Ten can pass quickly — especially when your focus is working with kids.
Fun Way Learning Center, One Hales Court, Newburyport, and owners Lowell and Lydia
Widmer are celebrating their 10th anniversary in January.
They provide child-centered educational and academic support and tutoring in creative
and innovative ways. Both are seasoned educators, trained in the Montessori model and
other teaching and learning modalities.
“Our approach is really to work with the child directly, to find out what their parents have concerns
about, or see as unique about their child,” said Lydia. “From our Montessori training, we’ve grasped the importance of observation — of seeing what the child is interested in, what materials they’re drawn to. We’ve had training in other ways of working with children, so we draw on all of that here at Fun Way.”
Lowell and Lydia both worked at the Inn Street Montessori School for much of the last decade. They left the classroom in 2013 to devote themselves full-time to Fun Way, and to create new ways to support the essential “work” of childhood: motivating kids to find a love of learning, and helping them to see the world as a classroom.
Years ago, Lydia wondered if one hour a week would be sufficient for a child to make progress.
“Now, I realize that an hour of one-to-one attention is a rare gift for anybody. These children have busy schedules -- they go to school with peers, maybe have siblings at home, and a lot of them are engaged in sports, so one hour a week can become a very constructive and special time. We have found that even in that short amount of time, you can establish a wonderful relationship with a child.”
“So much of it, though, is about listening to the child, hearing and observing what they have a passion for,” she said.
Lowell recently spoke with a parent whose child is now at the high school, but had attended Fun Way when she was much younger.
“Her mother was telling me that her daughter has always been solid with her multiplication tables. She asked how she had learned them, and the daughter said that she recalled playing jump rope at recess. We would play jump rope and invented this game to see how many times the kids could jump. Each time, I would run through the multiplication tables, so each loop of the rope, I’d say ‘two times one is two, two times two is four,’ on up through all of the numbers to 10 times 10. Her daughter credited that to learning her times facts. I took from that how important it is to mix modalities when you teach -- tie exercise into numbers, or science into batting a nerfball around the room.”
“It’s a wonderful thing to meet these children ‘where they are.’ We work with parents, sometimes with the teachers. Once we know the focus of what parents want and what kids need for enrichment, or support, we can change things up on an individual basis. Even over the course of an hour, we can engage the kids in several different activities, all designed as fun learning activities.”
Fun Way isn’t always about specific academic tutoring. In some cases, children come for enrichment and more challenging work. Sometimes it’s for homework.
“We have a sixth-grader who comes in twice a week to get his homework done,” said Lydia. “Because it’s simply too challenging at home — both parents work — he comes here, gets his homework done, and is able to go home and really have a nice family evening. We can help him with anything that comes up while he’s doing his work, but for him and his family, his being here makes their own time together much richer and more engaging.”
Although Fun Way does do a lot of work with younger kids, looks can be somewhat deceiving, according to Lydia.
“If a person were to just drop by, they might think we work with just younger children. But actually, we have quite a few upper elementary age kids we work with. Lowell seems to have a knack for working with them, particularly in math.”
Lowell and Lydia began to carve out their own niche in the world of child development and education more than 35 years ago, when they received training from Dr. Elisabeth Caspari, a direct student of Maria Montessori. Ten years ago, they developed an interactive CD-ROM that focused on early reading, “Moon Goes To Work.” In many ways, devoting themselves to Fun Way full time has allowed them to circle back to some of their original intentions.
“We love the work we do with kids here at Fun Way,” Lowell said. “We’ve always believed, though, that some of what we do here can be enhanced by well-designed interactive online activities. We are always creating new materials designed to uniquely support an individual child who presents a set of needs and challenges and strengths. A lot of that can be adapted for other kids. That is something we are working towards with our online presence.”
Part of their dream is also to publish materials and books that they feel are relevant to learning. The first publication from Fun Way Learning Press is a classic tale of success in business accomplished through the application of principles that are highly relevant to success in any endeavor, including education. That book is “Obvious Adams, The Story of a Successful Businessman” by Robert R. Updegraff. Next up, the children’s book that accompanied the first Fun Way project, the story of Moon the Black Lab.
Lowell and Lydia have discovered a great way to connect with the kids who come to Fun Way.
“During short breaks we offer children a chance to play with retro toys and games,” Lydia said. “They can’t seem to get enough of that stuff: Rubik’s cubes, yo-yo’s, and things like magnets, the exact opposite of technology. But it completely engages them and it’s great for developing small motor control and hand-eye coordination.”
For more on Fun Way: visit www.funwaylearning.com, e-mail , or visit the Facebook page.
Tutoring 'The Fun Way' celebrates
10 years in Newburyport
Bruce Menin / Correspondent
Dec. 5, 2014