Pre-schoolers learning to read is no fairy tale at Storybooks School in Corpus Christi. Utilizing a Montessori-based program she created herself, owner and director Sandra Cantu has proof that children in a home-like, nurturing learning environment excel in academics.
“Our children get very excited about reading,” Cantu said. “We graduate children each year [into kindergarten], and many of them are reading at early first and second-grade levels.”
Now in its tenth year at 5333 Yorktown Blvd., Storybooks School takes children from birth to 5 years old. They are divided into ten different rooms, or “houses,” with two teachers each. Yes, even the babies have teachers.
“I have implemented programs for all ages and stages of development,” Cantu explained. “Our children are busy all day, even the newborn babies. We have everything from physical activities, teacher and child interaction, floor time, reading, music, even languages. The kids are always in an environment of learning and enjoying the day.”
Cantu began her career in early childhood education long before opening Storybooks School in 2010. Beginning in 1995, she ran a child care center from her home. Over the years, she has continued her training, taking classes at Del Mar College and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. She has been involved in Camp Fire Girls and the Coastal Bend Child Care Association.
All her teachers follow in her footsteps with annual continuing education classes, including her daughter, Anjanette Bustillo, the assistant director. Most of that training is done through the Coastal Bend Child Care Association, with which Cantu has worked for 37 years.
“We take great pride in training our teachers,” Cantu said. “It’s important that they are the best they can be. We want them to have all the tools they need to provide the best care for our children.”
She stressed that her teachers are not babysitters.
“I have worked very hard to get away from the concept of day care center to one of early childhood development,” Cantu said. “We have learned over the years in education that the development of a child’s brain happens between the ages of 1 and 3. We have a great responsibility in front of us to make the most of that time.”
Despite its focus on academics, Storybooks teachers do not push the children beyond what they are capable of or even interested in. Using the Montessori approach, children are taught to use all the tools, toys and materials in their classrooms but are allowed to choose what they want to do. They take responsibility for their own materials, taking them down and cleaning them up. They are taught personal responsibility along with the academics.
“They have an opportunity to grow and develop,” Cantu said. “We still have structured time, but kids learn at all different levels. If a child is not ready, we don’t push.”
The program is not about developing academic wiz kids, however, but about giving them the confidence and self-esteem they need to succeed in all aspects of their lives. Cantu’s goal is to help each child grow to be a well-balanced, happy adult.
“Our vision is to make sure they have a good sense of self-esteem, feel good about themselves, have a background of learning, strong social skills and community participation,” Cantu said. “Being strong readers is good for them; it opens up a whole world for them.”
“I want this program to be a good role model for other programs,” Cantu said. “I want Corpus Christi to know about the wonderful programs we have and how proud I am of Storybooks School. In ten years, we have become known as one of the top early childhood development centers in the city. That doesn’t come easy. There’s a lot of competition, a lot of good programs out there.”
To find out about openings and plan a visit to see if Storybooks School fits your child’s needs, call Ms. Sandy or Ms. Bustillo at 361-452-1021.