Thirty years ago, a group of Delaware parents sought a different kind of preschool for their children, so they created one.
The nonprofit Delaware Cooperative Preschool now offers a Montessori-style environment in a school run by a partnership of parents and teachers. Parents participate in the classroom with the children and teachers, make decisions about the school and stay involved in how their children are educated.
Inside the classroom, children direct their activities within a structure.
“They’re really learning through activity,” said preschool teacher Anna Marie Kay. “In a Montessori classroom, work and play are really interchangeable.”
The morning is filled with time for children to work on letters and numbers, as well as to paint and draw. There is Circle Time, in which the children work with the concepts of calendars and read stories. The children, ages 3 to 5 years old, interact with each other in play and school work.
“The beauty of it is you’ll see older children helping younger children,” she said. “A lot of people get nervous when they first hear about the mixed ages, but I’ve been doing this for 26 year and it really is the best environment.”
She said everything in the classroom is meant to help the children in self-exploration – from the art area where only primary colors are set out for children to use so that they can discover secondary colors on their own to snack time in which children serve themselves in “family-style dining.”
There’s always a parent helper in the classroom as well.
“It’s expected that we volunteer,” said Abby Kumpf, a DCP parent who helps with school communications. “It’s expected that we participate and that creates a strong community.”
Kay said the parent involvement is a positive part of the structure. She said parents are encouraged to stay with their child to ease them into the format of preschool if needed, but also to allow the child the independence to grow.
“I think it’s a really big bonus that parents can come into the classroom with us,” she said. “The parents are really involved. It’s a real teamwork between home and the classroom.”
One classroom over from the preschool, Toddler time for 2-year-old children helps build social skills and take a unique approach to preschool education for toddlers, said teacher Linda Hurley
“We really emphasize Independence from the parents,” she said. “We certainly talk about shapes and numbers, but it’s really about social skills.”
For administrator Kristi Bihler, it all boils down to the child.
“It let’s every child be an individual,” she said.
Bihler, whose youngest child attended preschool at the DCP, said she understands what it’s like for parents looking for a preschool. Her two older children attended a traditional preschool; she said the DCP concept was very different from that which she had previously seen. Her position as administrator was added a month ago after DCP parents decided to put in a head position.
“That’s kind of the beauty of this school,” said Kumpf. “We can make what we want of it.”
She said DCP is a hidden gem in the community.
“I think for some people it’s a little scary because it’s different than what they grew up with,” she said. “It seems very willy-nilly and free flowing, but it’s all very intentional.”