Eden Cooperative Nursery Director Lindsi Archabald and son, Will, join Keara Brady (center) in an activity where she identifies print letters of the alphabet using her sense of touch. Keara, who is blind, learned both braille and print letters while attending the preschool.
When the time came for Kristen Brady’s daughter, Keara, to attend preschool, she was concerned about finding the right fit for her daughter’s needs.
As the mother of a blind child, Brady knew that Keara needed a unique environment that emphasized social development in order to thrive.
“Because she is blind, I went to preschools everywhere, from Amherst to past Gowanda and into Fredonia,” said Brady, a Gowanda resident.
“I was looking for an integrated classroom. A lot of (preschools) said that they were integrated, but they weren’t.”
Then Brady discovered Eden Cooperative Nursery School. The non-profit preschool provides a Montessori education, which is based on tailoring to the child’s individual needs and talents.
“I came here, and (even) with all of the kids, it was so calm and open. I felt at peace here for (Keara),” Brady said.
Established in the mid 1960s, the co-op nursery school has a rich history in the Town of Eden. The nursery purchased its location on South Main Street in 1989, which once housed the old Immaculate Conception Church.
Three years ago, the preschool decided to switch from a traditional education approach to a Montessori environment. A $1,500 grant from the Eden Community Foundation allowed the purchasing of necessary materials for the new curriculum.
“It’s a very child-centered, individual way of learning,” said Director Lindsi Archabald. “This way we can teach to where the child is at...in traditional schools everyone learns the same thing at the same time.”
In this environment, students get to choose their work for the day.
“With (children) having a say in what they do, they have more pride in it. They want to do the work more, they are led by their own curiosity and discovery,” Archabald said.
Five areas of development are the focus of a Montessori education. Students learn language, which includes sound, letter recognition and pre-reading skills; math, which includes numbers and quantities; sensorial, which involves discriminating differences such as color shades or textures; practical life, which teaches fine-motor and self-help skills; and cultural, which includes science, music and arts.
Archabald added that this teaching style emphasizes hands-on learning, cooperation and socialization.
“There is a lot of movement. They are not sitting at a desk for an extended period of time,” she said.
Students at the nursery quickly learn responsibility and independence.
“They are responsible for putting (lesson materials) away, they serve their own snack, pour their own water and wash dishes,” Archabald said. “You can tell they take pride in what they do, it’s exciting to watch them gain all that independence.”
The Eden Co-op Nursery is also unique in that it is operated by volunteer board of parents. The classroom is manned by Archabald, Teacher Aide Brenda Bromley and a rotating “parent of the day.”
“It help keeps our costs low and allows the parents to come in and see what their child is doing,” Archabald said. “We use everybody’s resources. Our lawn is cut and our building is cleaned by parents.”
The nursery teaches students not only from Eden, but from areas such as Hamburg, Brant, Angola and North Collins.
“It’s a very family-oriented classroom,” said Archabald. “It’s a great building, a great space.”
Archabald said she believes Keara flourished in the Montessori environment.
“In the traditional (learning style) we did projects that would have been difficult...to make workable for Keara,” she said. “With her having choices, she could learn next to someone doing their letters and have her braille letters out. She did everything we did.”
Archabald also learned braille so that she could work closer with Keara.
Keara said her favorite things to do at school is a letter-recognition game called “Names in the Pockets” and make crafts to take home.
“Lindsi is very on top of Keara being independent,” said Brady. “Most people want to coddle disabled children. If you push them to be their best, they will do better than you even think they can, regardless of the disability.”
Instead of being singled out, Keara was quickly embraced by her peers at the nursery. Archabald said that when Keara needed guidance, a classmate would always be there to offer an elbow.
Earlier this month, Keara graduated from Eden Cooperative Nursery School. She will be attending a public kindergarten in the fall.
“She’s more than prepared,” said Brady. “You don’t realize how fast they grow up.”