For decades the Henpeck Village Market on Lewisburg Pike was home to a restaurant/grocery/gas station. But since 2020, it’s been home to Ivybrook Academy (Franklin), a private half-day preschool that incorporates “the best of the Montessori philosophy and the Reggio Emilia approach,” says co-owner Dawn Varnedoe.
“I love the curriculum because there is something for every learning style,” adds Varnedoe, who started the school with her husband, Howard. “We want to expose children to as much as we can, and we want to try to instill a love of learning that they will carry throughout the rest of their lives.”
As for the inspiration for opening Ivybrook Academy, Varnedoe says it was a natural outgrowth of having homeschooled her own kids, four of five of whom have moved out of the house, creating an opportunity for the couple to open their own business.
“Homeschooling my kids made me realize that I loved educating children,” offers Varnedoe, and when the pair found out about Ivybrook Academy (headquartered in Weddington, N.C.), they recognized how much they loved Ivybrook’s curriculum and educational philosophy.
That said, there’s an emphasis on developing reading, writing, and math skills. There’s also a component of the curriculum called collaborative learning, where students explore science and social studies topics.
So, for example, “in the spring, we’ll get eggs and watch them hatch into chicks and study animals that hatch,” offers Varnedoe. “And we’ll talk about the life cycle of butterflies and study different cultures around the world.”
Another part of the curriculum focuses on art and music, and movement. “That’s an enrichment time where our students get to go and be creative,” continues Varnedoe. “We may be studying an artist, and they may be inspired to do their own (artwork). Or we may be talking about music like beats or rhythm and practicing that with our own instruments.”
The program is also child-directed in the sense that kids have the chance to learn about subjects that interest them. So, if a child asks about, say, “pipes underground,” the teacher might spend time explaining how utilities work.
“It’s fun to see their eyes light up when things begin to make sense in their world,” says Varnedoe, and even more gratifying for her to see students arrive at school with smiles on their faces.
As for the educational environment, Varnedoe says the Franklin campus includes classroom space, a gym, and a “very unusual playground area,” unusual in the sense that it doesn’t have slides and swings and other things you might see in a park.
Ivybrook’s playground is designed to encourage kids to be creative and use their imaginations. As such, it features a sand pit, a boat (for imagined boat trips), musical instruments, and a stage on which kids can perform.
With all of the emphasis on making learning fun, it’s no surprise that Ivybrook students look forward to going to school, especially coming out of a period when COVID-19 has restricted the social calendars of children and parents alike.
“Some difficulty with separation anxiety is very normal, but we’ve found that to be very short-lived,” says Varnedoe, especially now that everyone is anxious to get out of the house and parents are more keen than ever to make connections with other parents.
“We want to be able to provide a place for all the new people moving here to be able to have community. More and more, we have families doing playdates together. We want to continue to build on that and do more fun school events,” elaborates Varnedoe, having noted that the school offers preschool for toddlers, as well as preschool for 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, and kids aged 4-5.
And while there’s a waitlist for all morning classes in the fall of ’22, she says there is still some availability for the afternoon classes, not to mention classes in the spring of ’23 and next year’s summer camp.
“We love giving tours, and we give tours every day. That’s the best way to learn about us,” she concludes. “We’d love to speak to whoever is interested.”
1268 Lewisburg Pike
Franklin, TN 37064