WINTER GARDEN — The maps and puzzles, the blocks and books, the tables and chairs are all in place at the Matthew’s Hope Firm Foundation Preschool in Winter Garden. All that is needed are children ages 3 to 6 with an eagerness to learn.
This is the latest program unveiled by West Orange County’s homeless ministry — a preschool based on the Montessori system of teaching and learning.
Open-house events and registration began last week and continue through this weekend. A maximum of 21 students can attend, although only 10 are needed to get classes started. All children in the community are welcome to attend, but priority will be given to families in deepest need and those who are Matthew’s Hope clients, or guests, as they are called. More than half of the people served by the ministry are women and young children.
“These kids have no place to go,” Matthew’s Hope founder Scott Billue said. “But we didn’t want to have glorified childcare. The kids are actually getting a foundation to work from.”
Two teachers will lead the class: Ginger Allen, the preschool director, and Katie Reed.
“We want to provide an affordable Montessori education with a Christian worldview,” Reed said.
“The best part is we get to talk about God to these kids,” Allen said. “(I am) excited to share my experience and new Montessori training with these kids. We will nurture their emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth, preparing them not only for kindergarten but for life.”
Tuition will be a sliding scale based on the family’s income and bills. The cost will range from $25 to $100 per week and will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
CLASS FOR ALL SENSES
A portable classroom is set up on the south end of the West Orange Church of Christ campus, in Winter Garden, near where Matthew’s Hope operates. The room is a neat and orderly environment, full of colors and shapes and opportunity. There are many opportunities to work on fine-motor skills.
In the practical life area, where there is a monthly color and theme, children can start with the basics: pouring, sorting, sweeping — activities that stimulate the hands and brain to work together. They will learn self-care by brushing their teeth, washing their face and drinking plenty of water.
The sensorial area has color tablets, boxes for sorting colors and shades, puzzles and more. Students can take out whichever activities they want and sit down on the colorful rug for playing and learning.
The idea is for the children to gain confidence on their own, Reed said.
Allen pointed out that there are no toys in the classroom — but there are plenty of fun activities.
In the language area, participants can trace sandpaper letters in a pre-reading program and learn sounds, words, phrases and sentences.
There is a math area, too. One of the volunteers has already created multiple math games to share with students.
A culture area will concentrate on science, botany and geography with maps, puzzles and other learning tools. In the reading corner, colorful pillows are set up next to one of two bookcases donated by the Dawn Brancheau Foundation. The organization also provided four picnic tables that are set up outside by the classroom. Bright Horizons, a childcare facility in Winter Garden, donated a bunch of school supplies.
ALL IN A DAY
The schedule will depend on the parents’ needs, Allen said. Tentatively, the school hours are 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, with before-care from 7 to 8:30 a.m. and after-care from 3 to 6 p.m.
The director said the morning will include a long work cycle so the children can concentrate on their activities, followed by outside time and lunch. Another volunteer has put together a preschool fitness program that will be incorporated. In the afternoon, community members can come in and share. Reed is working on chapel lessons for a Bible curriculum.
Many people already have signed up to volunteer in the classroom, but there is no limit to the number of people who can be a part of the preschool program. About 15 people have agreed to help, including retired teachers, longtime educators and others with a background in the Montessori program.
Volunteers can work on an art project with children, play a musical instrument, share a unique collection or bring their service dog. They can also help students with one-on-one reading. Even garage-salers can be on the lookout for specific items, Allen said.
Immediate assistance is needed in printing, cutting and laminating the learning sheets.
For more on volunteering, email [email protected]. For general Matthew’s Hope information, call (407) 905-9500.
Open house and registration continues this week at the Matthew’s Hope Firm Foundation preschool, 1460 Daniels Road, Winter Garden: