials and presentations.

Maria Montessori founded Montessori education in 1907 in Italy based off of scientific observation of children’s learning processes.

“It is philosophy where you look at following the child, so it is very individualized,” said Educational Coordinator Deb Ahola. “We try to guide the child into what it is they are really, really interested in and focused on at that time.”

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Elise, a three-year-old, happily works along after sitting at a table with an educational exercise.

Ahola said children work at their individual levels in the focused area. The Montessori discipline leans on the child to tell the staff what they want to work on.

“We trust that the child is going to tell us where they are going, because there is some innate stuff that goes on with the child,” she said. “In a lot of education system they just kind of try to override that … there is never a coercion for children to participate in anything.”

She said activities are made as inviting as possible to gain the child’s interest.

Also, Ahola said she isn’t referred to as a “teacher,” but rather is called a directress, which is part of the educational philosophy since they are guiding children instead of teaching them.

“I was hooked on Montessori a long time ago,” said Ahola. “What I like most about Montessori is it values and it encourages and it fosters the natural curiosity and creativity and love of learning that children have … you see the children love to be there and love to learn about new stuff.”

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