BY PETRE WILLIAMS-RAYNOR Career & Education editor firstname.lastname@example.org
IN 12 years, they have catered to more than 400 children, offering day care and after-school services — all the while exposing their young charges to the Montessori method of teaching, which lets them learn at their own pace and largely based on activities they choose.
Such are the offerings at the Sharon Marley-led Total Care Learning Centre (TCLC) where they also provide nanny and party services while also functioning as a training institution.
"We train young women in the field of early childhood education. It's a one-year, HEART-certified training programme. When we started, this subject was not certified nor was it a popular thing for young women to do; gladly I am seeing that change now," Marley, TCLC's founder and managing director, told Career & Education.
"After the training programme commenced, we started to offer day care services for children three months to four years (old). Initially this was to be a practical setting opportunity for the trainees; it would turn into much more. The day care is actually our big selling point. We also offer caregivers for private (at home) emergency placements as well as party services," she added.
To that end, since they opened their doors with only five children, not only has TCLC served 400 kids, they have also trained some 600 caregivers.
But getting the facility to this level has not been without its share of 'hiccups'. The location of the school at 56 Lady Musgrave Road in Kingston, for example, has presented challenges.
"The area the school is located seems to be very historic, older houses, so bringing the pipes, electricity, roofing, (and) flooring conditions up to date and then maintaining them seemed to be the biggest challenge to me as far as a constant concern; I tend to have perfectionist tendencies," noted Marley, a mother of four who said her own children were the motivation for beginning the business.
"I loved the architecture of the building and the yard space now makes a lovely children's garden. Mr Carvel Stewart was very instrumental in helping me to get that compound refurbished. Maintaining the environment is very important, even if you only have one child," she added.
Today, the team of 28 staff members — comprised of a house mother and gardener, three administrative persons, a security officer, two kitchen staff, and 18 caregivers, complete with two early childhood teachers — continue to face challenges, more to do with continued competitiveness.
"There are many early childhood institutions around, so we have to ensure that we remain competitive. Finding trained caregivers (is a challenge). It is not the easiest task to find persons who are properly trained and (who) really want to work with children and are understanding," Marley noted.
Still, she said that TCLC manages to hold its own in the "day care/preschool field by offering the best ratios, plus we are utilising the Montessori method with our integrated environment".
The Montessori method -- developed by Dr Maria Montessori in the 19th century — is, according to information from a pamphlet prepared by the American Montessori Society, "an approach to education with the fundamental belief that a child learns best within a social environment which supports and respects each individual's unique development".
The elements of the teaching/learning method include:
* multi-grade groups based on periods of development that allows children of varying ages to learn from each other;
* the prepared environment, which includes, among other things, furniture and toys designed to facilitate learning in the child who is inspired by multiple sources; and
* uninterrupted learning, which is a tenet that allows the child to initiate his own lessons through his choice of activity and is then allowed to complete the activity.
The Montessori teacher, meanwhile, is tasked to prepare the learning environment while being a role model and records the progress of the children along the way.
"Montessori for me became a way of life. The method helps children centre themselves to express themselves in their work, to modify their behaviour and speech. I enjoy going to work and communicating these various personalities on a daily basis," said Marley, who was at one time lead teacher in a Montessori class with sixteen 18- to 36-month-old children.
During Career & Education's visit to the facility last Friday morning, one room after another at TCLC featured either painted ceilings and/or walls, all in vivid colours and with images designed to capture the attention of the children while inspiring their imagination.
There is, too, an abundance of toys and learning aids — including furniture and items found in various sections of the home, such as the kitchen — intended to help promote the child's development as they age.
All of this is topped off by a farm/garden where children are allowed to play, explore and learn through doing. Not only are they allowed to help plant things, but they are also provided the opportunity to interface with the creatures that may be found in a garden — including worms.
Meanwhile, Marley said they are committed to continuing to provide quality care.
"Our trained and dedicated staff know that we are responsible for the correct analysing of the psychosocial and physical development of each child in our care. We are responsible for effectively administering proper nutrition and stimulation to each child and to be sensitive to their individual needs," she said.
"We are (also) responsible for creating opportunities for the personal development and job satisfaction of our employees and trainees (as well as ) for maintaining the highest ethical standards in the conduct of all our affairs — and being good corporate citizens," Marley added, providing insight into TCLC's mission.
Marley's tips for those interested in running a school
* Be prepared to work hard; it is challenging.
* Set high standards.
* Seek support; there are Government agencies that deal with regulations for early childhood matters.
* Love what you do.
* Remember that our children are the future.