Kate’s Montessori in Derrynanool, Mitchelstown, is awash with Caterpillars and Butterflies when The Avondhu visited the pre-school this week – as well as a hen, duck, pigs, calves, and talk of sheep!
The 32 Caterpillars and Butterflies are the two groups of preschoolers, busy colouring indoors at 9am on Monday – but not for long. Kate’s Montessori has a huge emphasis on outdoor play, and soon the group will be outside playing pirates, shopkeeper or just digging up the muck!
In a peaceful plot just off the Kildorrery Road, the Montessori school has gone from just four students in 2010, to the group it is today. There are six staff on hand and the group is divided into two: the Caterpillars are the younger age group, who graduate onto Butterflies, before eventually heading off to ‘big school’.
TOP THREE FINALIST
Hannah Kate Finn, founder and owner, is a formal electrician and engineer, who turned her hand to forming this extremely successful childcare service 11 years ago. Kate’s Montessori was a top three finalist in the national Early Childhood Awards held in October, an accolade they can be extremely proud of.
“A lot of our play is based outside – they love it. For example, the sand pit area here on the ship has a low roof, so even in torrential rain, the kids can still go outside”
The pirate ship was made by Hannah Kate’s husband, who she credits with being “fairly handy”, and Kate’s own daughter Peggy is an eager preschooler in the school.
There is a large colourful shed with all the wellies and raingear for both groups. Two outdoor kitchens, a ‘post office’ and a ‘shop’ all take up the garden, with different toys and ‘bits’ in each area. Hannah Kate had a patch for growing potatoes, but, of course, the most exciting thing for the toddlers was digging up the muck, so the spuds were abandoned and the mud plot continues today!
A bridge over a tunnel offers views of the calves next door, and the tunnel is a busy spot for the young charges to have a bit of a sit and a chat.
The inside of the school is one room, separated by a wall that segments the kids into groups, to comply with social distancing. Before Covid, and hopefully when restrictions ease again, the groups would normally mingle. The older children ‘mind’ the younger ones, and relish the chance to play the teacher, telling stories to the younger ones and helping them find their way.
“We have our play-timers group on Mondays and Tuesdays, and our ECCE on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The play-timers are for the year before the kids qualify for the free school year, and it’s great for the parents and kids, to get a bit of a break, and so the children can socialise.”
Hannah Kate has bookings from when the future students are only six months old, something which she says is necessary for future planning.
The Montessori also has a nature walk that the preschoolers can take, bringing them through grass and animals to an area of marsh and reeds. Long-term plans include a polytunnel, water wall and wildflower garden, so that the children can see the flowers grow and die back throughout the seasons.
The relatively small group means the gang get take part in a lot of activities. The school adopted a donkey for a number of years, and regularly go on trips, including to the Irish Tree Centre locally in Kildorrery, or into Mitchelstown to visit the fire station, the post office or the library.
“They learn about their community, and they absolutely love it. We go to the panto in Kilmallock, and also have parents’ days – one of the parents will come in and tell them about their job. Someone might come in and tell them about being a farmer, or a plumber.”
DON’T FORGET THE CAKE!
The Montessori is celebrating its 11th year this year, and as each child gets a Rice Krispie cake for their birthday, we hope someone gives Hannah Kate one too! Here’s to the next 11 years…