Stepping through the doors of the old church, you can’t help but smile. Little tables and chairs, large, whimsical dandelion orb lights, a cozy nook for reading and beautiful arched windows that let in lots of natural light give the space a cheerful feeling.
The Harwood Montessori Preschool and Daycare, on the corner of 20th Street and 45th Avenue, feels like a one-room school house set in the 1950s.
Stacey Robertson, director and owner of the new school that is taking registration for the fall, is excited to see her vision come to life after a month of construction to convert the church into a preschool and daycare.
“I wanted to keep the building vintage, to bring kids back to an old school setting,” said Robertson.
The mother of two grown children and one teenager is an early childhood educator, Montessori-certified, and has been working with children for 30 years. This is the fourth school she has owned.
Originally from Kelowna, she has had Montessori preschools in the Lower Mainland, the Kootenays and Calgary.
Now living in Vernon, Robertson says she feels like she’s come home.
The passionate teacher had been searching for three years for a location to run a Montessori school before finding the church.
The former home to the Essentialist Church of Christ had dark wood panelling lining the walls inside, so it has taken Robertson, along with her builder Max Peterson of Smith&Sons Remodeling Experts Vernon, many hours of scraping and painting to brighten up the space while leaving some of the wood details, exposed brick, and other features.
Plumbing had to be changed to accommodate the three child-sized sinks, and toilets and the electrical had to be updated.
The building – originally built as a community dance hall in 1957, then converted into a church – has all of the elements needed to become a preschool and daycare with a full kitchen, nap room, and playground.
“If you look back at some of the architecture in Italy when Maria Montessori started her classrooms, this is really a reflection of what she had, with the windows, the high ceilings and the brightness,” said Robertson of the space.
Montessori is a teaching method developed by Maria Montessori with an individualized approach to learning.
It encourages creativity and curiosity by leading children to ask questions, think for themselves and explore.
“The Montessori classroom is a child-sized world. Whatever is in the world outside is incorporated meaningfully in our Montessori classroom,” said Robertson.
“We recognize the individuality of your child and structure our learning to meet his/her maximum growth in all areas of the classroom. They are little sponges that just want to absorb anything and everything around them.”
Robertson is enjoying getting to know her school’s new neighbourhood and the people that live in the Harwood area.
“I’m looking forward to offering a wonderful Montessori program and I’m excited about being in Harwood and getting to know the families in the Vernon area.”
With much of the construction wrapping up, Robertson says she can see her vision for her preschool and daycare taking shape.