In the early 1970s, Rose Minor, co-owner and operator of Step by Step Montessori, first happened upon a Montessori school. “The kids were so engaged in their work, the classrooms were so peaceful, it was really amazing,” Rose says today. “I knew they must be doing something right.”
She says she liked the Montessori approach so much that she took a job there to be able to afford the tuition. Her son, Mike, left Montessori when he was 6 years old, but Rose says, “I never left. That was 40 years ago.”
In 1991, Rose Minor had the opportunity to acquire four Step by Step Montessori locations— Plymouth, Edina, Saint Anthony and Wayzata—from a prior operator. She jumped at the opportunity and never looked back. Headquartered in Plymouth, Step by Step Montessori Schools is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and currently has eight locations across the Twin Cities metro.
“Our Plymouth school operated out of the Mount Olivet Church for many years,” says Mike Minor. “In 2003, Rose undertook expanding the program and building our current Plymouth school. We did this so we could add infant and toddler programs to the school as well as provide catering to all the schools. We are also able to offer the Montessori experience to many more children in the Plymouth area, which is a real benefit to the community.”
Montessori is a child-centered curriculum, which means the child is the focal point of the classroom. Children work in a specially prepared environment with materials that are focused on brain development.
As Mike Minor explains, Dr. Maria Montessori’s ideas are just now being validated in terms of the method’s impact on the development of the child.
“About 85 to 90 percent of the brain is developed by age 5 and this occurs only once in your lifetime,” Mike says.
The Montessori method uses the concept of a mixed-age classroom, so there are 3- to 6-year-olds in the same classroom. This way the younger children have role models to look up to in the older children, while the older children develop leadership and collaboration skills working with the younger children.
“It’s amazing to watch an older child give a geography lesson to a younger child,” Mike says. “What better way to learn something than to teach it to someone else? That is perfectly acceptable in a Montessori classroom.”
Also, Montessori schools are not bound by an age-specific curriculum in a classroom. If a 4-year-old is doing 5-year-old level work, they can accommodate that. The child progresses at their pace instead of the pace of the curriculum.
“It’s critical that you challenge a child in a program; this instills joy in learning, they get excited about coming to school and this is something that the child takes with them for the rest of their lives—the utter joy in learning,” Rose Minor says. Of Step by Step’s expansion over the years, she adds, “It’s taken 25 years to get here. We never wanted to sacrifice quality for growth. We took our time in making sure that we maintained the quality in our programs, building excellent environments and finding and training the best teachers.”
Today, Mike works alongside Rose to bring more formal best practice processes and systems to the organization. This helps Step by Step become more efficient to improve the experience for their families.
“I’ve always been part of the organization; we just formalized it over the last five years,” Mike says. “Rose has done so much for so many other families and children, it was the least I could do to help her. I’ve had children of my own who went through our programs, so it feels like we’re completing a cycle. I now truly understand the benefit a Montessori education can have on a child’s life as I’m seeing it in my own children.”
Mike admits that working with a family member can have its challenges. But it just happened that Rose continued to do the things she liked to do and the things Mike picked up were the things she didn’t enjoy as much, so it was an automatic fit for them.
“We find it’s always better to have two heads or more working on something. You always come up with better and more creative solutions,” Mike says.
Like A Family
When Jennifer Van Wyk of Plymouth was evaluating the plethora of preschools available for her daughter in the area, she was impressed with the dedicated and passionate staff at Step by Step Montessori.
Van Wyk particularly recognizes Step by Step for integrating behavior, tolerance and diversity into their style and awareness right from the earliest age.
“This is something that if not properly taught and supported can lead to social challenges later,” Van Wyk says. “We are so proud of how our daughter cares for others, respects her peers and adults and truly loves herself first. I know this begins at home, but to have a program support those same values is incredible.”
The fact that no two days are the same is what makes Step by Step so rewarding for the Minor family.
“There is so much diversity in what we do. I love working with our great staff, we always work together to come up with creative ideas and programs for the children,” Rose says. “I love seeing the kindergarten graduation program and the stories the teachers tell about each child. Some of these children have been with us since they were 12 weeks old. In Montessori, we have a mixed age group so a teacher will have a child for more than three years. They really become part of their family.”
Van Wyk agrees. “Step by Step and their approach to development and growth with young children continues to be a guide for learning with our daughter,” she says. “They were unique in the way they pushed the children to learn quickly, but effectively, and bring children to a higher level of potential earlier than other children.”
Mike Minor’s hope is that Montessori can continue to grow and have a great impact on more children in our communities.
“Even though Montessori has been around for more than 100 years and is in practice in more than 22,000 schools, there are still many people who are not familiar with it. I hope that all Minnesota families will continue to have options to choose what type of care is best for their families,” Mike says.