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A Family’s Decade of Learning at The Wetherill School 

This Gladwyne family arrived from NYC in need of a preschool for their children, and found community, education, and friendship at The Wetherill School.

family of 6 and their dog in autumn leaves

When Laura Vanderkam and her family moved to the Main Line from New York City in 2011, she knew of the excellent reputation of the Lower Merion School District. What she admittedly wasn’t as knowledgeable about were the pre-school options for her son, Jasper, who was four-years-old at the time. Friends in the area kept recommending The Wetherill School, which happened to be conveniently located about a half-mile from Vanderkam’s new home in Gladwyne. “Our friends are all wise people,” laughs Vanderkam. “So we decided to put it on our list of possibilities.” Turns out, listening to the recommendations of her friends paid off. A tour of the school left them more than impressed, so Vanderkam and her husband decided Wetherill could be the perfect fit for Jasper. They have continued to be so satisfied with their choice that four of their children are graduates of the school, and their youngest, Henry, age 3, is currently in the pre-school program. 


5 children sitting on a stone wall


As a Wetherill family for more than a decade, Vanderkam sums up her experience succinctly: “It’s just a really welcoming community and a very friendly place.” At Wetherill, Vanderkam’s children have learned so much, but have also had the opportunity to be kids and have fun with their peers. A team of dedicated teachers sets the tone for the school’s nurturing atmosphere. (All the lead teachers at Wetherill are certified by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and hold American Montessori Society teaching credentials as well.)  “We have been so happy with the teachers,” says Vanderkam. “Every teacher has been so positive and encouraging. If there ever has been any type of challenge, it’s been approached with a problem-solving mindset.” Since welcoming its first class of students in 1976, The Wetherill School has focused on cultivating the creative, social, emotional and cognitive development of each child both indoors and out through a wide variety of hands-on experiences. The school’s philosophy of “wonder, discover, grow” is one that resonates with Vanderkam. “I know that when kids figure things out on their own it’s going to stick, much more than if you tell a kid what to do,” says Vanderkam. “So I love that Wetherill’s emphasis is on exploring and figuring things out.” Students are introduced to hands-on activities like cooking and gardening and other everyday living self-help skills. Wetherill also welcomes experts to the school from the community like Riverbend Environmental Education Center to enhance learning.


children standing with a school sign


One thing that makes Wetherill unique is the fact that children spend the morning in mixed-aged classrooms where teachers work with small groups as well as individual children. Vanderkam recognizes the advantages of this approach. “When my children were younger at the school, it was helpful for them to have peers who were a bit older doing something that encouraged them to want to learn that skill,” she explains. “And when my children were the older ones at the school they liked having the opportunity to be the helpers with the little kids. They also understood what it meant to be a good role model because the younger kids were looking up to them.” 


photo of the exterior of wetherill school

Wetherill welcomes students at age 2 years 7 months into its morning preschool (parents can choose between three morning or five morning a week offerings). Once children turn 4 parents have the option of extending their child’s day with an afternoon pre-K program, preparing them for a smooth transition into the kindergarten year. Wetherill also offers a full-day kindergarten program and an afternoon kindergarten enrichment program for students attending morning kindergarten at the public school. “We are so lucky to continue to be a part of the Wetherill community,” says Vanderkam. “It’s such a wonderful school that is focused on positive discovery. And I think a school like this is just the greatest place for kids to get their start.” 


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This story was written for the Main Line Parent Community by Tara Marmur. Photography supplied by Wetherill and the Vanderkam Family.


The Wetherill School was founded in 1976 by two early childhood Montessori educators, Joell Taggart and Florence Schmidt, who wanted a unique, warm, nurturing first school experience for young children of the Main Line area. Joell and Florence were Montessori teachers, but they also saw the great potential of helping children learn through imaginative play and creative self-expression, as well as through the didactic Montessori materials. They were fortunate to find a lovely cozy setting in the Gladwyne Presbyterian Church property on a beautiful wooded lot that offers many opportunities for our children to also learn about nature and the beautiful outdoors. We have been welcoming children into our classrooms and outdoor space at this location for 42 years.