Emma Webber doesn’t have children of her own, at least when it comes to her home life.
Instead, she has about 90 children she considers her own. As co-director of the Montessori Academy of Carrollwood, Webber has kids that she relates to, plays with, teaches and pampers every day of the week, 12 months of the year.
Webber grew up and went to college in her native Peru. When she started with Montessori in 1992, she realized that this was going to be her life.
“When I saw Montessori for the first time, it changed my vision on everything,” Webber said, surrounded by a pack of 4-year-olds. “It changed my world and I wanted to dedicate my life to helping other people’s kids. I try to make it easy for their parents and once I saw how wonderful these classrooms were, I wasn’t going back.’’
Montessori offers a unique environment for children through the ages of kindergarten. There are separate classes starting at the infant level, but children don’t move to the next level until they are considered ready to do so. From infancy to 1, kids are taught to walk and make the transition to the next level. From 1 to 2 years old, it’s time to walk, sit still, and listen for at least 10 minutes and be able to comprehend.
At the next level, they are learning sounds and starting to be able to read and write. By the age of 4, children can write sentences, understand reading literature that they take home, and check out books from the Montessori library.
Webber walks through her school like a rock star. She knows the name of every child, and many of them rush up to meet her when she stops by for a surprise visit. Everyone gets a hug and a warm comment from Webber.
“Any word of confidence or anything that inspires a child affects them for life,’’ Webber said. “Self-confidence is everything for kids. I believe that when they believe in themselves, that makes all the difference. It is the key to life.’’
There are no “time-outs’’ at Montessori.
“What good does a time-out do?’’ Webber asked. “All it does is make them sit in a corner and stare at a wall. That doesn’t do anything. Kids are like sponges and they absorb everything, so why put them in a place where they just stare at a wall?’’
Most of the students at Montessori area reading and writing by the time they get to kindergarten. In their final year at Montessori, Webber said, most of the are reading at a second-grade level.
“It’s all about building a foundation,’’ Webber said. “When I started 22 years ago, I had 4-year-olds in my first classroom. Now they come back and they are all successes in life. It makes you feel great. Most of the kids leave here and go to the top schools in the area. I like to teach the kids to have no limitations. What they learn now will be with them for the rest of their lives. Kids never forget what they learn at a young age.’’