About MELC

About Montessori Early Learning Center

The Montessori Early Learning Center and School of the Arts was founded on July 15, l976 . Founding Directress Ina Lightner-Fort opened the school for her two year old son.

While studying music in Europe Mrs. Lightner-Fort had seen the real Netherlands schools and considered the method non repressive and discovery oriented. She brought in an A.M.I. certified teacher (Association Montessori Internationale) from Sri Lanka and started with a small leased building and fifteen children. Thirteen of the original fifteen students have gone on to attend the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts. In 1978 a second son was born who grew up in the primary classroom with his now 4 year old big brother. Today both boys are adults and Ina continues to administrate the now much larger school in much the same way that she did in the 70′s.

The school encompasses a campus type setting with a custom designed main building of 7,000 square feet ,built to Montessori specifications, housing 6 primary ,multi-aged classrooms of children 3-6 years of age. The school operates in the purest European tradition and is not modified in any way. The school employs teachers that are AMI or St. Nicholas (British) certified.All classrooms are fully equipped with imported didactic apparatus. The Arts School was built in 1993 adding an additional 2,100 square feet.

While the school has always embraced the arts for small children, it now has an Arts Center with a stage and recital hall that seats 200. The center has sound proofed music studios and dance studios.

M.E.L.C. provides a two and a half acre playground with many unique activities such as the Shell Garden.The school has a 50′X20′ covered and heated swimming pool custom designed for small children and also has an old fashioned “spray pool” for 3 year olds.

Observation mirrors are installed in every classroom door for parent use at any time without an appointment.

Appointments to tour the school may be made by calling the school at 803-772-2262 or e-mail montessoriearlyl@gmail.com

Children should not be brought for the initial information tour. Each child is required to have a “visit day” before acceptance into the program.

Montessori Early Learning Center

1101 Balsam Rd. Columbia, South Carolina 29210


Ina Lightner Fort, Owner/Principal