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Thursday, January 21, 2016

OP-ED: Country Hills Montessori Fort Thomas Offers Great Preschool Alternative

Country Hills Montessori Fort Thomas regularly hosts guests—including armadillos from the zoo!

In 2011 my husband and I lugged our 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old twin boys around to various preschool open houses. Parents of young children are lucky in Fort Thomas—many good options exist. But we, personally, fell in love with the Fort Thomas branch of Country Hills Montessori (CHM).

The Montessori method, founded by Italian pediatrician Maria Montessori, is an educational approach derived from children's natural, age-based learning tendencies. Children are encouraged to learn and discover at their own pace, working their way through beautifully prepped assignments found on low-lying shelves, on trays and in baskets.

Individual works are kept on trays on low-lying shelves.

Students work on their own rugs, learning at an early edge the benefit of order and personal space.

Located in Highlandspring of Fort Thomas, CHM also has the advantage of allowing young children to interact with the transitional care facility's residents. "This introduces service learning at a young age, as well as offering comfort and inspiration for the residents," says Eileen Richter, administrator and lead teacher at CHM Fort Thomas. "They enjoy watching the children work in the classroom and doing activities with them. There is a spark of joy in their eyes as well as in the children's."

CHM students trick or treat with Highlandspring residents October 2015.

Colored beads on chain help with counting.

We sent our daughter, Sophie, to CHM for two years. Once our twin boys turned 3, we sent them for two years, too. All three blossomed in the Montessori environment. They delighted in the ability to choose their own "works." With the color bead bars they learned how to count. Map work introduced them to a larger world. They learned how to write, cut and paste. They created, analyzed, listened, experimented, learned how to calm themselves at the peace table, and worked in groups and individually, on their own personal rugs. After the completion of a work, they knew to put it away, exactly where they found it (something I never was able to replicate at home).

Sushannah Hahn welcomes a reluctant James Uhl on the first day of preschool in 2013.

Teachers are Montessori certified, and the Fort Thomas branch of CHM has a combined 100 years of experience. We aren't alone in our passion for CHM's teachers—and the instruction.

Melissa Reed says she knew from the beginning she wanted her children to attend a Montessori preschool, and they visited many throughout northern Kentucky. "We chose CHM ultimately because of short class times, low child-to-teacher ratio, and we loved the interaction they get with the residents," Reed says.

Reed also appreciated the individualized attention. Reed's oldest son, Liam, was already reading when he started preschool, and needed individualized work. "Mrs. Sparks was amazing in giving him that gift," Reed says. "Sometimes it was a struggle to get him in the door, but the work he was able to do eventually is what convinced him to stay. We love the personalized, individualized attention and work he got." 

That individualized attentioned continued with Reed's daughter Ruby. "She wasn't quite reading yet, but she was close," Reed says. "The teachers also gave her some individualized work and books, and for her it was so much more social than for Liam." Reed says they have loved CHM and they're anxious for their youngest daughter, Violet, to start next fall.

Artwork at Country Hills Montessori Fort Thomas.

Rachel Sarver's son, Regan, is currently a student and her younger daughter, Aubrey, started in January. "We are really having a great experience there," Sarver says. "A couple of things that I will likely remember forever about the school is how gentle and motherly Mrs. Richter has always been to Regan, like a second mother. All the teachers are very kind and are wonderful with the young children." Academically, Sarver says she's been impressed with how natural and effortless learning has been for Regan. "He was reading by the second year of preschool," she says. "He is excited about learning and loves to go to school."

The School House Symphony performs for students at CHM Fort Thomas October 2015.

Many CHM parents believe in Montessori's three-year program. "I can't imagine a better place for my girls to have started their education than at CHM," says Angel Beets. "At my first parent orientation night, a parent of a kindergartener told us to trust the process, because everything our children did would build on itself. At the time, I didn't think much of those words, but three years later, after my own daughter completed kindergarten, I saw exactly what she was talking about. All of the simple activities that started from left to right helped my daughter understand the natural direction of reading. Tracing sandpaper letters helped her develop a memory of shapes. She was challenged and motivated and excited to go to school every day." 

Through parent-teacher conferences, a one-way mirrored observational room and open houses, my husband and I saw first hand how easily CHM catered to the individual student. Our children loved the visits from School House Symphony. And we appreciated the secular learning environment and the teachers' daily kindness (more than once our son James fell asleep on a teacher's lap during story time).

Sophie Uhl, with the help of Administrator and Lead Teacher Eileen Richter, reads her birthday book to her class in 2013.

The walk around the sun is one of our favorite CHM traditions.

Routines and traditions are commonplace, and our favorite was how CHM celebrated birthdays. Prior to their birthday students work on a book about their life at home, with the help of parents. On their birthday they share their book with the class. Then they walk around a glowing sun while holding a small replica of earth—the number of times they circle the sun is dependent on their age. While circling the class sings:

The earth goes round the sun,
the earth goes round the sun,
the earth goes round the sun tra la,
the earth goes round the sun.

Owen and James Uhl walk around the sun to celebrate their 4th birthdays, May 2014.

Whittney Darnell has sent all three of her children through CHM, as we have. "CHM nurtures the natural spirit, strengths and uniqueness of each child that walks through their door, allowing them to learn their fundamentals in settings that are practical and comprehensive," Darnell says. "Montessori learning is not about memorizing numbers and letters, but experiencing the significance of what those things mean. I loved CHM for my oldest who wanted to learn everything, and I loved CHM for my twins who often tried to do the minimum works possible. All of them left Montessori with a strong foundation, and more importantly, confidence and curiosity." 

To learn more about CHM and the Montessori method, you can visit an open house at the Fort Thomas branch, located in Highlandspring behind the library, this Sunday, January 24, 1-2:30pm. To arrange a private tour, call 859-442-0500 or email

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