Montessori teacher guides children on journey of discovery
BULLHEAD CITY — Sheila Webber wants children to take a journey of discovery.
The preschool and kindergarten teacher at Montessori Preparatory Academy doesn’t see her job as teaching the students, so much as guiding them as they learn.
Her classroom serves as a laboratory in which children not only begin learning academics, but also develop fine motor skills such as sharpening pencils, tying knots or undoing buttons. Those skills help develop little fingers for writing, she said.
They also learn about personal responsibility, such as cleaning up after oneself, putting items away after use and showing respect to others.
Part of Webber’s job is building confidence in her youngsters, she said, as she noted a child who had a misspelled a word in a project.
“She’s gonna fix that later,” Webber said.
Webber always has had a gift for working with children, and the Montessori method of education fit what she wanted to do, she said.
The Montessori method is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play, with the children making many choices in their learning, and the teacher offering age-appropriate activities to guide the process.
Webber’s classroom includes a variety of tools to engage the children’s senses, including tubes of various sizes and colorful squares. Children start by learning to identify primary colors, then move on to recognizing shades of a particular hue.
Children use their sense of touch in developing literacy, often tracing a letter or numeral while reciting it.
One activity includes a bucket of action words. A child pulls out a word, makes the letter sounds and then performs the action, such as “hop” or “sing” on a nearby mat.
In math, they identify numbers and learn about place value before moving on to operations.
The children also study other parts of the world, learning about the animals of a different continent each month.
Amanda Carling’s 3-year-old daughter, Isabel Terrazas, is one of Webber’s preschoolers.
“I can’t imagine her going anywhere else,” said Carling, who likes Webber’s ability to help the children learn while being a caring presence in their lives.
“One of the first things I noticed when I went to take the tour was how kids were hugging and clinging on her,” Carling said. “I adore her. She’s the sweetest person, (yet) she really strongly promotes their independence. She’s remembers what’s important as well as being that comfort teacher.”
Robert Lock, president of Montessori Preparatory Academy’s board of directors, said Webber’s background as a trained artist helps her to support students both academically and emotionally during a time of rapid growth and development.
“(It) allows her to see and envision the ordinary as extraordinary,” Lock said. “We are incredibly fortunate to have Sheila as a part of our Montessori family.”
Webber said that her biggest goal for her students is to get them to love learning.
“If you love learning and are excited about it, you can do anything,” she said.
The school is a good place for her because it allows children to develop at their own pace, though they still work toward certain benchmarks, Webber said.
Webber also likes being able to structure her class so that the students can learn for themselves.
“Being independent and free to explore develops a child more than anything I can spoon-feed them,” she said.