New Lexington 4 center to focus on Montessori

Youngsters in the Gaston-Swansea area who attend Lexington 4's new early childhood center will learn at the pace the children find most comfortable.

The center will feature Montessori and other hands-on types of learning when it opens next fall for 3-, 4- and 5-year olds.

That training encourages more self-directed learning, creativity and individual instruction for students, officials said.

The approach should "help them get off to a good start," which will pay off in improved performance later, associate superintendent Robert Maddox said.

It's the first time the methods will be used in Lexington 4.

None of the other four Lexington County school districts use it, though neighboring Richland 1 and Richland 2 do.

Such training "is not yet thought much as mainstream, but it's here to stay," said Ginny Riga, a state education official who oversees Montessori instruction.

About 4,000 youngsters statewide learn through that approach in 200 sites, she said.

Montessori training is popular for younger ages, but also is spreading to elementary and middle schools, she said.

Youngsters of all ages will mix with each other in classrooms in the Lexington 4 center, although 5-year-olds will be taught by other methods if their parents prefer.

Mixing those ages helps develop social skills like cooperation as well as academic progress, Riga said.

Enrollment is expected to be about 500 pupils at the center, which is being built next to other schools on the Lexington 4 campus. Two dozen teachers will be at the center.

The emphasis on Montessori education was developed in consultation with parental advisory panels, center principal Lillian Atkins said.

More parents are coming to appreciate Montessori - once limited to small private schools - because of the results, Riga said.

"It's almost failure-proof," she said. "Children work at their own pace."